Chile’s Relentless Surf Coast
The central coast of Chile really is like California, flipped upside down. Imagine Santiago, the capital and largest city, is Los Angeles and driving south down the coast is like driving north on the 101. Wine county surrounds us now, after we get off the main highway and make our way to Buchupureo, the coastal town where we’ll be staying. My friend Brian moved here a decade earlier to raise a family, make art, and surf.
We love a good road trip and Chile, on first impressions, does not disappoint. It is a sensory experience. If you roll down your windows, you’ll catch a unique scent combination of pine, eucalyptus, smoky charred wood and the salty ocean. When we first reach the coast, we can barely see anything. Fog, all the way from San Francisco has rolled in. Its a white out.
All we can see is the road in front of us, a few horses in misty fields on the left, and a glimpse of the black sand beaches on the right. Black sand is one of many reminders that this country is very much tectonic and volcanoes up and down the country remain active.
If you’re a landscape painter this makes sense. The country side is stunning, complete with rolling hills, rustic farmland, amazing light, and a beautifully dangerous coastline. And if you’re a surfer it makes even more sense as Chile has some of the best waves on the planet.. and not a ton of surfers to crowd those waves. Its been a secret and only recently has the scene been getting more attention.
In the last 10 to 15 years this country has seen major infrastructure development. Just like much of South America, Chile is building in every sense of the word. The coastal road we traveled, only recently, was 200 km of gravel. The route is now an accessible and exhilarating affair, making a huge difference to the surrounding community. New businesses are opening up along the coast as visitors no longer need to hire a Jeep 4 x 4 to get to these new hotels and cabanas.
The newness that is penetrating this region of Chile seems to have skipped about 75 years. From no phones there are now cell phones. And from adobe houses and shack structures there is a vernacular modernist architecture that has been springing up. This new strain suits the country and its terrain. Black is the color of choice for this modernity, reflecting the black sand beaches and earthiness of the area. They’re covered in large glass picture windows to honor the outside beauty, with specialized walls built to to either channel or resist the intense wind and sun.
Descending Punta de Lobos in Pichilemu to take on the whitewater and big surf.
Up the coast is Pichilemu, a resort town and surf capital of the area. The waves here can be 10 meters tall and they break along cliffs and jagged rocks. The prime area to catch waves is appropriately named Punta de Lobos, Point of Wolves. Onlookers arrive daily to watch the surfers. They sit amongst the rocks next to memorializing crosses of those past, eerily warning all of the particular danger here. Local teenagers pile out of the back of a truck; and climb up and down rock walls just to enter the water. They then must cross intense white water, and climb over another giant rock, before paddling out to the waves
Pichilemu, the surf capital of the region, has more surf infrastructure to support the scene, including clubs, shops, and our favorite coffee spot we found in Chile, Los Morros.
Buchupureo, our home base, is a smaller town with a small community of surfers. On the beach at dusk, the surfers we met were friendly but definitely not interested in the camera. Besides having no time to mess around (they were there to catch some time specific waves!), there was a sense of protectiveness over this special place they inhabit. They didn't want their spot advertised, which is understandable. As long as I wasn’t shooting for a surf publication, then all was well.
Smaller waves in this private spot, but perfect nonetheless. / No time to chat in Pullay as the sun sets. / Perfect moment.