By Alexander Kelleher MD
Fresh from a fascinating jaunt on the revolutionary trail in Cuba, I touched down on Peruvian soil. First impression: It’s changed … or perhaps that was simply nostalgia for past reminiscences? Initially, I thought the contrast with Havana was sharp, until I realised the commonality – Propaganda! Cuban billboards trumpet “¡Hasta La Victoria Siempre!”, whereas outside Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport I’m told our “Life Companion” is in fact a smartphone.
After meeting up with my longtime surf buddy, Paddy, and his fiancée, Muire, we skipped north to the coastal city of Trujillo. Our ultimate destination was nearby Huanchaco. This coastal town, essentially an urban satellite of Trujillo, previously a local fishing industry hub – the caballitos de totora or traditional Peruvian reed boats are still employed, now also serves as a base for sampling the local left-hand points and as a jump-off point to the world famous break at Chicama. In fact, Huanchaco itself will be officially recognised as the first World Surfing Reserve in Latin America on Sunday, 26th October 2013. Check out www.worldsurfingreserves.org for further details!
We spent lazy days trading waves with the generally sparse crowd of local and traveling surfers. Morning sessions in Huanchaco saw us riding a series of lefts from the point down to the pier shrouded by dewy sea-mist. The afternoons brought the higher tide and a switch of board to nine foot plus for some classic trim and [attempted] hang-fives. Luckily, I had the opportunity to surf a wonderful spoon-nosed Donald Takayama on a number of occasions.
Chicama delivered on only one trip, but the speed-boat bolstered crowds, rips, and absence of etiquette makes for a fickle session. They say you should never meet your heroes as you’ll only be disappointed! Yet, after years of anecdotes from returned surfers, countless magazine articles, and surf movies, it’s kind of awesome to behold and soak up.
Next up, I moved further north, relatively close to the Ecuadorian border, in order to volunteer with WAVES for Development. Thanks to Bill Jones, from our friends on the other side of the pond – i.e. the Surfers Medical Association (SMA), USA – I linked in with Dave Aabo, a founding member and Executive Director of WAVES, through whom I organised joining the team in Lobitos.
WAVES for Development is a not-for-profit venture that believes surf travel should benefit the people and communities where it happens. It aims to empower local communities through Educational Programming, Surf Volunteerism; and Sustainable Community-based initiatives cognizant of the Social, Cultural, Political, Economic, and Environmental determinants of health and wellbeing.
On the journey from Talara to Lobitos, through a rather bleak and desolate desert landscape punctuated by oil infrastructure, one might be forgiven for having some last minute reservations regarding your decision. However, a warm welcome, a cup of strong coffee, and an immediate invitation to go surf upon my arrival at La Casa de WAVES, rapidly dispelled any lingering doubts.
Other ongoing work to which I contributed included: finishing touches to the painting of the new staff house – looking impressive with its previously completed Hokusai-inspired, yet uniquely Lobitos tailored, mural; and foundation works for the dual compost bins.
During my stay I also participated in surf classes for local kids; it’s fantastic to observe stoke and enjoyment received by tapping into the excellent waves on their doorstep. Sharing waves and meeting Lobitos residents supported by, and contributing to, WAVES (e.g. Resident WAVES Surf Photographer, Henry) was a fabulous experience.
WAVES ongoing support of concrete floor installation for community residents continues through micro-finance loan arrangements, employment of local labour, and volunteer assistance. Fortunately, I was able to help out at one such installation project whilst in town.
Furthermore, I visited the local clinic/health centre with a team of volunteers from COMP-NW University, Oregon, USA. They’re conducting research, incorporating a baseline health and needs assessment of residents of Lobitos and Lebanon, Oregon, with a view to ultimately developing a global health model applicable across both settings to improve the health and overall wellbeing of all involved. A worthy endeavour, there may even be potential for future collaboration between COMP-NW, WAVES, and the European Association of Surfing Doctors (EASD) under our public health initiative umbrella.
Waves were shared, friendships forged, and contacts established. I still recall the waves of La Punta, Baterias, Piscinas, and the WAVES community, even from the cool waters of the Emerald Isle. Something tells me I’ll be going back. ¡Hasta La Vista!