Chicama Surf Break
Chicama is famous for its surf break, which has been widely touted to be the longest rideable wave (excluding tidal bores) in the world (about 2.2km, and up to 4 minutes), although a Peruvian Surf Guide published in the early 2000s states that another nearby wave at "Pacasmayo" actually produces even longer rides (around 2.5km, and over 4 minutes). (Google Earth also confirms these distances. In comparison, Tracks magazine has stated that a wave has been ridden at the "Superbank" on the Gold Coast in Australia for "1.97km"). The distance from 'the point' to 'the pier' at Chicama is about 2.2km, which locals confirm has been ridden on a single wave, although the whole cape upon which the waves break, to their most westernmost end, is 4km long. Although other waves break further up the cape from the main section of "the point", (including "Malpaso" (up to a few hundred metres) and "Keys" (up to 600m or so) apparently nobody has ridden a single wave the length of the whole 4km cape at Chicama, as deep water does not allow a single ride along the length of the first 1.8km or so.
Locals have called the waves at Chicama, from the top of the Cape to the pier, "Malpaso", "Keys", "The Point", and "El Hombre". At other times other names have been given, but these are the names from locals as of 2005. "The Point" is considered the best part of the wave and is the most famous, which will break for around 1km up to about 6 feet in size (Hawaiian scale), but to ride longer than this all the way to the pier (about 2.2km) on a single wave needs a swell >6 feet, which is quite rare. The wave is well-shaped, fast and moderately hollow, breaking over soft sand, but not a genuine tube, nor very powerful, unless the swell is very big (eg >6 feet). The bigger the waves, generally the better the wave, and the main point will hold at least 10 feet Hawaiian scale (i.e. about 20 feet faces). The wave tends to speed up and slow down alternately, and it is rare to ride a single wave along the length of the point for this reason. There is also a middle section along the point which is rocky, generally hollower, but also fast and difficult to make after about 1000m, but locals claim to have achieved a single ride all the way to the pier, for a distance of about 2.2km, in 10 foot swells. Even this distance is not as long as the length of the pointbreak at Pacasmayo, which is at least 2.5km long, and which has also been claimed by locals to have been ridden all the way along on a single wave, on very large swells.
Winds at Chicama are consistently offshore, but the swell is notoriously inconsistent. It needs a good swell to break, and days above head high are rare. As a guide, wave sizes at the main point are around half the size of open ocean swell charts, and waves less than about 4 feet on the point (i.e. 8 feet on the swell charts) tend to be quite weak and slow. Best surfing is from around Easter Week (Semana Santa) and through the winter months in the southern hemisphere to about September when great storms in the Roaring Forties direct their wave energy toward Peru. The water is cool (17-22o C), like much of Peru, due to cold currents from the south. Climate is warm and springlike (15-28o C), however wind chill is a factor, created by the venturi effects from the headland. A 2-3 mm wetsuit is recommended as well as booties for walking up the beach.
Chicama is about 560 km north of Lima by air, or 94 km (an hour-and-a-half drive) northwest of the city of Trujillo. is reached by taking 15 km detour at Paiján, at Kilometer 614 of the North Pan-American Highway. Various tour operators, expedition outfitters, and guides are available to take you there. There are buses and collective taxis from Lima and Trujillo. Primitive lodging and food are available in Puerto Malabrigo. A high-end resort called Chicama Surf Resort has also opened for surfers right on the point. Many modern conveniences can be found in the City of Trujillo (Visit Huanchaco to see traditional fishermen riding the waves on reed fishing boats called "Caballitos de Totora", perhaps oldest form of surfing still practiced to this day).
Legend has it that the surfing potential of Chicama was first seen in 1965 by Hawaiian surfer Chuck Shipman, from the window of a plane when returning home from the world surfing championships at Punta Rocas, near Lima, Peru.
Like filmmaker Bruce Brown creating "Endless Summer" about the same time, Shipman was seeking a "perfect wave", superior to the known surfing spots of the period. Because prevailing ocean swells and winds were from the southwest, he methodically searched for headlands that might refract these waves. Using a large, detailed map of Peru, Shipman identified three promising headlands north of Lima: Viru, Chicama, and Pacasmayo. Swells wrapping around these points might result in long peeling waves with offshore winds that surfers prefer. Chuck encouraged Peruvian photojournalist Joaquin Miro Quesada to organize an expedition to explore the northwestern coast. At that time, few spots were surfed outside of Lima, although Peru had great potential. They filmed less than epic surfing at Viru, Pacasmayo, and Chiclayo, but failed to find the unmarked dirt road to Chicama. Shipman subsequently observed long peeling waves while flying over Chicama on three commercial flights. Back home in Hawaii, he persistently wrote to his Peruvian friends to find a way to this promising surf spot. Eventually, Miro Quesada, Oscar “Chino” Malpartida, Carlos Barreda (brother of noted Peruvian surfer Sergio Barreda) and a small group of surfers found the way to Chicama and were the first to film and surf the long point wave. Reportedly the first surfer filmed was Malpartida in and out of the barrel with the film running out long before the ride was completed.
An interesting footnote is that in addition to local fishermen on "Caballitos de Totora", other surfers may have ridden the surf at Chicama long before. Casa Grande, Peru’s largest sugar plantation is located in the Chicama River Valley. Recently, a Peruvian surfer visiting old warehouses in Casa Grande found several wooden surfboards, appearing to date from the 1930’s or earlier. It is likely that sugar plantation managers or researchers from Hawaii visited or worked at Casa Grande during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Seeing the fabled waves, they built surfboards to enjoy their sport. They kept Chicama a secret until 1965. Anyone who knows the rest of the story is encouraged to contribute.
- Chicama page at PeruTravels.net
- Tracks magazine, November 2002
- Satellite picture of Chicama at SatPrints.com, showing the curve of the bay