Northern Chile was placed squarely in the public eye when Rip Curl brought the Search event to Arica in 2007. Touted as being “more dangerous than Teahupoo,” the lava reef barrels of El Gringo punished the world’s best surfers, sending many home with broken bodies and bruised egos—and a few with memories of perfect, heaving barrels. Interestingly, the surf scene in Arica then faded from public memory as quickly as it had appeared, and aside from a pro bodyboard contest and a WQS event every year, not much is heard from the region. This may be due to the fact that most of the world wants nothing to do with the shallow water slabs and big wave bombies on offer—or maybe we are just too easily distracted by all the other crazy discoveries the media feeds us. Whatever the case, the lineups in Arica remain surprisingly empty, but for a handful of itinerant hellmen who come each year in search of an adrenaline fix. The vibe in the lineup is all smiles and high fives—a vivid contrast to the anger and violence of the reef only a few meters away. Here are a few of the waves on offer.

  1. El Gringo: The “Chilean Pipeline,” El Gringo (or “Flopos,” as the local bodyboard contingent calls it) is a heavy, barreling peak breaking directly in front of an unforgiving slab of urchin-infested lava. Fickle and dangerous, the wave is extremely powerful, with the left being slightly hollower and more hair-raising than the right.
  2. El Buey: As if a shallow water slab isn’t enough, a few hundred meters to the south of El Gringo is El Buey, a deep-water peak that can handle swells in excess of 50 feet. Having been compared with Waimea Bay and Mavericks, this is a legitimate big wave arena, not for the faint of heart or short of breath.
  3. El Rancio: Touted as a bodyboard-only break, Rancio is a righthand slab breaking in front of a fish factory (hence the name, which reflects the horrendous water quality). With a drop that is extremely technical at head high and basically impossible once it goes overhead, this is definitely the domain of the boogie clan—but it’s been surfed before, and is there for the trying if you are keen.
  4. La Puntilla: A lefthand point break on the north side of town that is popular with the SUP and longboard crew, this wave can get quite good when a once-per-decade rainstorm flushes sand down the river and onto the rocks, creating a sort of Chilean superbank in reverse.
  5. The Beach Breaks: Further north from La Puntilla is a series of beach break peaks that stretches for miles and picks up just about any swell the South Pacific can generate. This is where 99% of the local surfing population rides waves, which means it can be crowded at times. But if the reefs to the south were to ever go flat (unlikely), you’ll still have somewhere to surf.