Peru's Unlucky Horseshoe

See the bottom of this page for the Save the Waves Petition!

By Chris Dixon

During the late 1960’s and through the 1970’s, intrepid surf travelers discovered the remote and often astonishing surf along South America’s Peruvian coastline. In addition to lefthand desert dreamscapes like that found at Chicama, waves like Punta Rocas, Cabo Blanco and a chilly, dredging, barreling lefthand pointbreak called La Herradura, or The Horseshoe, fired imaginations worldwide. Wave riders from abroad were soon joined by swelling legions of hardcore locals who, like reed-canoe riding “Kon-Tiki” ancestors from thousands of years past, feasted on the country’s bountiful surf.

Today, though many Peruvians live in abject poverty, the country boasts a thriving and rich surf culture. And though much of the Peruvian seaside is often chilly, treacherous and fogbound, the country’s ruling class has seen dollars in a wave swept shore. Thus, despite a coastal protection law passed in 2000 specifically protected surf spots, hapless Peruvian locals are now facing the specter of marinas and massive commercial development at several of their most cherished breaks. The most urgently threatened appears to be La Herradura, or “The Horseshoe”, in Chorillos, 40 minutes from downtown Lima.

La Herradura is a classic lefthander that draws some of the country’s best surfers and often, sizeable crowds. On a south swell, the break offers up three sections, with the inside throwing out enormous, gaping nearshore barrels. The whole area around La Herradura is slated for a massive development by a Peruvian company called GREMCO. The developer proposes a 7000 home residential and commercial development and a five jetty marina that will sit directly where waves up to 4 meters high now sweep across the bay in spectacular fashion.

“Your magazine,” says Peruvian surfer and economist Adolfo Valderrama, “mentioned in the 1980’s that La Herradura is one of the ten best waves in the world. And it is. You have to wait for a swell, but in March, April, May and November, it gets great waves.”

La Herradura has endured controversy in the past. During the 1980’s, the mayor of Chorillos started a project to build a road connecting the cliffs of La Herradura with La Chira, a beach to the south. Despite pleas from Peruvian Surfing Federation president Jose Whilar, blasting was done that negatively affected the break for years, but no road was ever built. In 1998, in part due to plans to develop La Herradura, Valderrama and a host of Peruvian surfers organized protests that received a great deal of media coverage, and helped convince the Peruvian congress and the country’s president Alberto Fujimori to sign off on a seven point law. This groundbreaking piece of legislation declared Peru’s surf spots natural resources that should be protected in perpetuity unless there was a pressing need by the country’s Navy to destroy a spot for a jetty or harbor. The bill also went on the point out the economic benefits of surfing to Peru’s economy, along with projections of how many surfers could be brought to the country’s 3500 km of coastline should surfing be promoted in a manner similar to Hawaii or other destinations. “The law says that the surf spots belong to the state forever,” says Valderrama, “and it made a provision that the Navy is supposed to oversee the creation of a national registry of surf reefs. In 2002, when Fred Hemmings visited the Waikiki club near Miraflores, he was amazed because he saw our bill signed into law. He submitted the beach bill to the U.S. Capitol in 1998 but even in the U.S. such a bill was never signed into law.”

Yet though the law was signed, it still has yet to actually be implemented. “It hasn’t happened,” says Valderrama, “because of political interests.”

Could some of those “interests” have to do with the $1.5 billion or so backing La Herradura’s “Cotsa Azul” project? Interestingly enough, local surfers have recently reported surveying crews all around the break. When confronted by the surfers, surveyers responded that they were preparing measurements for a harbor and had been employed by GREMCO. Yet when surfers wrote to a manager at GREMCO named Luis Zapata, the manager replied in vehement terms that the company had no designs on the surf break.

Yet Mr. Zapata’s points appear to be contradicted on the company’s own website for the project: http://gremco.com.pe/costazul/. Interestingly, on this very slick and noisy site, there is a large graphic for a marina that would appear to affect La Herradura a great deal. Farther into the site, a section points out the tremendous surf opportunity for potential residents of the new development, complete with a picture of a monstrous Herradura barrel.

According to Valderrama, surfers have floated a proposal to put the marina 800 meters or so to the north of the presently proposed location, but have gotten no meaningful response. He points out that the northward location is more problematic because the water is deeper and the above cliffs are steeper, but at least it might preserve a national treasure. He finds the projections for the harbor ludicrous anyway. “They’re calling for 300 recreational boats in this marina. I’m not sure if there are 300 recreational boats in the country.”

Valderama says that the larger, non-surfing population around La Herradura is somewhat split on the project and many of the poor here aren’t even aware of the enormity of what is actually on the table. Economically, the area’s locals would benefit from the jobs the project would create. However, its surfers and beachgoers, who flock here, would be denied a place that surfers and many Peruvians have considered sacred as a surfing and historic site. Indeed, many fishermen still ply the waters here on calm days, taking fish from the reefs as they have for thousands of years. “If you destroy the surf,” says Valderrama, “you destroy the ecologic system, and the fishermen, who are lower middle class — it will no longer be possible for them to fish.”

As it stands now, things are grim. Valderrama says he will likely attempt to file some sort of emergency injunction demanding that La Herradura be saved until the legally mandated national survey of reefs can be complete. Save The Waves (www.savethewaves.org) is also in the process of putting together an online petition for surfers to fill out. When it’s online, we’ll publish it. In the meantime, see the below links for more information — including the GREMCO website and an email link to their “Costa Azul” sales office.

Save the Waves Petition ONLINE NOW!
Fill it out and help save the spot!
Click here to visit http://www.savethewaves.org.

Gremco’s Costa Azul Website
Slick and Noisy
Click here to visit http://gremco.com.pe/costazul/.

Send an Email to GREMCO’s Sales Office
[email protected]

Send an Email to a Peruvian Congressman
Scroll down to “Lima”
Click here to visit www.congreso.gob.pe.

A Google Translation of an Interesting Article on the Topic
From caretas.com
Click here to visit www.caretas.com.

Peru’s www.olasperu.com in English
A Google Translation-Many Herradura/Horeshoe Links
Click here to visit http://olasperu.terra.com.pe/.

Peru’s www.peruazul.com
A Google Translation-Many Herradura/Horeshoe Links
Click here to visit http://www.peruazul.com/.

The Peruvian Surfing Federation
(no website)
JR. Pomabamba 702
5 Lima
Peru
Phone : (51) 14 32 6313
Fax : (51) 14 22 7173