South American surfing has adventure written all over it. If you can find a road that’s not overgrown by dense jungle or cracked on a high plain desert chances are you may stumble across some very good, very uncrowded waves. This is not to say that there aren’t any crowds in the southern reaches of America, both Peru and Brazil have been known to see a few heads bobbing around out in the water. But in terms of potential, South America is wide open. Juicy southern hemi storms send consistent surf to almost all coastlines on the Pacific side during the winter months (Northern Hemisphere’s summer). The Atlantic coast is rich with wave potential too, although it may not be as consistent or big as the West Coast. Surfer Magazine’s Travel Report has an in-depth collection for most popular South American surf spots using surf maps.
THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS SURF OVERVIEW
The Galapagos Islands are strategically located to pick up many swells from the N and S, and with no continental shelf waves build up fast and strike with little loss of power. Although much of the coastline remains to be explored, the youth of the islands, ruggedness of the shore and prevailing winds some what limit the potential for too many more spots. The sites indicated on the map are those showing greatest consistency and favorability to winds. There are many more spots known to break that are usually blown out. The water is very clear at the better spots, providing sparkling, clean waves, in conditions that are often excellent. Clear water makes judging water depths difficult, so check out bottoms if possible before venturing into critical waves. The tidal range is 4-8′ and can have a significant influence on the surf. Low tides provide faster, harder-breaking waves, but smaller waves may break close to rocky shores and caution is advised. There are few beach breaks. Most surf breaks over rock reef or points that may have sharp bottoms thanks to volcanic lava origins. Few areas have warm enough water for coral to grow and then it is white coral that is not very sharp. Early mornings are best during the dry season. Local sharks are well fed but are territorial in nature. If you’re approached by a bull (sea lion) on or near shore, exit promptly. There are many unexplored areas on Southern Isabela, the largest island, which makes up half of the land area of the archipelago: and on Santa Cruz, which has excellent potential. Boat captains have reported seeing waves as large as 30’+ on north sides of the islands, especially on Seymour. Overall best time of year would be January-April with consistent N swells and good conditions on Baltra Island and Seymour. Wreck Bay is best July-October, but surf in the Galapagos may be inconsistent at any time of year.
NORTHERN AND CENTRAL CHILE SURF OVERVIEW
You will find crowds during the afternoons and the weekends, especially at Pichidangui, Tongoy, Totoralillo, Balinearios Flamenco, Puerto Fino, Antofagasta and LaPortada. Surfing has become quite popular now with the teenagers, and locals are not so friendly towards foreign surfers. Chilean surfers have explored many parts of the coast with difficult road access during the last few years: from Ovalle to La Serena, La Serena to Calder and Chaaral to Antofagasta. The results were disappointing. The Chilean continental shelf is extremely deep, dropping off too sharply to produce shorebreak in many areas.
The powerful Humboldt Current brings constant surf to the Chilean coast. This current is generated in Antarctica. Waves are also generated by wind, but this is not the most important factor. The wind comes from low-pressure centers off Central Chile. Summer is the best time for clean surf, even though the waves are often bigger in the winter. The low-pressure systems that usually produce sizable surfare very close to the coast. The surf is sometimes out of control, therefore. Winter wave heights sometimes reach 12-15′. The waves have juice all year, so the visiting surfer should have a board that can handle a wide variety of conditions.