Object Impermanence

Ramón Navarro, Kohl Christensen, Otto Flores and a local crew of Chileans score an ephemeral sandbar on the verge of its disappearance

Standing at the edge of a verdant cliff on a cold, fall morning in Southern Chile, local tube hound Ramón Navarro couldn't believe his eyes. There was a long-period southwest swell in the water and the sun had just started to illuminate the lively, frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean below him. A biting offshore wind was grooming a reeling left-hand point into a gassed-up Mundaka lookalike. To the best of his knowledge, this wave had never been surfed before, most likely because it had never looked like this before.

Navarro had been to this specific stretch of coastline multiple times over the years, but had never seen the normally broken-up wave connect all the way down the point. After hearing whispers that the sand was starting to fill in and create shapely walls, he and his friend Otto Flores, a Puerto Rican surfer who was visiting Chile, had awoken early that morning to scout the point and see if the rumors were true.

"The first wave we saw spit three times," Navarro remembers. "It was perfect 8- to 10-foot barrels all the way through. I spent so many years in the area and I had never seen the sandbar that good. I don't know why everything came together, but the sandbar was firing. It was the best surprise."

Like the needle of a compass pointing north, Ramón Navarro is always aimed at the next great big wave spot along the Chilean coastline. But he doesn't mind stumbling upon freight-training pointbreaks, either. Photo by JIMENEZ

Navarro grew up in the small fishing village of Pichilemu, honing his skills at Punta de Lobos, at a time when there were few surfers in Chile. Over the past 20 years, he's ventured farther and farther away from his backyard to find new, empty breaks, unearthing more than 10 quality waves up and down the coast, mostly by talking to local fisherman. But this wave didn't look like any other left-hand point common to Southern Chile. This one was as wide as it was tall.

After the duo picked their jaws off the ground, they ran back to the main road, jumped in Navarro's car and raced to Pichilemu to grab their boards. Along the way, they made a pit stop at the hotel where Hawaii-based big-wave surfer Kohl Christensen was staying.

Christensen and Navarro have been friends for decades, and when he's not on Oahu, Christensen is usually at Navarro's side, paddling into a newly discovered point or big-wave spot in Chile. "I met Kohl in the winter of 1997," says Navarro. "He showed up here and he was just this crazy gringo charging big waves. Since then, he's been on nearly every big swell in Chile and we started traveling together. Now he speaks Spanish better than me."

When the lanky Christensen opened the door to his hotel room, Navarro couldn't get the words out fast enough. "There's this new wave and it's firing," Navarro told him, "Let's go. Bring your 7’0″."

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Christensen was skeptical. The southern coast of Chile is chock-full of left-breaking points and he wondered what made this spot so special. But as soon as the crew returned to the wave, Christensen started "screaming and jumping up and down like a little kid," he admits. They all unloaded their boards and stuffed themselves into thick wetsuits as quickly as possible. In minutes, they were scoring some of the best waves of their lives.

"I'm from Chile and I've surfed so many epic waves here, but I've never surfed a pointbreak that big and that hollow," says Navarro. "It was one of the best waves I've surfed in Chile for sure. No question about it."

But oversized, draining tubes often come at a price, and this mysto point was no exception. For every makeable wave that marched down the point, there were three nasty ones right behind it. "We weren't making a lot of the drops because it was sucking up so much and going below sea level," explains Christensen. "And the poundings were pretty bad. It was so shallow that you'd get pinned to the bottom every time."

For the next week, the crew, including a few local Chileans, would arrive at the point at 7 a.m. and wouldn't leave until 8 p.m., heading back to the beach every few hours to load up on mate or to cook fish over the fire. At the end of the week, they decided to name the wave "Solos" and they swore to keep its location confidential.

"I think in Chile, you can still find that sense of adventure," says Christensen, exploring the inside of an oversized cavern. "There are a lot of surfers around the world, but there are still places where you can discover new waves." Photo by DE HEECKEREN

Unfortunately, due to the fleeting nature of sandbars, not much secrecy was needed. "I came back a few months later and it wasn't there anymore," says Christensen. "It was all sectioned out and the bar had been eaten up. I think it had something to do with a nearby river that opened up."

Navarro returned to the spot every two weeks, but the bar they had scored was completely gone. According to Navarro, the quick coming and going of a wave is common along this rugged coastline.

"I've spent pretty much my whole life trying to find new waves and this one was right under my nose," says Navarro. "And that's because sandbars are so tricky. They change all of the time and there are so many things that need to happen in order for them to get good. This actually isn't the first time I surfed a spot in Chile with epic waves that you go and check again on a similar swell and it just isn't the same."

Navarro, Christensen and Flores hope the wave will return someday, but they aren't holding their breath. Much like when you catch the best wave of the day and then decide to immediately head back to the beach, Navarro and co. know that what they experienced would be impossible to top.

[Return to tomorrow to watch “Sub Sole,” a short edit featuring Flores, Navarro and Christensen scoring Solos. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.]