Rip Curl Search Arica, Chile – Day Three

CONDITIONS: 6-8 foot and serviceably sketchball
HEATS HELD: Some of Round Two (almost there)
NATURE'S CALL: You trust me, right? Right?
PREDICTIONS: More chip-chipping away

Adrian "Ace" Buchan is getting washed over the reef. Tumbled over the jagged rocks as the crowd rises to its feet to gasp at the inevitable carnage. It's become a sort of El Gringo standing ovation; instead of cheering the good ones, the entire grandstand unleashes a collective "oh shit" each time a surfer get irreparably caught inside. This is where bad things happen. Like how Adriano de Souza had to forfeit the heat prior due to the fifteen stitches in his head (ten inside, five outside) and urchin spines in his face. Bad things indeed.

For an example on how to deal with this sort of Chilean rock-hop, let's rewind to two days prior; the really big swell. El Gringo is bombing — same as before, only quite a bit bigger. Everyone's just staring at it through the gray dawn wondering what happens next. "Looks like they want to hold the Eddie out here," says South African David Weare, clearly not stoked on the judges hesitation to call off the event. Chilen big-wave legend Ramon Navarro, who pioneered many of Chile's heaviest spots virtually alone, grabs a board and paddles out to show the boys just how surfable it really is. He takes off on the first big bomb and gets annihilated. Broken board. Washed up on the rocks. Gnarly. Navarro calmly takes another board and paddles out again. He makes one heavy drop and pulls over the back before it can crush him entirely. Takes another and pulls into a gaping closeout like it's three foot Snapper. His fin tears a chunk of his board out as it breaks off on his back and Ramon washes up over the rocks again. Now boardless, Navarro humbly accepts his applause from the crowd and casually strolls back to his car. We have no proof of this, but from what we've seen here we strongly the word "chill" — as in "chill out" — is derived from the Chilean people ultra-casual approach to otherwise brutal situations. If your plane were going down here, the stewardess would still be passing out peanuts.

Anyway, Ace is on the rocks, but he's getting into the swing of things here. There's only three minutes left in his heat and he's got Shaun Cansdell firmly combo'd (Cans had a bit of trouble when he broke a board mid-heat, then remembered that Ace is usually his caddy). Wearing no booties, he scrambles up over the rocks, grabs another board and leaps back into the keyhole. The second he reaches the outside, a ten foot A-frame jacks up and Ace makes the airdrop, getting smashed at the bottom and taking another three-sets-to-the-head trip over the rocks. He comes in smiling about his win. "It's really easy to go missing out there," said Ace after the heat. "I spent half my first heat on the rocks, so I made a goal this time to get an early start." Totally chile.

So that's pretty much how things went today. We're sorry to report that we didn't really start or finish any rounds today — just chipped our way through another ten heats of the first elimination round. Organizers, who have now conceded to allow Jet Ski assist, are starting to get that desperate look in their eyes, checking the swell-chart against the calendar and threatening to shift to switch to shorter, 25-minute heats to move things along. Each day, the moment the wind comes onshore — which is precisely at noon-thirty — El Gringo is done. Whichever heat is in the water gets screwed with nasty tubeless muck. Today that was Freddy Patacchia, who beat out Dayyan Neve in the onshore funk. But until that wind switches, watching the action out at El Gringo is anything but dull. Just ask any local Chilean, who have all been ordered not to ask for autographs after three children were nearly crushed the other day. The excitement on the beach here is almost like carnival.

So without too much ado, we'll keep this short and just say that Cory Lopez, Dean Morrison, Danny Wills, Ben Dunn, Ricky Basnett and Bruno Santos all advanced to the next round. Chris Ward was the stand-out surfer of the day, with a crazy 9.8 foamball racetrack across the inside ledge that no one in their right mind should have gone for (which, of course, is exactly why Wardo went for it). "You've just gotta charge it," says Wardo. "End up on the rocks if you don't make it. But that's where you back-up boards are anyway." Dingo also demonstrated some impressively hairball tuberiding (including a below sea-level meeting with the rocks) and Mick Lowe won the crowd's favor by going headfirst over the falls and then washing up over the reef Chile con carne style. "Tahiti is heavier," says Lowey, "but this wave is scarier cause you can come out and still end up on the rocks."

The swell is fading now, but that never last long here. We suspect they'll try to squeeze a few more heats into the fading conditions tomorrow to set things up for a strong finish on the next barrage. But one never knows. For now, the Foster's ASP World Tour is just glad to be back on the rocks in one piece.

And if you're still not convinced how crazy El Gringo is, check out a few of these post-heat confessions from today's heat winners:

"These are the most dangerous waves I've ever surfed. It's right up there with Pipe and Teahupoo. There's no eel-grass like we have in California to protect you from hitting the reef – just jagged rocks with barnacles and mussels. It doesn't feel too good on your feet without booties, but I like surfing without booties so it's worth a couple scrapes." —Chris Ward

"You get sets on the head, and you get washed on the rocks. It's just really tricky out there. It probably needs to back a little bit more so it's right on the ledge instead of halfway in between." —Danny Wills

"This wave is really dangerous. I think it's more dangerous when it's smaller because it breaks in close to the rocks. I got smashed on a couple of waves out there and didn't hit the bottom or anything. Those guys on the first day got absolutely smashed. When it's bigger, it sort of rolls in more when you get hit by them so you end up getting washed up on the rocks instead. It's dangerous either way I guess. I'm stoked to get through that one." —Ben Dunn

"I think it definitely rivals Tahiti as far as heavy goes. In Tahiti, you come out of the barrel and you're sort of in safe water and even if you wipeout, you have a lagoon you can get washed into. Here, you're getting washed onto dry, gnarly, muscle-encrusted rocks. If you get caught inside, you're up the rocks. If you wipeout, you're up the rocks. Pretty much, if you make a mistake, you're gone so you just try not to make any." —Mick Lowe

"It's probably one of the heaviest waves I've ever surfed. It's not just the wave, but the rocks are right there – it's super shallow. If you get smashed, you'll come up on the reef for sure. A few guys have got hurt already with stitches and concussions. It's gnarly." —Ricky Basnett

"It's dangerous. You're surfing right on those rocks. Jumping out and coming in is tough, and surfing over a shallow reef anyways is scary and really dangerous. It's up there with those waves like Pipe and Tahiti, where your career and your life are on the line. It's not a place where I think amateurs should grow up surfing. If you see guys like myself and Cory Lopez and Adriano de Souza, guys on the Top 45, getting hurt and struggling out here, it's definitely a world-class wave and not one you should take lightly." —Freddy Patacchia

So, we'll see you out there, right?

Heat 15: Bernardo Miranda (BRA) vs. {{{CJ}}} Hobgood (USA)
Heat 16: Greg Emslie (ZAF) vs. Josh Kerr (AUS)

Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.50 def. Christian Merello (CHL) 5.{{{90}}}
Heat 2: Andy Irons (HAW) 13.20 def. Manuel Selman (CHL) 12.00
Heat 3: Kieren Perrow (AUS) 13.73 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 11.50
Heat 4: Bruno Santos (BRA) 16.43 def. Tom Whitaker (AUS) 4.83
Heat 5: Daniel Wills (AUS) 4.47 def. David Weare (ZAF) 3.84
Heat 6: Cory Lopez (USA) 14.33 def. Luke Munro (AUS) 4.64
Heat 7: Dean Morrison (AUS) 13.50 def. Neco Padaratz (BRA) 9.63
Heat 8: Chris Ward (USA) 15.66 def. Gabe Kling (USA) 7.67
Heat 9: Ben Dunn (AUS) 12.00 def. Troy Brooks (AUS) 10.16
Heat 10: Michael Lowe (AUS) 12.23 def. Luke Stedman (AUS) 6.34
Heat 11: Royden Bryson (ZAF) N/A def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) N/S
Heat 12: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 14.67 def. Shaun Cansdell (AUS) 3.50
Heat 13: Ricky Basnett (ZAF) 7.10 def. Rodrigo Dornelles (BRA) 5.04
Heat 14: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 11.40 def. Dayyan Neve (AUS) 10.00