In The Mix El Gringo - A profile on Arica

In: In The Mix by doclach 0 Comments Tue 8th May '12
Tags: Jake Dean , Arica , El Gringo , Flopos , IBA , Fear in english , part 1
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With the STEALTH Arica Challenge the next major event on the IBA calendar, we thought it would be good to give people new to the wave some insight. Jake Dean writes a great travel blog . Here is the first part of a two part piece Jake has written for Fluidzone. The man has a gift for setting the atmosphere.

Not long now guys and gals ‘til the pro circus touches down in Chile for stop number three on the world tour and it looks set to be another doozy. Last year saw Guilherme Tamega take out the El Gringo contest care of some gaping pits and kamikaze el rollos out of the wave's notorious end section. Who will win it this year? My sentimental pick is Hardy ‘cos if that dude doesn't deserve a world title then no one does. But I'm not here to provide a form guide friends, I'm here to give a layman's (kook's) perspective on the wave for those who haven't had the pleasure (and pain) of surfing it. I was in Arica for a couple of days this time last year as part of a six-month jaunt through South America and managed a single memorable session at the place. Let's do this...

The place
The heaving beast that is El Gringo is located in the city of Arica on the far north coast of Chile. Arica is known for being one of the driest places on Earth due to its location in the Atacama Desert. If you believe the sign hanging in the kitchen of the hostel I stayed at, the city only gets 0.03 inches of rain per year, which means it'd take a century to fill up a coffee cup. Arica has an important port, is a transportation hub and actually used to be part of Peru, before it was famously captured by Chilean troops in 1880. But in the bodyboarding world these things mean little, all that matter are El Gringo's gnarly slabs of doom.
North Chile's one of the few regions I've travelled to where bodyboarders far outnumber their standup brethren. You can actually walk down the street with your lid under your arm without occasioning bewildered stares from local commuters - a rarity in many parts of the world. It's easy to see why there are so many spongers; the waves are purpose built for the sport with deep heavy barrels and giant ramps. The quality of the local riders has become really high and it's not uncommon to see teenage kids hucking huge flips over near-dry reef. The locals are also a pretty chilled-out bunch - one guy talked me through the best spot to paddle out without getting smashed into the rocks, while a local photog snagged a few pics of me and promptly emailed them through to please my inner photo-slut.

The rep
The wave has some serious street cred. While walking to El Gringo for my solitary surf there I had a stomach full of butterflies. Why? Because every man and his dog I met in the months prior to my arrival in the city spoke of the spot as if I was a dead man walking. I'd been slowly making my way north along the Chilean coast from Pichilemu, a big wave haven a few hours south of Santiago, and every person I told I was heading to Arica reacted in the same way, "Oooh El Gringo! Very dangerous wave mate!" they'd say (in Spanish) with eyes aghast. I'd then have to endure their horror stories of brutal wipeouts, broken boards and bodies. Worse still I psyched myself out and started watching YouTube videos of past world tour events, which featured waves of the calibre I'll probably never surf. Reading some of the comments from the pro standup guys who were left battered and bruised after their sole WCT event at the wave in 2007 also didn't help (quotes taken from Surfing Magazine's online writeup of the comp, which was blessed with 6-8ft pits):
"These are the most dangerous waves I've ever surfed. It's right up there with Pipe and Teahupoo." Chris Ward (Californian charger/former WCT surfer/infamous fight partner of Spencer Skipper)
"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 (Hawaiian WCT surfer)

Part 2 will be up tomorrow.

Photos// Sam Gigger, Carlos Donoso, Jake Dean


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