In The Mix El Gringo - A profile on Arica - Part 2

In: In The Mix by thermalben Thu 10th May '12
Tags: Jake Dean , Arica , El Gringo , Flopos , IBA , Fear in english
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The Arena
El Gringo is kinda spooky. After my nerve-wracking walk to the break, which is situated at the tip of a small man-made peninsula, I was greeted by what could've been a fucked-up scene from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Hundreds of feeding gulls and pelicans were flying eerily around the lineup, with huge seals bobbing up left and right (those guys are everywhere). There are also these super ugly vultures with red heads that hang out around the city scoping you out like they wanna peck the shit out of your eyes. The little consolation I had was the fact you won't find sharks out in the water - well none of the monstrosity and consequence of those of my South Australian home. Add to the scene a giant statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched, overlooking the lineup from the cliffs above, the dull grey sky (it doesn't get sunny ‘til around lunchtime when the wind picks up), and a memorial on the beach for one of the locals' fallen comrades - a reminder of how serious the wave is - and you've got yourself a pretty scary little place.

The Wave
If you haven't seen footage of El Gringo before, do yourself a favour and check out some YouTube videos from last year's IBA world tour stop there. Go on, I'll wait...Pretty gnarly huh? Like a colder water, darker green tinted Pipeline maybe? Who knows I've never surfed Pipe (and let's face it, I never will). But I guess the similarities are there - lefts and rights, stupidly shallow reef, can hold the big stuff with ease etc. The difference and too, the infamy of El Gringo lies with its rocks which are perched perilously close to the impact zone. If you're gonna try boost off the lip out there, you're going to want to ride it out for about two-tenths of a second before kicking out, unless you want to leave some skin on the barnacle and urchin infested reef. If you're Tamega then maybe you don't think about them too much, but for a guy from metropolitan Adelaide with questionable experience in the heavy stuff, those rocks are the fucking antichrist. Seriously, they are waaay too close for comfort and for me this meant after each wave I'd paddle like a man possessed for the horizon to get out the back and out of harm's way. They make a damn fine spot to watch the carnage from the safety of land though.

Solid tuberiding skills and a good scoop on ya are a must because the drop will separate the men from the boys (e.g. me - a decade of mainly dropkneeing tame lefthanders has meant my prone tuberiding ability on heavy lefts is severely lacking). Those dark green mounds jack up hard and fast I tells ya. I got tossed on a couple of draining ones but came away with only small cut on my foot from the reef but don't let my good fortune fool you - it was only five foot or so and I wasn't exactly charging. In fact, I would've looked quite the gumby - instead of paddling out through the sketchy keyhole (which doglegs, is narrower than a pencil and delivers you almost straight into the impact zone) I elected to jump off the rocks about 50 metres to the left of the break and paddle around the long way. I did this on the way in too. The only sage piece of advice I can offer to the below average booger thinking of paddling out at the famed spot is - know your limits but don't be scared to give it a crack, you'll kick yourself if you don't. It took me a while to get my confidence up but after scratching around for 15 minutes I started pushing myself into a couple and came away from the session at one of the world's premier bodyboarding playgrounds with two heavy tubes I was super stoked on and will remember for a long time. And if you really want a lesson in how to surf the wave properly just tune in to ibaworldtour.com/live from May 18-27.

The last word

Now you've listened to a kook rattle on about the wave, I thought I'd leave you with a comment from someone with a bit more authority on El Gringo. I flicked an email to two-time world champ and two-time Arica Chilean Challenge winner Jeff Hubbard and here's what he had to say:

"The funny thing is that this wave has been getting more and more gnarly every year as I learn more about it, see what it does to people and surf it more and more. I have hit the bottom out there a lot and have had my share of beat downs paddling out coming in caught inside landing airs too deep in the pit. I have tons of respect for the place and really enjoy riding the wave as it is a challenge in all sizes it has huge ramps and big barrels, it's just how bad do you want it?"

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