Chile, the goofyfooter’s paradise, has been increasingly in the international spotlight these last few years for its consistency, infinity of spots, huge, perfect waves (nearly all lefts), and crowds that some have compared to California in the ’50s.
The country can be separated roughly into three big regions:
- The north has the driest desert in the world, and its rocky bottoms produce some of Chile’s most powerful and hollow waves, which easily break a lot of boards, so be sure to bring a good quiver.
- The central region, which is the most accessible for its proximity to Santiago, offers many spots that are for the most part friendly, but beware: 15-foot-plus days are not uncommon, and 25-foot-plus happens on a regular basis.
- Then there’s the south region, a pristine, green environment overlooking an infinity of left tubing pointbreaks waiting to be explored.
With a national average of 300 days a year of surf, it is very unlikely to fall on a long flat spell. Swells hit the 4,000-mile coast of Chile year-round, and they can hit hard. Respect the locals and the environment, be careful of Pisco intoxication, be curious, explore, and you’ll spend probably one of the best surf trips of your life here.
Northern Chile Introduction:
Northern Chile is home to the desert of Atacama, the driest desert in the world, which means that the whole region is mostly unpopulated and mostly virgin, except for a few cities spaced along the coast or some small fishing villages. The breaks are mostly shallow rock-bottom reefs that produce big, hollow, powerful waves during the big wave season, so be warned. The people are hospitable, the warm and dry climate hardly changes during the year, and traveling from one city to another driving through the desert along the coast by car or bus is definitely something you want to experience at least once.
Las Machas: Beachbreak, training ground.
Best Season: May-July/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Beginner to Advance.Tide: Low /Swell : SSW/ Wind: S/ Bottom: Sand /Size: Shoulder High.
Las Machas is a long beach that starts in Chile and ends in Peru. It’s mostly a great training ground for the young and less experienced surfers, but during the huge winter swells it serves also as a decompression valve from the morning sessions in one or more of the bigger, gnarlier waves of Arica. Machas works pretty much all day, so the afternoons are dedicated to less tense sessions on a few mushy waves in this nice and friendly beachbreak. It’s just on the outside of town up north, but easy to access by taxi, bus, — just ask for La Playa las Machas. Usually, the best spot on the beach is by the second pier in front of the big isolated tower. It does tend to get rather crowded on weekends and late afternoons. You can then explore a mile or two up north and find another beachbreak working with less crowd.
El Gringo: Chilean Pipe, WordClass, Court of ASP Ripcurl Search 2008.
Best Season: May-July/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Expert/Tide: Low /Swell : S Wind:No/ Bottom: Reef & rocks /Size: over to double overhead.
El Gringo is referred to locally to as the Chilean Pipeline for the shape of the wave — a perfect breaking A-frame — and its closeness to shore. The wave, situated on an outer island one mile or so out to sea, breaks 300 feet from where the public is standing and can reach easily 15 feet-plus, which makes it an impressive arena for surfers and watchers alike. The wave is dangerous, and a cross in honor of a dead surfer is just in front of the spot to remind you of this. Most pros enter this wave with a helmet on; the last section of the wave on small swells sometimes breaks on dry reef. The entry through the left channel is an experience in itself; you have to stand on a rock in front of the breaking wave, wait for the perfect calm, and jump in and paddle like mad to the lineup, duck diving the incoming waves in shallow reef. If you don’t feel capable of this feat, just take the long route through the right channel and paddle your way up to the lineup.
The smaller this wave breaks, the more dangerous it gets if you fall badly in the last sections next to the reef. But seeing . The right (the Chilean Backdoor) will usually accept more size than the left, but the left is the real deal, a steep drop followed by a solid bottom straight into the tube. Once you master the left, you can score some real tube time. Just be careful not to overshoot and get taken around the island — the tortuga(turtle) rock is just next to where the waves crash on a rounded rock, and it won’t let you out of that spot. If you ever fall here and can’t fight back the current, you will most likely have to be rescued from this spot.
El Buey: Big wave surfing, World Class.
Best Season: May-July/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Expert. Tide: Low /Swell : SSW/ Wind: slight off/ Bottom: Sand (deep) /Size: 20+ foot.
El Buey is a huge oceanic wave that breaks in the deep waters in the middle of the bay in front of the Gringo, about half a mile from the coast, and can deliver rides of more than 600 feet. It only starts breaking at eight feet and can reach 20 to 25 feet on good big south swells. The wave breaks left and right; the right here can take more size. It reaches its greatest size between April and August and can be good in October and November. The best swell direction is SSW between 190 and 210 degrees for the left to break perfect 15-foot tubes, swells over 220 degrees for the right to deliver huge, steep drops and, if you’re lucky, barreling tubes on a wave that is described as a cross between huge Sunset and Waimea. You won’t need a helmet here, but you will need a lot of breath to survive the long, deep hold-down and the cojones to throw yourself over the ledge. The shortest way to enter the wave is by the parking lot next to the Hotel Arica; there is a small cove on the left where you can start your paddle. If it’s big you might have to duck-dive an overhead shallow closeout on your way out; another safer option is to take on the small sand beach on the right side and paddle toward the left of the wave, but the paddle is longer. Be on the lookout for the rogue closeout set when chatting with the few fellow surfers in the lineup during the huge swells — paddle and duck for your life!
El Colegio: World Class right hander rocky reef.
Best Season: May-July, October/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Advance to expert. Tide: Low filling up /Swell : N/ Wind: off / Bottom: Rock /Size: 9-15 feet.
One of the best waves in Iquique, this powerful right-hander breaks in shallow waters on a hard rock bottom. It can handle good size, up to 15 feet and bigger — and the bigger, the better; it only starts breaking at six to nine feet. It is situated right in front of the Vertical Surf Shop between two other waves: the easier and mellow Punta 1 to the left, and Las Urracas, which is almost to the left of Colegio, but Colegio is definitely the best and most difficult wave of the three and requires more skill than the other adjacent waves. On good days and with the right swell, you can surf barreling 12-foot walls for distances greater than 300 feet before kicking out. Can get pretty crowded with surfers and bodyboarders with quite some skill, and can get tense when drop-ins happen. When it gets bigger, you may want to wear a helmet just in case, and look out for closeout sets. You have two channels to enter: the left channel through Urracas, or the right channel going between Colegio and Punta 1. On big days, look way out in the direction of the Bestia, on the point of the peninsula with the buildings, to see incoming big sets.
Punta 1: Regional Classic right hander rocky reef. Best Season: May-July, October/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Intermidiate to Advance. Tide: Low filling up /Swell : N/ Wind: off / Bottom: Rock /Size: 6-9 feet. Las Urracas: Regional Classic Left hander rocky reef. Best Season: May-July, October/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Intermidiate to Advance. Tide: Low filling up /Swell : N/ Wind: off / Bottom: Rock /Size: 6-9 feet.
La Bestia (El Bajo): Big Wave Surfing, World Class.
Best Season: May & October/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Big Wave Experience/Tide: Low Swell : S/ Wind: S/ Bottom: Rock (Deep) /Size: 18-24 feet to paddle, 24+ tow-in.
This huge, barreling, oceanic wave was only surfed for the first time comparatively recently. It wasn’t until two well-known big-wave surfers, Ramon Navarro from Chile and Gabriel Villaran from Peru, towed into unknown 25-foot monsters. A new world was opened for Chilean surf. One year later, a crew of the best Chilean big-wave riders led by Ramon once again decided it was time to surf it huge, but by hand. On a 15- to 18-foot day, perfect barreling rights were caught and surfed with only manpower. Ramon caught several tubes, and Diego Medina, amongst other waves, experienced a severe wipeout, falling at the base of the wave and getting pushed down pretty deep. He spent the next wave below, coming close to drowning. From this day on, every time the wave breaks a local crowd of big-wave surfers from Iquique, and every other Chilean pro, surfs the spot. Now, small crowds of international surfers come to Chile during the big-wave winter and stay in Iquique only to surf this particular spot. This wave breaks very rarely — it needs 9 or 12 feet to start breaking — but when it breaks it is easily amongst the 20 best waves in the world. This is a world-class wave and is definitely reserved only for expert big-wave surfers.
Best Season: May to August/ Access: Park in front/ Skill: Intermediate to experienced. Tide: Low filling /Swell : S,SSW/ Wind: W/ Bottom: SRock /Size: 6-9 feet.
This nice lefthander breaks a little bit down south, one mile outside of the city of Antofagasta, the mining capital of Chile. Ride out of the city southward and pass all the military barracks; in one moment you will see it on the right, with a small parking lot with dustbins and signs. This relatively constant left breaks over a rock and sand shelf very close to shore. In its maximum expression it offers nice, hollow, barreling tubes and leaves plenty of room for creative surfing. It starts breaking at about three feet and can handle up to nine feet easily. The entry is quite easy: Just paddle straight toward the point from the small parking lot and duck dive your way through.
Portofino: Regional Classic, right hander
Best Season: Feb to October/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Intermediate. Tide: Half emptying /Swell : NW/ Wind: E & Off/ Bottom: Rock /Size: 3-6 feet.
One hour up north from Caldera right by the motorway, in the middle of the desert, the small village of Portofino has one of the best rights of the Northern Region. Various Chilean surfers, on their various trips from the North to the Central Region, will stop their car or hop off the bus, to stay a couple of days and surf Portofino and make a break to the travel. This powerful right is constant and can offer tubing sections, nice ripable overhead walls and connections for aerial tricks, it breaks pretty close to shore and be careful going in and out, the rock bottom is covered with urchins.
Central Chile Introduction
The Central Region of Chile is the most crowded region of Chile, for it’s closeness to the capital Santiago and because this is where surf first appeared in Chile at the beach in Ritoque near Viña del Mar. Chilean surf has been exploding rapidly and the level has increased accordingly. Surf shops have sprouted along the coasts and in Santiago alike, surf schools are now legion and every spot has at least an annual surf contest, the major spots seeing various contests during the year. The Central Region offers quite a variety of very distinct waves, from nice mellow beachbreaks to full-on 25 feet plus, rock bottom killer waves.
Pichilemu is undoubtedly the Chilean capital of surf and the main destination in this region for surfers looking for constant quality waves close to Santiago.
Best Season: Fall-winter/ Access: Park in town and walk back/Skill: Beginner to advance. Tide: Low /Swell : S/ Wind: S/ Bottom: Sand &Rock /Size: head to double overhead.
Long, sweeping bay just north of the little fishing hamlet of Horcon. Needs big swell to start working. Despite the appearance of being a super long pointbreak, there’s actually only a couple spots surfed: towards the end of the point, where the rocks curve outwards, and very rarely, the outside bombie left. El Claron is a good option once the swell picks way up and the wind starts blowing from the south, as it’s protected from both — you could be safely avoiding double overhead death at the beachbreaks by surfing in the lee of the point. The only slight bummer is that the takeoff zone is pretty tight, and Horcon is not a big town (ie, everyone knows everyone else). Also, it has an annoying tendency to close out when the swell is a little west — but it is one of the closest pointbreaks to Vina del Mar, and worth a check.
Ritoque: Regional Classic, beachbreak
Best Season: Summer/ Access: Sandy lot/Skill: Beginner to advance. Tide: Med-low /Swell : SW/ Wind: N/ Bottom: Sand /Size: waist to overhead.
Ritoque is the birthplace of Chilean surfing. The wave itself is nothing special — a slopey, lazy left that meanders into the channel allowing a couple top turns and a closeout floater on the inside; the right off the other side can be pretty fun, though it’s less powerful than it looks and can leave you caught inside for hours. It gets bigger as you head south down the beach, but as there aren’t any channels and it’s more exposed, surfers tend to stick to the known peak(s) at the north end of the beach.While you wouldn’t fly all the way to Chile to surf Ritoque, it’s a pleasant place to while away an afternoon, especially as it’s only a half hour or so from the cities of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.
Renaca: Regional Classic, Beachbreack.
Best Season: Summer/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Beginner to advance. Tide: Med-low /Swell : W &SW/ Wind: E/ Bottom: Sand /Size: underhead.
If Ritoque is the birthplace of Chilean surfing, then Renaca is it’s current cultural and competitive home. The peaky beachbreak has been home to many surf contests over the years, is featured occasionally on Saturday afternoon TV, and sports a strong local dudebro hang out vibe. There’s even a little graffiti that says “Only Locals” over the stairs on the way to the beach. Lovely.
The wave itself is a product of offshore boulders that have sculpted the sandbars towards the north end of the beach into peaky a frames that wedge in and over themselves, allowing a couple big moves and/or a brief shack before closing out. South of the main peaks, and stretching on south down the beach, are a series of poorly-shaped closeouts.
Los Libertadores Region:
Puertecillo: World Class leff hand pointbreak.
Best Season: Summer/ Access: Sandy lot/Skill: Beginner to advance. Tide: Med-low /Swell : SW/ Wind: SE/ Bottom: Sand /Size: Head to double overhead.
Puertecillo’s sand-bottom point, inside privately-owned Rancho Topocalma, been Chile’s best-kept secret spot since decades. Nowadays it can get crowded during weekends, with plenty of people coming from Santiago. The wave itself is best when the sand gets a chance to settle after the intense winter storms, and when it’s on, it rivals any left sandbar tube anywhere. It’s further tucked in that Punta de Lobos, so while it does get less swell, the swells are super clean by the time they start wrapping around the headland. When it’s on, it’s pretty much tuck in and go.
Best Season: Summer/ Access: Park in front/Skill: Beginner to advance. Tide: Low /Swell : SW/ Wind: E/ Bottom: Sand /Size: Head to overhead high.
The wave in Pichilemu is fatally flawed. Sure, there are some stunning, racy sections (especially up towards the top of the point at low tide), but in general, the sand is haphazard and the channel super deep: it’s the world’s longest rolling mushburger. Surfing Pichilemu has been compared with snowboarding, where it’s all open face, slopey carving and very little drive; the whitewater just gathers steam behind you, not allowing for any sort of fancy rebound action. In short, it can be a very frustrating wave. That said, it does have advantages: it’s right in town, for those who don’t have a car and aren’t up for Lobos; it’s perfect for learning (when small) as it is so mushy, and it’s not uncommon to see snowboarders spending a few days here after a sojourn to Chile’s famed Valle Nevado ski resort.
Best Season: March-April/ Access: Park in front/Skill: intermidiate to advance. Tide: Low /Swell : SW/ Wind: E/ Bottom: Sand & Few rocks /Size: Head to overhead.
In the next bay just south of Pichilemu, Infernillo is the region’s hidden gem. Often super fast and verging on unmakeable, this sand-bottomed left point is hollower than Punta de Lobos, and usually way less crowded. When the sand’s just right, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re surfing a reverse Burleigh Heads, as sections racetrack down the line towards the inside rocks. It’s best to choose a high-speed line as you’re getting it wired; after a couple days, it’s easier to start relaxing into the tube and making sections. Careful when it’s big, though, as it’s almost as hard and complex as Ocean Beach, SF to make it out.
Punta de Lobos: California has Rincon, Australia has Bells, Spain has Mundaka, Chile has Lobos
Best Season: March-April/ Access: Park at the tip of the point/Skill: begginer to advance. Tide: Low /Swell : SW/ Wind: E/ Bottom: Sand & rocks /Size: Head to double head high.
Every time Chile appears in a surf magazine, the long, sweeping and rugged cliffs of Lobos always make it in. And for good reason. The lefts that march in down the line are consistent, varied, and often damn excellent. The cliffs protect the break from the dreaded — and almost daily — southwest wind. Lobos itself has many sections and moods, depending on the swell and tide. When it’s giant (and yeah, it’s been ridden up to solid 20-foot), the lineup is way outside off the further big rock. The experienced big wave guys take off right in front of the rock, while the rest of the mortals tend to stay just wide of it. When it’s double overhead plus, the wave just kinda rolls into the bay — other than sheer size, it’s not a super intimidating big wave, as there’s no gnarly bowl section. It would actually be good training for any aspiring big wave riders, as it’s pretty deep out there and your chances for utter death are minimal.
When it gets under double overhead is when things start cooking. The lineup moves further in, and the wave walls and tubes through the whole middle part of the point — 200 yard-long rides are not unheard of. It’s not super fast, so you actually have time to set up the bowl sections, and it’s glassy 90% of the time. As it gets underhead, it becomes more sectiony, breaking mainly towards the top of the point in a series of shorter (50-yard) walls.
Southern Chile Introduction
The hidden gem of Chile, the infinity of left point-breaks of the South are one of the few virgin surf spots left in the world; long, constant perfectly tubing waves for days on end till you drop from exhaustion. Empty lefts for hundreds of miles in a beautiful green environment with very few people surfing makes this a sacred place for surfing in Chile. This region has not been yet touched by urbanization and has a very low population made of small villages where the inhabitants live off farming and fishing. As you go though these magical places you will see the people plowing the fields with oxen and “huasos” traveling from one village to another in traditional clothes by horseback. A definitive change of scenery for most of you. In these section we will present to you the northen part of this region with the most well-known waves of it. Please try to also respect this surf heaven and discover it by yourself (avoid crashing groups of 20 surfers traveling together), explore and find new waves. A few well-known international surfers have bought terrain and houses in this Region, after coming here on surf trips and just falling in love of the place.
Curanipe: Regional Classic left hand Point-break.
Best Season: Fall-Spring/ Access: Park in front/Skill: intermidate to advance. Tide:
All /Swell : SW/ Wind: S , SW/ Bottom: Sand /Size: 2 to 8 ft.
The first section known as La Cruz breaks further up off the rocks (Curanipe means black rock) but the long barrelling lefts called Tres Peñas break down by the black sand rivermouth. Friendly and often used as a contest site.
Pullay: Regional Classic left hand Point-break.
Best Season: Summer/ Access: Sandy lot/Skill: Beginner to advance. Tide:
All /Swell : SW/ Wind: E/ Bottom: Sand /Size: 3 to 9 ft.
Buchupureo: Regional Classic left hand Point-break.
Best Season:Fall-Spring/ Access: Sandy lot/Skill: intermediate to advance. Tide:
All/Swell : SW/ Wind: SE/ Bottom: Sand /Size: 3 to 12 ft.
A small beach town surrounded by forrests and farms. As far as a 50 minute car drive heading south from Curanipe, this territory of great beauty and unique contrasts, hides 3 legendary surf spots that will blow your mind. Surfed only by a few lucky surfers, Buchupureo and 2 other world class secret surf spots offer 3 never ending perfect left’s with both ripping and tubular sections.
exposed point break that has consistent surf. Works best in offshore winds from the southeast. Clean groundswells prevail and the ideal swell angle is from the southwest. Best around low tide. When the surf is up, crowds are likely
Buchupureo is the standout break with La Boca, meaning rivermouth, grooming the sand into really long lefts, breaking in 2-3 sections and it’s protected from S winds. Barrel time can reach a handful of seconds and comparisons with Mundaka means it gets crowded at times.
Cobquecura-La Rinconada: Regional Classic left hand Point-break.
Best Season: Fall-Spring/ Access: Park in front/Skill: begginer to advance. Tide:
All/Swell : SW/ Wind: SE/ Bottom: Sand /Size: 3 to 10 ft.