Words Anna Stephens

I grew up in a very British household in Brighton, and was introduced into the surfing world at about 8 years old, when my brother helped me to stand on a long board in the cold West-England seas of Cornwall and Devin. By the time I turned 18, I was sure about my passion for surfing from the experiences I had had in the UK and France, but I had never left Europe. Then, one day I got a message on my phone from my parents, which said they had got a job in Peru and were going to move there. I was supposed to start University a year later, so before getting into that, I decided to take a year out. I felt the call from South America, so I made a plan to meet them there. 

Landing in Lima, Peru’s capital, at the age of 18, I had few pre-conceptions of the country, other than the images of alpacas and Machu Picchu that were floating around my naive mind. My mum went to work, and I ended up left in a strange, modern flat, in a misty foreign city where I didn’t speak the language. There was, however, one thing I had heard about which drew my attention immediately: Lima was renown for long, glassy, reliable lefts. Whilst it may not have the same glamorous appeal as Bali or South Africa, I gradually came to understand that Peru is actually surfers paradise. I knew what I had to do. I grabbed my shortboard, squeezed it into the front seat of a a collectivo (the Peruvian alternative to a taxi) and headed down to the coast. That decision changed my life, and soon a new version of Peru opened up to me, and replaced my naivety with a longing for surfing long lefts. 

Lima is a city built onto long cliffs which face the ocean, and curve around like a horse-shoe meaning that from any one place on the cliff you can see waves breaking far out in the Pacific. Luckily for me, this meant that I didn’t even need to check the forecast, I just had to a walk outside the apartment to see the waves breaking. Peru has won the World Surfing Championship several times, and as soon as I began exploring Peru’s coasts I soon realised why. Peru is unique in that it is the only South American country which has a capital city that runs alongside a surf break, or in this case, several. From the beach break Makaha, where beginners can surf friendly waves, to Punta Roquitas, the point break which gets up to 8ft in winter, to the sun streaked waves of San Bartolo south of Lima, you can find almost any kind of break you want just in Lima itself. I quickly came to realise that the entire Pacific coast of Peru is surfers paradise, from Lima all the way to the North Peruvian desert.

My first friend in Lima took me to Makaha surf beach, which lies right next to the vibrant blue roof of La Rosa Nautica, a restaurant on a jetty over the ocean. Along the coast are several makeshift marquees where various surfers run lessons from their own businesses. Thankfully, I was saved from expat solitude as a group of surfers took me under their wing, guiding me through the rough waves and explaining the strong currents. Surfing in Lima is not for the faint hearted, it’s a huge challenge and I got the idea that Peruvian surfers set their own bar for surfing, super high. This isn’t to say it isn’t worth it though, quite the contrary. After you make it out past the breaking waves, which in those first weeks in Lima seemed to go on for an eternity, you get to a lineup far out in the ocean, where waves break consistently, and theres more than enough to choose from. Surfing those waves in Lima provided me with some of the most blissful moments of my entire life: I remember dropping into a solid left, a huge smile breaking out on my face as I curved the wave and surfed all the way to shore. After a few weeks battling Lima’s breaks, I had muscles on my arms I didn’t know I could possess and had developed a new inner strength.

I had had enough of the cold ocean and grey Lima mist, so I decided to take myself north, into the Peruvian desert. I had heard about good surf in warm water, and dreamed of taking my wetsuit off to enjoy the Pacific waves on a palm-tree-lined beach. I got on an overnight bus, and not having much of a plan ahead of me set off for Mancora, close to the North-Western point of Peru. An hour outside the capital, Peru becomes hot desert, offering long lefts all the way along the coast until Ecuador. I passed Chicama, where many Peruvians claim is the worlds longest left, and which you can surf for at least 60 seconds until you have to get out and walk back along the beach. Mancora, a surf and party town not far from the border, turned out to have it’s own fun. When the swell comes, the ocean rises from almost totally flat to perfect 4-6ft waves breaking off a reef.
As I dived under I could see hundreds of fish in the wave face, and behind me reggaeton boomed from the beach. A two day trip took me to an even better surf location, the smooth barrels of Lobitos. Less of a party town, with more waves, Lobitos draws in surfers who are looking more to surf, than party. I managed to stay mostly out of their way in the ocean, and even catch a few big waves before being practically thrown back onto the beach. My time in Peru was coming to an end, but I knew I would be back. There was so much left to explore; I still hadn’t surfed one of the worlds longest lefts. I left the country with the warmth of a desert sun lingering on my body, stronger than I’d been before, and more stoked than ever about surfing.