The Longest Curl in the World

1

On
the arid Pacific edge of the South American continent, 500 miles north
of Peru’s Colonial Capital, Lima, and 500 miles south of the Ecuadorian
border, there lies a sleepy fishing village called Puerto Chicama, with
but two claims to fame.

First, it had been, in the 1930’s and 40’s, the #1 producer of fish
meal in the world. Fish meal, which is basically chopped and dried feed
fish (usually anchovies),
is used mainly as fertilizer and animal feed.

Thanks to the chilly Humbolt
current, the waters off of the coast of Peru are among the richest fishing
grounds in the world, and catching anchovies was as easy as hauling
in the nets. At its height, Puerto Chicama had four huge fish meal plants
running 24-hours a day, a dedicated railroad line running to the end
of a 500-foot steel dock, three whore houses and a casino.

Freighters would pull anchor offshore and wait their turn at the dock,
loading fish meal for transport to Malaysia, Morocco, India or Thailand.  There
were huge contracts with the Soviet Union, and rampant rumors that
Peruvian fish meal was the featured ingredient in Gulag fish stew. It
was a company town – housing for thousands of workers was built quickly
and cheaply in a climate where many houses go roofless due to 40 years
between rains.

All that is gone now.  The fish meal factories stand empty and
gutted, stripped of machinery, wiring, anything of value, doors and
windows long gone, the dry desert wind whipping around the cement and
steel ruins. The houses have been abandoned, some destroyed. What fish
meal the region does produce now goes out of the much more modern port
of
Chimbote, which now stinks so bad of the fish meal vats and third-world
commerce that no one but locals can stand the smell.

Chicama’s other claim to fame is the longest wave in the world.  It’s
not the biggest wave, although Peru has some of those too, 15-20 foot
monsters that can eat a surfer alive and bust a board like balsa boat
in a wood chipper. But if you take your board and walk way, way, way
down the beach, past the last of the little houses and beyond the tired
old craft hauled up the sand for jury-rigged repairs, beyond two points
and a rocky promontory, you can catch a ride back to town that literally
lasts 20 minutes.  It is a left-hand curl that goes on for almost
5 kilometers, perfectly formed, 1 and a half to two meters high, breaking
nice and evenly like the foam over Niagara Falls.

Surfers come from all over the world to surf Chicama. Australians and
South Africans seem particularly attracted, but French, Israeli, Brazilian, Californian
and New Jersey surfers are sighted regularly.  There are really
no hotels to speak of, just a rustic cement sprawl
on a dusty bluff on the edge of town, overlooking that impossible, endless
curl, a dive know as La Casa de Amiro.

Amiro is an old psuedo-Shaman who has been putting up Surfers for thirty
years, since he discovered he liked hanging out with them more than busting
his back on a fishing boat 12 hours a day. He has 4 or 5 tables out under
an awning where they catch the breeze off of the bluff and where Amiro
can sit every day drinking beer with the tablistas, if there are any
in town, or with his wife and cronies if not.

The patio doubles as a restaurant, though the menu is short and simple:
fish, rice, beer and soda. If you ask nice, Amiro’s wife will fry up
some french fries, but that’s about as fancy as it gets.

25 years ago the Dowbrigade bought one of those roofless, broken down
houses overlooking the Pacific for approximately $500. Dirt floors, no
electricity, no running water. We still own it, although we haven’t been
there in 20 years.

According
to my son, who is living in Peru fixing up another property we bought
back then, this one in the mountains, the house in Chicama now
has a roof, electricity, cement floors and running water, at least two
or
three
hours
a day. Not
much else has changed in Chicama – fishing is still the only industry,
except when a gang of surfers hits town.

He is wondering if there is enough traffic to start another hotel on
the beach. According to tomorrow’s
New York Times
, things may be looking
up.

LIMA, Peru, Feb. 28 – Hawaii may have the north coast of Oahu. California
may have Malibu. But Peru has Punta Hermosa, south of Lima, the longest
waves in the world at Chicama and, for 62 years, the fabled Waikiki
Club.

"The waves are constant," said Roc

1 Comment

  1. Wood Chipper

    May 31, 2008 @ 5:57 am

    1

    “bust a board like balsa boat in a wood chipper”

    LOL.
    That is right!