This is a video made by Klaas Voget that features he and Victor Fernandez. Together, two of the best wavesailors in the world. The video shows what I consider pretty typical days at Matanzas and Topocalma. They are good days, but not what you would really consider "e-word good*" days at these locations. Days like these happen about 10-20 days per month in November, December and January from what I can tell.. Then there are about 5 days per month that are 30 knots and double mast high.
Before setting off on my journey to Chile, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had expectations of it being windy and wavy, but what I found was a coastline that has basically more wind and more consistent waves than anywhere else in the world** It was more than getting my fill, a lot of days were more than I could comfortably handle. Many days ended up being more of swimsurfing than windsurfing for me.
Maybe the most useful thing I can offer on this blog is to help set some kind of bar for folks considering the journey to Chile in the winter. I don't mean this in an offensive way to anyone, but after my trip to Chile, I still don't know if I'm quite up to the skill level for much of the coast sailing. Also, it seemed like about half the people who were there had a lot of experience port tack sailing and were ready to tackle the big challenges of sailing there. Me? I can do a few freestyle tricks. I can jibe and tack pretty darn consistently. I've sailed in Maui, Punta San Carlos, Pistol River and spots on the coast in Northern California (all starboard tack wavesailing). Sailing the coast of Chile felt very borderline "I should be there".
It was amazing. Every day of windsurfing there felt like one of the hardest days of sailing I've ever had. It was rewarding connecting turns for the first time going the "wrong way", but in hindsight, I was most definitely out of my element. Had the trip only been a week, or even much less than a month it might not have been worth it.***
Here's what I would make the requirements for someone seeking advice:
- Rock solid jibing and tacking.
- Lots of experience sailing extremely underpowered and overpowered on small gear in wave conditions. Also, experience fighting strong currents.
- At least some port tack wavesailing experience. A lot of Europeans arrived with a good deal of this in place. Also, I think South Africa is a good place to learn to sail port tack where the conditions are not as challenging.
- A mindset for challenging your sailing level to the max.
If you feel like you meet all of these and would like the most amazing wavesailing experience of your life, then you should start planning your trip now. You will not regret anything about it. I promise.
*I hate the word "epic".
** Not sure about the wind, as it didn't blow nearly every day when I was there, but for sure there are almost always waves on the Chilean coast. Big ones.
***Just because the learning curve is long. That said, there are really consistently windy flat water spots worth visiting, not to mention Chile just being worth visiting for culture and nature.
If you lived in Southern Chile, your Tuesday afternoon session might look something like this.
I ditched my gear for a few weeks to do some standard backpacking style travel in the Lake Region of Chile and saw this scene going on in a town called Puerto Varas. I sat there by the lake for about and hour and saw little white caps developing across the deep blue water. I started picturing myself zooming across the water in the incredible scene just moments before I saw that exact thing happening right before my eyes. A small part of me died that day knowing I couldn't join them, but I was happy to be able to grab some shots of these Llanquihue Lake windsurfers in front of Osorno Volcano as well as some other unidentified (by me) mountains.
Say hello to Ramoncito. He is a 1977 Chevrolet van that somehow found his way to South America. He doesn't always work perfectly, but his motor is strong and reliable. He has 3 manual gears that shift on the column. He thinks power steering is for sissies. His battery only lasts a few minutes with the lights on without running. His gearbox jams if you don't handle the shifter with care. Sure, he's not flawless, but his personality makes up for all his other quirks doubly.
It did not take me long to learn in Chile that, for windsurfing, it's really, really nice to have a set of wheels. Sure. For a short trip, one could arrive and take a bus with all her gear to Matanzas and have a great chance of scoring some of the best port-tack days of their lives. But if one wants to spend a little more time exploring this country with thousands of kilometers of coastline, a vehicle can greatly facilitate.
The trouble is the cost of driving is fairly expensive in Chile. The discounted cost of renting a vehicle that can carry your gear is along the lines of $2000 a month. After that, the cost of gas is about double. If you want to go north or south, expect to pay a $5.00 toll every couple of hours. Getting around isn't cheap, unless you ride the bus. Then you are stuck at bus stations with a massive bag full of gear, hoping to hitch a ride to the beach.
But I was lucky. While in Maui I met a kitesurfer who connected me with a cousin who had this old van to rent. The price was going to be a fraction of what a normal car rental would cost. I was in luck. As soon as I was shown a picture, I just had to drive it. When I arrived at the owner's house my excitement grew when I first saw him. I asked if he had a name. The owner grinned at me, "Ramoncito". Then Ramoncito wouldn't start.
Eventually we got him started and I set off on the nearly four hour trip to Pichilemu, sure that somewhere along the way he would just die. But that's not the case, when Ramoncito is getting to go on a trip, he's more dependable than most of the cars I've driven. Ramoncito felt like a companion as much as a car. He would help me discuss the best way to find my way when I was lost in the middle of a shady port town. When I spent a couple weeks in a town, it wasn't long before the locals would wave when they saw Ramoncito chugging down the street.
Ramoncito just has "buena onda". The loose translation for this is "good vibe", but it's a bit more versitle of a word, describing the moment, the experience, your mood and everything that's happening all at once. Whenever I parked, someone would walk by and smile at me and ask me a couple questions about my compadre.
So what is the meaning of Ramoncito? It's a nice familiar way of calling your friend named "Ramon" the nickname "little Ramon". (Some of my Chilean friends are kind enough to call me "gringuito" instead of "gringo".) I can't venture a guess as to what the name implies to a person who grew up in Chile. To me, I think Ramoncito would be that cool, older half brother who bought you beer when you were a teenager and gave you that big box of classic pornography when you graduated high school.
I returned Ramoncito to the owner yesterday and I gotta say -- I miss the dude.
When you talk about wavesailing in Chile, probably the first spot that comes up is Matanzas. It's a small town on the coast with not a lot going on beyond windsurfing. The name of the town literally means "murders", for reasons I don't know. My first month or so in Chile I did not sail at Matanzas, opting for places that were closer to Pichilemu and I couldn't get a clear explanation for what made the spot special or outstanding. Topocalma supposedly had the amazing offshore wind and 20 turn waves, Pichilemu had the wave that could be ridden for a minute and a half, Llico had stronger wind and opportunities for huge jumps, Matanzas did not have a claim to fame with the people I spoke to.
But after having sailed Matanzas several times, it turned out to be my favorite spot. Sure the wind was light and flukey on the inside (like nearly all of the wave sailing spots in Chile), and the wave was not the longest or the most aggressive. What I found is that Matanzas delivered something nearly every day that I could enjoy. Sometimes it was scary-fun, but usually there was some part of the day when the waves were reasonable, fast enough to carve turns on and peaky enough to find steep sections. Matanzas seems to be the groomer slope of the Chilean coast, it almost always works. Frequently on the days when it is windy it is chest to head high around noon, and builds to head to mast+ in the afternoon. On lighter wind days with big waves, it frequently becomes a pro's only show, which is not to be missed.
My friend Bjorte has to run away from a heavy one.
There is nearly always a peak to backdoor on every wave. The guys who know how to read this spot make it look amazing.
This is the spin cycle and it's really easy to get there because there is a strong current that runs down the beach. If you get caught in a heavy set going out and can't waterstart for a few seconds you end up taking a beating for a few minutes and finding yourself 100-200 meters down the beach. The good news is that it's relatively safe even though some gear gets broken.
Belgian friend Gregory getting some air. There are a million incredible wavesailors from Europe in Chile that you've never heard of.
My anemic bottom turn
Hotel Surazo is built right at the launch which is both a good and a bad thing. The good part is that it's an incredible place to stay and the restaurant has amazing gourmet food. The downside is that it's really pricey and even the camping options are over-the-top priced.
Olivier is actually a windsurfing teacher in Texas. Really nice guy and oh yeah. He rips.
Sorry folks, I stopped counting some time in August around 120 sessions I think. Maybe I got close to 140 in the bay. Then like 20 days in Maui. Then 15 days in Chile maybe. Who knows. It was for sure more than I've ever sailed. I learned some new tricks, too, which is pretty much my thing if I had to choose a windsurfing "thing". I'll probably look at the calendar more closely when I get home.
One of the cool things is that happened this year is that I got my girlfriend to start windsurfing. She had a couple lessons with Big Winds then Brendon from ABK took her under his wing a bit as well. I always think your loved one needs to windsurf because it's something (s)he wants to do, not because s(he) feels like it's something you want h(im)er to do. I'm not sure where we stand on this issue, but she has been bugging me about getting out on the water when the seasons starts in the bay area again. I guess that's a good sign.
I'm pretty sure she's my only regular blog reader, so the least I could do is put her picture up!
Well, this is sad news. As I'm sure you've heard, Windsurfing Magazine will be suspending publication for the foreseeable future. Obviously, it's hard for me to swallow because I've contributed a little bit over the years and I've been fortunate enough to have participated in testing gear with them as well.
For sure, the electronification of media in general appears to be the major cause for this decision in my mind. Apparently, the windsurfing manufacturers and channels seem to find more value in adding us as facebook friends and making 2 minute music videos peddling their goods ridden by team riders than supporting print magazines. Maybe they're right. The sad part is that we all know that a pro can make a turd with a universal joint look amazing, and we lose out on real feedback from, ya know, actual people on what's good, or approachable in the market.
I really love flipping through a magazine. I like the depth that photos have on paper that I don't get looking at photos online. I love going to someone else's house, finding magazines on their coffee table and looking at pictures from whatever they happen to be into.
I love Windsport, too. I don't think they're going to be getting a huge windfall of subscribers from Windsurfing Magazine because I think most of us have been willing to pony up the 20 bucks a year for whatever we can get our hands on. I thought the magazines were complimentary. Windsport covered more of the PWA scene and had more content about advanced maneuvers, Windsurfing always struck me as more grassroots and reaching out to the entry level.
Mostly, I feel nostalgic about the first issues of Windsurfing Magazine I ever read. They were covered in saltwater and collecting mold in the bottom of my college friend's Toyota Forerunner. At the time, I had only vague ideas of what a windsurfer was. I was 20 years old and those brittle pages changed my life forever.
Go ahead. Crucify me for coming to Chile and sailing flat water. There have been some really nice days of wavesailing here on the coast of Chile. More than nice, incredible days. But there have also been waiting periods. In general there have been breaks of 4 or 5 days followed by 3 days of wind. This reminds me a bit of Santa Cruz in the spring, maybe someone can correct me on that? Either way the wind doesn't happen every day here on the coast, and I'm a guy with a craving for freestyle. When the forecast wasn't lining up for 5 days, I took a nice long, scenic trip up to the Valle de Elqui, where they grow the grapes for Pisco.
The looks I got the day I left Matanzas were classic. "You're driving all the way up there, away from wave sailing?" Embalse Puclaro is a long 10 hour drive from the popular wave sailing spots, way up in the warm north. It's a man-made reservoir, maybe 10 years old that is treated to 30 knot winds for hundreds of days every year. This time of year, you can plan on only using your smallest sail every day. For freestyle it can be downright incredible, the only problem being too much wind on many days.
Another important tip for this trip: if you're not going on the weekend go with a group. Puclaro is popular with weekenders from Santiago (a 6-7 hour drive) but during the week it's not very lively. I mean no one is there. So when a group of friends of friends invited me to join, I jumped at the opportunity. I was greeted immediately with a group of sympathetic-toward-gringo friends, warm weather and ideal 4.2 conditions for 6 hours a day.
Ack! A kiting picture on my blog! Who put that there?
Friends Carlos and Juan Carlos, not to be confused with one another.
Getting a picture of a friend jumping a kiteboard from a downward facing mast camera takes some coordination and timing. Yeah, I missed the jibe.
Marcela -- badass windsurfing chick...
So basically a friend of a friend told Claudia there was going to be some gringo windsurfer coming into town and she reached out to me on Facebook to let me know about this trip. She's another great sailor and yes, gentlemen, she's single and ready to mingle.
Gee, what do I want to eat after 4 hours of sailing in 30 knots? How about 10 lbs of meat? Chileans love their grilled meat, and I do too.