Mishap of the Month – Surfing in Huanchaco, Peru

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Alex and our friend Joel going out to dodge sea urchins and catch some waves.

We LOVE to travel and 95% of the time have a pretty darn good time while doing it. With the abundance of social media, it’s quite easy to form an impression that we’re floating on clouds all day long eating fresh huckleberry pie on the side of a mountain. After seeing many of our post and pictures you might think that we are just care free lucky ducks with not a problem in the world. Just like anyone and everyone else, we have our problems too. We take these little speed bumps along the road in stride but thought we would start a monthly series to shed some light on the not so glamorous side of long-term travel. We’re sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned over the past few years so sit back, relax and enjoy the mishaps!

One of the major reasons we went to South America last winter was to surf. No, we didn’t know how to surf. No, we hadn’t really surfed before. No, we didn’t really know what we were getting into. Surfing is no joke; its a beautiful sport but it is serious business. Having years of skate, snow, and longboard riding under my belt we figured surfing would come naturally. We were going to fly to Peru, hop on boards and be ripping 6 ft waves within a few days! Instead, we caught a long ride on the noobie train. Truth is, surfing felt as foreign as could be.

We chose one of the worst places to learn to surf. Huanchaco, Peru is known for it’s strong lefthand current. This means that as you’re paddling out, you’re not only fighting against the waves breaking on top of you but you’re steadily being pulled toward the ominous pier. In addition to the powerful waves, we were dodging thousands of sea urchins that peppered the sea bottom. On our second day of riding I went out to catch some waves with an Australian man named Joel. We had met in our hostel a couple of days back and was happy show me some skills.

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See the waves on the top left corner? That’s the goal.

Becca was back at the hostel in bed with a bug so she didn’t get the joy of getting crushed that day. I flailed around in the water for an hour or so with Joel while he cruised 5+ footers with ease. Eventually he went in to work at another hostel but I stayed out determined to ride. I finally caught a good wave but only lasted seconds before I fell and got rolled under water. When surfers are getting tumbled under the weight of all the water pushing down, all sense of up&down is completely lost. The only lifeline to the top is the tug of the surfboard leash as the board pops above water again. The leash jerks at the surfers leg and then one can start kicking for the top. Without the leash, a surfer could get tumbled over and over again without any idea where the surface of the water is.

As I’m doing cart-wheels under the surf I feel my board leash rip from my ankle. At this point I knew at that  I had some issues. I broke the surface, looked around, and saw my board floating away much to far for me to reach. “Hope that doesn’t get snapped, …keep it together Alex don’t let these waves take you out,” I thought while I started back floating and calming my panicky nerves. At this point I am a good 7 minutes from shore with no board and a steady, consistent set of waves coming in. I was not having fun anymore, I was actually pretty scared having never been in such a pickle. Fortunately, I was able body surf the waves and back float into shore without too much trouble. Needles to say, I got humbled quickly and took to calmer waves.

Lesson Learned: When renting a surfboard you should always make sure that your leash is in good condition. My leash was years old and weathered, hence the reason the Velcro didn’t hold under a heavy wave. I bought a new leash for about $30 and continued to surf days later. I personally will use my own gear for surfing from now on because I feel safer knowing the history of what I am using. Never underestimate the power of the ocean, it won’t stop for you.

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Look on the bright side you could be a crab!

43 thoughts on “Mishap of the Month – Surfing in Huanchaco, Peru

  1. Cool to read your take and some of those in the comment section. Yes, surfing is a big undertaking. At the low end, it is a rush and a challenge. On the far end, it is a rush, a challenge, and potentially fatal. But like many difficult things, it teaches you about bottling your negative feelings and working through the problems until you find a jewel.

    Hope all of you get out to do it again!

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  2. There is bumper sticker in Detroit that says “Life Is Tough & Then You Die” – you guys already have this figured out – even the bad days are good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Surfing is hardcore, huh? I grew up knowing how to surf–learned when I was very young but didn’t have very much experience with really surfing anywhere formidable. I remember the first time I surfed in LA. I spent the first day in ecstasy at how amazing the waves were and the second day flat on my back in the hotel room, every muscle aching, lol.

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  4. I tried learning to surf years ago and was great at paddling out and catching them, but in weekly lessons over a FOUR MONTH period I stood up for a grand total of less than 10 seconds. Yes obviously I’m a natural. :/ I’m going back this summer and this time I am going to get it! And if not, at least I’ll be out on that beautiful ocean 🙂

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  5. I had my first (and so far only) surf lesson about 18 months ago at Muriwai on the west coast of New Zealand. The Tasman Sea has some really strong currents so just standing up can be good exercise, never mind trying to swim and handle a board. Great fun for sure but it is easily the most tiring activity I have ever done and I was glad there was someone to show us what to do and keep use safe…although I still put the wetsuit on back to front beforehand! 😄

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      1. The best bit about the wetsuit was that I went with a friend and we both put it on the wrong way round independently of each other. The surf shop guys took a photo for posterity! 😄

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  6. Great Series! When we were traveling long term I tried to do the same thing called “The Nitty Gritty” but ended up not really writing it that much – I really like Mishap of the Month though! so clever! Cheers to getting out of your comfort zone, confronting sea urchins, and realizing how small you truly are when faced with massive (or not so massive) waves. I feel so comfortable/big/all knowing/ not humble sometimes and then the ocean always brings me back to reality 🙂

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  7. Hey Guys, I am from Lima-Peru, grew up surfing all my life, great spots up and down the coast, lots of left hand point breaks, lots of currents but amazing places. I am 55 now and live on NORCAL, been surfing Ocean Beach in SF for 15 years now, gnarly beach break with lots of rips, I make sure I have the thickest and newest leg rope I can have, the last thing I want is losing my board, Aloha

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  8. Before I went traveling around Australia, I had this idea in my head that it would be a constant series of road trips and adventures, when in actual fact, a large part was waiting for buses and sorting out finances and so on. Everyone always talks about the highlights of travel but I think it’s a good idea to talk about the not so fun stuff.

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      1. I spent a week in the Czech Republic and unfortunately I spent a lot of time lost and frustrated and didn’t get to see as much as I had wanted. One thing I learned was it’s important to check up on the specifics instead of just accepting vague promises on a tourist website. Also probably good to keep things as simple as possible. But the reality is plans often don’t work out, and I guess the best thing to do is not panic, take a deep breath and say ‘okay things aren’t going as planned,’ look at what the situation is, and what the options are.

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  9. Oh my lord LOL … thats one way to learn how to surf! And fortunate it didn’t turn out worse -had a friend who died surfing, and he was a pro at it! … (but died doing what he loved … not to be a buzzkill 😉 ) … anyway I love what you guys do! ! Beautiful way to live!

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      1. WORD!

        To only ever be just like the sea and with cascading waves towards and again also away from the shore. To dance weightily with the moon and live fluid in expression and only to offer raw power forward or away from tera-firma…

        To ever have had ridden these mountains of water and vicious displays of nature’s fury is to have only ever truly lived and offered self unto the sea…

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