Surf Culture in Northern Peru

Photos by Ivan and Karla014










Text by Ivan Kashinsky

I slipped down the face of the head-high left on a sky-blue long board.   My dream had come true.  I was finally surfing Mancora, a famous surf spot in the north of Peru.  I rose up to the top of the wave and then glided back down and straightened my path in attempt to beat the close out.  Too late.  Suddenly, I was thrown from my board and sucked down to the depths of the ocean. Everything was dark.  After a few summersaults I began to kick, cutting my big toe on the rocky bottom. I was under for a bit to long, when I popped to the surface, the sweet air filled my lungs with life.  It was great to be surfing again. 

Many people believe, especially Peruvians, that the first surfers were from Peru.  It is said that 5000 years ago the fisherman of the pre-Incan empire of Chan Chan, were the first to ride waves in their “Caballos de Totora”, a long surfboard shaped boat made from a local plant.  Some historians believe that these ancient South American cultures had contact with the Polynesians, who later brought the idea to Hawaii.


Wherever surfing did originate, its modern form has come back to completely transform the life of your average boy from a fishing village, that happens to be located in front of a world-class surf break.  A group of young men in their early 20’s have dubbed themselves the Mancora Surf Club.  Just like most young men from these small pueblos gone international surf destinations, they have taken up two jobs: Surf Instructor/Super Stud.  They really have it figured out.  All they do is surf all day while women from Boston to Amsterdam drool over their perfectly sculpted bodies.  No, I’m not jealous.  The other occupational choice in Mancora is taximoto driver/weed salesman.  Everyone in Latin America has to have two jobs. 


I invited Carlos, a member of the surf club, out for a beer in attempt to better understand the local surf culture.  He explained to me that the local police had granted the surfers a certain amount of authority.  Puzzled, I asked him for an example.  He told me that if a drunk is urinating in public in front of kids, or a thief grabs the belongings of a tourist, they are expected to go kick his ass.  


Although Carlos may sound like a badass, his sensitive side comes out when he tells stories.  “ One time we taught a blind man to surf”, he told me.  “It was the most amazing thing.  He could hear where he was on the wave”.  Carlos seemed sincerely touched by this story.


As we sat in a surfer bar owned by a tall English surfer babe, a fiancé of one of Carlos’ best friends, we looked out at the myriad of bars that lined the streets of Mancora.  He told me that fifteen years ago none of this was here.  A long time ago Mancora was just a hacienda.  Then it became a popular port when a group of people started selling tuna to boats that came from all over the world.  When Carlos was a child, his dad used to tell him that these men got so rich off of tuna that they would wipe their asses with bills. 



Now Mancora has a new economy.  For better or for worse it has been changed into a surfer/ wanna-be-surfer Mecca.  Men who left for Lima to find employment are coming back to their small fishing village to work with tourists.  People like me come to rent long boards, eat ceviches, and get ridiculous sunburns.  Mancora is just one of the Pueblos that has undergone this metamorphosis.  Further south, in the town of Huanchaco, tourists come to surf and watch fishermen head to sea in Caballos de Totora, supposedly the world’s first surfboard.   It’s not clear if these pre-Incan civilizations were surfing for fun, or just trying to find the fastest way back to shore.  If the people of Chan Chan did invent surfing, they have certainly changed my life, and even more so, the life of Carlos.  



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12 responses to “Surf Culture in Northern Peru

  1. What an incredible experience. I love the writing and of course the photographs. I just wish I were there too.

  2. willow

    I have been looking at an Atlas every week and plotting how far you guys are. I imagine your adventures and sometimes they fit into the pictures:)
    You guys are thought of often and missed very much. Sorry you forgot your jacket Ivan, looks as though you needed it. Have fun and think of me!
    Love you,

  3. Pao

    Hi you guys, what an adventure!! I really enjoyed the photos and your narrative. Everything is so well done, congratulations!!
    Gracias por compartir tan loable trabajo con nosotros.
    Suerte chicos y sigan deleitando nuestros ojitos con su trabajo tan excepcional.

  4. Keep up the great work and safe travels!

    your bud


  5. David Bitton

    Karla and Ivan,

    I’m completely jealous. What a lifestyle!

    Have a fun journey and keep up the great work!

  6. Jonah

    I love you guys……

    Hugs for everyone!

    • tothetip

      Our most faithful blogger. Thanks for checking out all our stories. Miss ya man. We’ll be back in Cali in July. See you then.
      hugs, Ivan

  7. Ivan you’re my surf stud! Miss you both. Do you remember where I put my socks?

  8. O!B

    Dearest friends

    the world could use more people like you guys. jealous and very proud of you guys!!!! keep up the awesome work and the photos…..and Ivan: i did not know you had such ability with words. awesome!!!
    un abrazo

    Lee O!B

  9. Mandita

    Hello Ivan!
    I am glad I had this website you gave me noted in my journal from Peru. I spent two months in Mancora this year and 1 month the year before.
    I love what you wrote about Mancora. Well done!! And my friend Carlos you wrote about es de puta madre but recently broke his arm skateboarding and now he wants nothing more than to get back to the waves! I guess a pro surfer can’t automatically transfer to a pro skateboarder. I will send him to this website. He will like what you wrote.
    You painted Mancora well! Suerte y cuidate mucho.
    Mandy from Canada

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