Photos by Ivan and Karla
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.