Surf's Up in South America


Surfing in Peru (Photo: John Otis)

Surf's up for our Geo Quiz: we are looking for one of the few capital cities in the world with good waves. Foreign surfers who land at this South American city's airport can be riding the waves within an hour. Huge Pacific swells are common since it's so close equator. Ocean currents rolling in from both the northern and southern hemispheres meet here. They collide all along the 1,500 miles of coastline and all year round.

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So where is world capital that fast becomig a haven for international surfers…

The answer is Lima, Peru. Reporter by John Otis went the to check out the surfing scene there:

Alberto Lopez runs a surf school on Miraflores beach, a stone's throw from downtown Lima, Peru's capital. He works seven days a week because so many people want to learn how to surf.

Though less famous than Hawaii, California or Australia, Peru is becoming a hotspot for surfing beginners to professionals. Peru boasts 1,500 miles of coastline and it's home to Chicama, one of the world's longest waves, which can carry surfers more than two miles. There are also 40-footers that attract daredevil surfers. And due to Peru's location near the Equator, currents from the northern and southern hemispheres provide non-stop surfable waves.

"The good thing about this country is that we have waves all year round," said Lopez. "Even Hawaii has not waves all year round. It's seasonal."

There's even a belief that the concept of surfing originated some 2,000 years ago with indigenous fishermen in what is now northern Peru. Lopez said these fishermen had to negotiate massive Pacific waves aboard woven reed boats.

"And to come back to the shore, they have to paddle and catch a wave. So that means they ride waves, and they bring the fish and the nets in the back. So it's proven that they've been surfing before Jesus' time."

The modern sport took off here in the 1940s when Peruvians brought back surf boards from Hawaii. The first surfing world championship, held in 1965, took place in Peru. But surfing suffered under Peru's military government in the 1970s. Karin Sierralta, director of the Peruvian Surfing Federation, said import restrictions led to a surf board shortage. And later, he said, a terror campaign by Shining Path rebels scared away international surfers.

But now, Peru is relatively peaceful and surfing is making a comeback. It helps that Lima — home to 9 million people — is one of the few capital cities in the world with good surfing. Foreign surfers who land at Lima's airport can be riding the waves within an hour.

Jessica Shaw, a British tourist, planned a three-day trip to Lima, but she got hooked on surfing and has stayed for months.

"I stood on my first wave here," Shaw said. "This is the first place I've been where lots of girls are surfing. So that's nice."

There are some downsides to surfing the capital. The beaches are rocky. Sewage and industrial runoff can make the water a little murky. A few years ago, an American surfer ran into a dead cow. Still, throngs are signing up for private lessons.

Lopez gives a Swiss tourist, Isabel Zimmerman, a few pointers. "If there are big waves coming, you just wait. Chill. You are learning. You are not competing. Calm down, you are coming with one of the best coaches," Lopez said.

Then he leads her across the rocks and into the pounding surf. "Okay, let's go down, this is the time. Let's go! Let's go!" he yelled. Zimmerman manages to stand up and ride a few waves. Ninety minutes later, she emerges from the Pacific, tired but elated.

"How was it?" Lopez asked. "It was really fun," Zimmerman said, laughing. "But scary!"