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I’m tired. Dog tired. So tired, in fact, I think I’ll either break into delirious laughter or a torrent of tears.

I’ve travelled 19 hours on a bus from Lima and slept less than two, due to the unfortunate reality that screaming babies aren’t banned on Peruvian transport. 

As such, my humour was lost some time ago on Peru’s dusty Pan Americana highway – the only accessible route north into the province of Piura. But enough whining. From the minute I survey dawn’s pink sunbeams bouncing off the ocean, my faith in coming here is instantly restored. 

‘Here’ is Mancora, 1165km north from the Peruvian capital of Lima, and considered the epicentre of the country’s surf scene. Receiving two ocean currents year round, the cold Humboldt Current (14-19˚C) and warm El Nino Current (21-27˚C), the resulting surf is reliable and comfortable. In nearby Chicama, sets of waves in excess of 4km long are created thanks to forceful southwestern swells that push through the Pacific – that’s up to five minutes of continuous surf time. Strangely, though, this area remains largely off the international surf radar, even though it’s hosted some of the world’s best surfing talent in the past 30 years, including 2004 female World Champion Sofia Mulanovich, recent 2011 World Junior Champion Cristobal de Col and legendary 2008 Grand Masters World Champion Magoo de la Rosa, who firmly believes the waves here are “some of the finest on the planet”.

The historic associations of Peru’s surfing culture run deep. Many argue the birthplace of modern surfing lies in Hawaii, but scientific archaeology – the process of analysing and measuring salt erosion on ancient artifacts to enable deeper understanding of how our ancestors lived – indicates that it actually evolved on Peru’s northern Pacific coast in Huanchaco, where pre-Colombian cultures used reed boats, or caballitos de totora, to surf the waves. It’s still possible to see this mode of old-school fishing taking place here alongside semi-pro surfers, whose end game is not so much catching fresh grouper as it is the ultimate barrel.

One man who helps serious surfers (and mere amateurs, like myself) discover the best coastal spots is Marco ‘Pulpo’ Ravizza, a longtime surfer and tour guide whose specialist Octopus Surf Tours delivers the ultimate ‘off the beaten wave’ extravaganza. His trick, he tells me, is superior satellite forecasting for up-to-the-minute information on breaking swells and tidal shifts. But from Marco’s twinkly stare and obsession with the sea, I’m guessing it’s also a lifetime’s worth of intuition that lets him read the ocean like a second language.


Big Trip: Surfing and shamans - a guide to travelling in Northern Peru
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