Sunday, August 5, 2012

Windy Wonderful Peru

danielle ciminero surfing ASP Womens Star Peru
Her legs were contorted and cramped in such an ugly way it was hard to look.  Dehydration had taken over and shapes were starting to form where there was none thanks to the extreme fatigue pushing through her system. Who knew flying to Peru could feel like this?
    Thankfully the stewardess refilled my water glass just in time to save me from shriveling up.  I politely asked everyone in my row to get out so I could walk the aisle and regain control of my limbs. As the pins and needles exploded throughout my body I thought Boy do long flights suck.  We flew Taca this round, which is an airline I really appreciate; with inflight entertainment, really friendly crew, cheap board bag fees, and food. But time still crawled
    Twenty four hours later, after dragging ourselves in and out of four airports and through customs, we arrive in the little northern sun spot of Piura, Peru. Blinking hard as we emerged from the airport into the bright shining sun,  I spotted the guy I had emailed to pick us up.   (If you ever need a ride from Piura to Lobitos or a nearby spot hit him up- he's cheap and a chiller and plays good music the whole ride in :    
    We loaded the boardbag on top and clambored into the car with the awkwardness of a giraffe on steroids.  He must have been thinking, there is no way this girl can stand on a surfboard.  The two hour trip from Piura to Lobitos was like a fragmented dream; as I passed in an out of consciousness with my head swaying to and fro- waking with a jerk as most people do when their neck looses touch with their brain and drops their head to meet their chest.  Each time I peeled open my crusted eyes the landscape before me gave me a start.  Un ending throes of desert with barely a sprinkle of shrubs - of which only a handful showed any notion of being alive with  tattered green leaves, the rest showing barren branches that had caught plastic bags from blowing in the wind.  Our driver must've seen my astonishment, because he smiled brightly and said " This is very green in our summer!"      I could only smile back in amazement that the desert could suddenly sprout enough shrubs to be considered 'very green' . 
    Since I dozed much of the ride and I didn't suppose any elephants were really in Peru, I asked Gary if the landscape had ever changed from the desertous dustbowl. He faithfully report back that indeed there were pockets of lush tropical forest around the rivers and a few stretches of rice paddies.  That's when I realized maybe I did see an elephant out there somewhere, though it may not have been pink. 
    As we tore on through the landscape, the pavement would periodically end and give us nice long stretches of mind numbing dirt to trek across.  Lobitos came upon us like a turtle in the wind,  and we wound through the little pueblo with curious eyes and hungry bellies.  We managed to chance upon a really great place to stay, and at a pretty good price, called Surf Natural.  Considering we had no reservations and it was a few days before the ASP Women's event,  getting a room right away was quite nice.  Despite the fact we had to sleep in bunk beds,  it was a simple little abode we greatly appreciated.  Curiously, the beds came with a thick wool blanket and the room had no fan. I shook my head in disbelief because the forecast called for 72 all week. 
    We dumped our stuff in the room, mixed some cold instant coffee into our travel mugs and forced one foot in front of the other all the way down to the point.  Lobitos is a fairly famous left hand pointbreak in the surf world, but like all places it needed some swell. Our first day there was barely more than a dribbling one foot high wave, occupied by an army of aggro chicks and travelers. 
    A fellow traveler gave us a tip that there were two other surf spots within walking distance, so we walked.  Luckily one of the spots had a great lookout and we could see tiny specks cruising along on something substantially better looking - maybe chest high waves?  Hustling down there my senses came alive and picked up on a few things that would become incessant during our stay.
     First was the wind.  It blew so hard offshore,  so fiercely as if it wanted to sweep you away to Ecuador and beyond,  that its presence often made me feel unwelcome.  It kicked up the dry sand in your eyes, mouth and ears, battered your board so hard that we both obtained minor shoulder injuries from holding and fighting against it.  It also sent the lip of the wave the wrong direction and changes how you approach surfing.  I'm fairly certain that is the same wind Mary Poppins used to fly away on.
    Then the oil rigs -  huge platforms offshore, and strange devices onshore the let off a puttering noise like an old car that has, ironically enough, run out of gas. The ones onshore made the swinging motion of a desktop toy bird that dips its head to and fro - It was just as mesmerizing to watch.  The offshore rigs looked like a crazy mash of erector set that a kid put together. 
    Although I'm uncertain of their official purpose, there were massive cylindrical buildings in the distance that sounded as if they were huge clothes dryers that someone put a pair of sneakers in. Lots of redundant clatter. 
     Occasionally, thanks to these machines, in between whiffs of salty sea air you'd get a good sniff of some  gas leak and start to feel a wee bit woozy.  Ignoring all of this we wobbled back to our room, got boards and weaved the cliffs to the southern point break to have our first surf in Peru.  
    With a super easy paddle out by the rocks, we were blessed with a mid morning line up of only 3 others.  It was about 11am.  Our flight had landed at 8am that same morning and boy did I feel that twenty four hour trip in my bones.  But we made the most of the shoulder high waves until the crowd finished lunch and started heading back down the beach to take over the lineup
    By the time we returned to our room, forty minutes of wind whipped walking later, exhaustion  sent us straight to bed for the night.  Sometime around midnight I pulled the blankets up around me with a little shiver and thought ' geez locals sure do know best' - the temperature must've dropped to somewhere in the forties.  The wind was howling outside like a lost child and I found our first night to be eerie and filled with odd dreams.
           Aside from being a surf destination, Lobitos is a fishing village, formerly a thriving one. There are still boats shoving off in the early hours to make their catch, but many of the old derelicts lay strewn across the sand awaiting a better year.  Many of the houses by the pier (where all the boats dock) have been abandoned and are crumbling back into dust.   Compared to the small panga's I'm used to seeing used in Central America, these fishing boats were enormous- made of wooden planks and looking a lot like an old fashioned children's toy with their colorful decorations.  Now it seems that the oil rigs have everything to do with the fact that the families seem well fed and happy - though I have no idea what the environmental implications are of living on top of an oil drilling site.  Maybe that's why the weird dreams were happening...
    The following days we spent fighting the wind to walk south and surf that same point, keeping us away from the crowd.The wind kicked up such torrents of sand, we'd come back in and Raven (our dog) would be built up like a sandcastle from having laid in one spot.
    Before we could establish a good routine the contest days crept up on us.  Being my maiden voyage to the ASP women's qualifying series, I suppose I couldn't possibly have expected the level of aggression and poor etiquette that these girls carry from continent to continent.  The lineup was general mayham anyhow- thanks to the event drawing in 60 girls, plus organizers, any poor traveller who happened to be in town (about another 40), the 20 locals, and the rest of Peru that came to watch.    It's actually amazing that at any given time there were only 50 in the lineup, when there were so many surfers in town.  (having two other points within walking distance helped)
    Regardless,  I am sad to report that most of the girls have little or no etiquette - not only paddling around everyone, but also burning and snaking people left right and center.  For the most part, I could never sit at the top because you'd have at least fifteen chicks aggressively paddling around you, and another 30 people who were quite miffed at not getting any waves or having the girls straight up snake them and do turns back into them until they fell off their boards.   Not cool. I felt bad for the general people out there, most of the girls made every day that week hectic and aggravating.  Instead of join in the party, I just manifested my own fun waves here and there down the peak, tried to give a few away to desperate looking souls, and tried to smile. 
         I kept thinking how the companies who sponsor them should make them rock a sticker that says 'how's my etiquette?' with an phone and ID # - like drivers do on trucks.  If I were the people being burned and paddled around and scowled at - I'm pretty sure I wouldn't buy from the company whose sticker was on the board of the offender.  Because then I'd being pay that twits salary. No thanks. 
    So moving on - I made my first heat of the event,  not so much with good style but I was stoked to pass through and win the heat.  The second day,  I had my first experience with being 'marked' - which is most unfun.  Essentially one of the girls decided I was a threat and paddled around and around me, underneath and over me, in an effort to keep me from catching waves.  And it worked.  I'm had never experienced this and I actually didn't expect it to happen to me, just a nobody, my first event on the ASP women's star.   I was marked by a pretty well seasoned chick no less.  I guess I should be honored that she thought I was a threat, but honestly all I could think was what a snot. 
    It demonstrated exactly what is wrong in the industry and the world. It would be the equivalent of a competitor stealing your golf ball before you strike it towards the green.  Or someone pushing you from the stage at a  dance off-  you don't head butt the other person off the stage because your afraid they'll dance better than you.  You get yours when the time comes and show the world what you've got.   No Me Gusta.   The point of surf contests is to demonstrate excellent surfing.  The ASP reduced the number of waves scored from 3 to 2 in an effort to emphasize the "excellent" part.  To get surfers to focus on the quality of their surfing. 
      Instead of going out there and seeing who surfed best in that heat,  this girl decided to swarm me with flutter kicks and fierce glares, faking me out on take offs, paddling under me right as I went to get up so I'd have to run her over if I wanted to take the wave.    It sucks that they allow this behavior, it encourages a really bad onslaught of etiquette from everyday surfers,  because they're just reacting to the standard set by the pros.  It's the reason that there are so few smiles and hoots and laughter in line ups.  
    Alas, I had to sprint paddle away from her and caught two smaller waves with 5 minutes left, but you can't win a heat at a point break if your not on the set waves. I suppose I am grateful to have that happen now- as a lesson that with these girls you can have no remorse.  On my honor I promise to never treat anyone in a lineup the way so many of the girls did that week, but when I'm up against them in the heat - I guess it's no more Mr. nice guy. 
    We made the most of the rest of our stay in Lobitos,  hiking north or south to surf.  Unfortunately with the event running and a super south swell washing out the southern wave,  it consolidated everyone to one point break that you could jump rocks straight to the top of the lineup. Mayham is a bit of an understatement.
     Our leave day came, and feeling wind battered and sand blown, we loaded in the car and started the twenty four hour trip to san diego -  visit the family and get ready for the ASP Oceanside event- the SuperGirl Pro.  Onward and Upward!