First Session: The History of Chile's Gigantic Wave

Matt Rode

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Updated 50d ago

If you want to know the future of one of the world’s best big wave spots, there’s no one better to ask than the man who has spent his entire career documenting it. With the biggest swell in years bearing down on Chile this week and a cadre of the world’s best big wave surfers descending on Pichilemu, we had legendary Chilean filmer and photographer Rodrigo Farias Moreno (who also happens to be head of media for the event) tell us how it all got started.

“The first surfers arrived in Chile sometime in the 70s and came to Pichilemu around 1982,” says Rodrigo. “They discovered the wave in town first, and then they eventually found Punta de Lobos. The first national surf contest was held here in 1986, and by then there was a solid crew of local surfers, such as Alvaro Abarca, Icha Tapia, Patryck Yrarrazaval, Miguel Mandry, and Lucho Tello. Carlos Donaire was an early photographer who documented all of the action here.”

Forecast: Punta de Lobos

“Around 1989, foreigners started coming to Punta de Lobos to surf. A French big wave surfer named Jean Robert Pistone bought land near the wave and sort of started the big wave focus here, since the point break can handle XXL waves.”

Word soon got out about Punta de Lobos’ big wave potential, and international pros started to visit.

“Laird Hamilton came around 1995, and in 2000 the first event called the Ceremonial was held at Punta de Lobos. Back then it was a week-long festival held in the fall, when there was always lots of swell. There was a contest for the kids and also the big wave event, which Kohl Christenson won that first year in beautiful conditions.”

Planning a trip? Here's the average conditions for each month, which you can find on the spot page, here.

Planning a trip? Here's the average conditions for each month, which you can find on the spot page, here.

The Ceremonial continued to be held every year whenever the waves got big enough, and local surfer Diego Medina put Punta de Lobos on the map by winning the Big Wave Award for Biggest Paddle Wave in 2005 on a massive 55-foot wave. By 2015, Punta de Lobos was a household name in the big wave world, but it was also known as one of the best left-hand points in South America, regardless of size. That’s when the local community decided to ensure that the wave would be preserved for future generations.

“Punta de Lobos was declared a World Surfing Reserve in 2015. The community came together, with the help of international support from Patagonia, Save the Waves, the Marisla Foundation, and a number of other entities, and purchased three acres at the tip of the point. The land was placed in a trust so that it will be protected forever.”

Sure, it's a big wave spot but there's room for mere mortal waves too. The big ol' classic brutalist wave breaks behind those rocks.

Sure, it's a big wave spot but there's room for mere mortal waves too. The big ol' classic brutalist wave breaks behind those rocks.

© 2022 - Maikel Kersbergen.

While Punta Lobos hasn’t been part of the Big Wave Tour for the past five years (it was removed from the schedule in 2018, and the Big Wave Tour was cancelled in 2020), the Ceremonial remains one of the most respected events in the big wave community. The Chilean big wave scene is full of local chargers, and virtually every serious international hellman and woman has put in their time in Pichilemu.

Throughout it all, Rodrigo Farias Moreno has been behind the camera, capturing the best rides and producing beautiful documentaries about the history of surfing in the area. For more about Punta de Lobos, check out his films Viejo Perro and Lobos Por Siempre.