This is our story of surfing the Pacific coast of the Americas, from Alaska to Patagonia, over 50,000km’s. Initially, riding motorcycles, then later and perhaps more rewardingly, on horseback – always surfing and documenting inspiring ideas along the way. Matt set off alone in the grizzly-infested forests of remote Alaska, but serendipitously met Heather whilst surfing in British Columbia – it changed their lives. Hopefully you find a little inspiration in this collection of stories to kick off your shoes and get outside.
And so we practiced. We groomed our horses daily as we fed them, trying to carve relationships with these beasts of myth and legend, humankind’s most revered domestic animal, one who made or broke entire civilizations.
We sketched out plans for what our surfboard racks might look like, guided only by our own imaginations, as nothing that remotely looked like a horseback surfing expedition had ever existed, at least in the online world that we had explored. After testing various methods suggested to us by knowledgeable horseman Carlos, who happened to be working on the property where we were camped, we were still unable to get the horses to carry a surfboard for more than 100m, with it a) falling off or b) spooking said horse and inciting chaos. Personally I was still feeling rattled by Blackie’s powerful reaction of terror to the surfboards where she destroyed some gear and almost hurt herself in the process.
Below is the super calm (if not elderly) Harimau getting rigged up with the 26th variation of strapping a surfboard to a horse – needless to say this method was also a miserable failure.
So we settled on a home-fashioned saddle-rack-pack designed and built by Matty himself (awaiting patents, not!). We were busy sawing, sewing and screwing for a few days…
Sometime, a few weeks after we had bought the horses while we were keeping them in Camila’s backyard and helping her keep her grass to a manageable level, a woman named Andrea approached us and told us that she was uncomfortable seeing our horses in such a small space, it was bad for them, and that we should move them to her property, which was much larger, plus had a pond and two other horses already staying there.
At first, this made me defensive. We may have been slightly on the defense in the first place, as it had often felt that people assumed we were just city gringos who knew nothing of how things work in Latin America, the countryside, the natural world, etc, which can at times feel frustrating, considering how much we’d been pouring our hearts into learning all about culture, language, and the places were visiting. It’s not the worst thing, as their best intentions are always present, people just want to help. Besides, Camila’s grass was definitely “well-maintained” by then, and we were already searching for somewhere else for the horses to live while we figured out the rest of our plans.
As it turned out, the acceptance of help from Andrea turned out to be the best decision we made on our journey, or at least one of them, in my opinion. True of all Chileans we met, she is one of the most generous and welcoming people I can imagine, and asked us only to respect her household’s efficient flow in exchange for the use of her entire house (showers! kitchen!) and a place to pitch our tent, not to mention a gorgeous sweeping property dotted with California Cypress, right above Punta de Lobos.
Andrea (right), and Panchu (and Harimau and Blackie in the back!)
There we would be able to finalize our plans, saddle our horses, take them for practice rides down to the beach and up into the hills, organize our gear, which was quickly beginning to pile up, and lend a hand to Andrea’s ambitious non-profit organization that she was in the first few months of starting up, called Zeus.
This is a perfect example of why it can be good to leave the comfort of one’s home, to discover new lands and new people on wild trajectories doing amazing, positive things in the world.
Her idea is to create a community-centered space organized with regards to the cultivation of respect for ocean, earth, and soul. The aim is to provide a place for groups to come to learn, teach, or inspire, whether it is about growing food, surfing, beach clean-ups and ocean education, yoga, meditation, support for local food and local business, etc. Whatever the endeavour, building a healthy community is both the means and the end.
We were fascinated, and during the month that we spent there, were able to participate in sound-healing meditation led by Andrea’s childhood friend Francisca (better known as la Panchu), in which she plays different musical instruments and uses her transcendent voice to facilitate meditation, all under a giant Cypress tree at the bottom of the property.
Being a collaborative space, there were many others who passed through the farm to share various skills and knowledge. We also participated in a temascal (Native American sweat lodge ceremony), as well as various work days with the ridiculously beautiful people we were staying with…
plus yoga swing courses with Andrea; and many Chilean barbecues and late nights full of amazing food, music, and love by the fire.
My favourites were the evenings spent sitting around the fire listening to achingly soulful music played by Tomas, Victor, Panchu, and any who felt compelled to join, all improvised in accordance with the sensation of sitting within the earth, in the Kiva that Andrea dug herself, designed in the style of a Kiva, a sacred space used by the ancestral Pueblo of the US southwest.
Meanwhile, Sam and Mick had already reached Ushuaia and the bottom of South America on what were previously known as our motorbikes, and had returned to pass through Punta de Lobos on their way back north towards the rest of South America… and Alaska. I’m sure they had a good laugh at the fact that we were still there, still trying to convince our horses that surfboards weren’t terrifying, improving our home made pack saddles as well as our riding technique – but far from feeling ready to start our new journey south.
In fact, I was feeling less and less ready as the days wore on. It felt as though we had settled in Punta de Lobos, albeit precariously in a tent on someone’s farm, but settled we were. We were making good friends there, people like us, that we could be sarcastic with, discuss the merits of travel, drool over food, and later talk about how we wanted to shape the world in a positive way. I especially was massively inspired by Andrea and Panchu. These women are doing what they want after traveling the world and figuring out what inspires them, and trying to build better communities while they’re at it.
Photo of Andrea by Vinka Bravo (@fotovk)
Andrea is a business-woman in the true sense of the word. Before settling back in her native Chile, she was living in Bali between traveling stints, during which she would collect fabrics and collaborate with indigenous women in small communities in order to create beautiful pieces of clothing. While we were staying with her, she was in the planning stages of opening up a retail shop nearby for her clothing brand Gyp Sea, along with other ocean-minded brands. She seems to always be on the move; if not physically, then somehow pushing herself to create and share positivity. I found it hard to want to leave this place of collaboration, finally eating fruits and vegetables and sharing good food with good people, daily belly laughs, and true friends, and trade it all for uncertainty and something of which I was growing more afraid, especially as we learned what we were really getting into.
Home comforts only available with time and home-space: sauerkraut and lacto-fermented beets
I suppose the main reason it was hard to leave this place (tally ‘em up) was the people. This area seemed concentrated with individuals who had shunned the city social climb and instead, stepped into an uncertain world of following their own hearts and working hard for ideals that they could believe in. They are woodworkers, painters, surfboard shapers, musicians, ukulele-makers, filmmakers, wild-food chefs, yogis, businesswomen and men, and gardeners, and the one thing they held in common was their belief in the support of their community and of each other. If it was getting harder to want to leave, at least we had the motivative energy of all these good people who weren’t taking the easy route themselves.
Amongst the ones we had the privilege of spending time with were Andrea’s neighbours, more inspirational folks doing their part to stay grounded while pushing the importance of small communities to work together for the common good. Ramon and Paloma Navarro and their 5 year old son, Inti, have built a beautiful house surrounded by native passionfruit vines, a big productive veggie patch in the back irrigated by the plentiful dew passively collected each morning on their shed’s metal roof, which happens to be rather large as it contains their other essentials to their way of life: Ramon’s quiver of massive guns (the surfboard kind, haha), a wooden halfpipe, a jetski, and a collection of all types of fishing gear.
The morning we first met Ramon on our way out to surf, he was just on his way in with his cousin, who had caught a massive Corvina (17 kg seabass!!) on a handline, on a SUP. These guys are hardcore! Matty borrowed a board and paddled out with them late one afternoon hoping to replicate the fishing bonanza, but alas caught nothing, although Ramon lifted the disappointment by giving us a lucky lure, a hand reel and some tips for our trip south.
Ramon’s efforts in both Pichilemu and Punta de Lobos have led to the protection of both communities from environmentally damaging pulp mills, which have few restrictions in Chile. We read, heard and saw many small coastal communities whose local economies have been devastated after the installation of a massive pulp mill, whose toxic fumes and outflows have almost no consequences when the local people face Chile’s corrupt government. Punta de Lobos is a unique place ecology-wise, hosting endemic marine (Boobies! Penguins!) and terrestrial species such as this Echinopsis bolligeriana, which only exists in three locations within two regions of only the Chilean coast, one of which is Punta de Lobos…
…and surf-wise, being amazing to surf from 1 to 20 feet. Ramon’s heading of the committee to protect this magical place, along with Save the Waves foundation and Patagonia (the company), has resulted in its approval to be considered as a World Surfing Reserve. A huge achievement. They still have a ways to go; to find out more, watch Ramon’s film (directed by Chris Malloy), or check out Punta de Lobos Por Siempre. If you don’t have time to watch the film right away, save the link, as it’s a beautiful story, expertly shot and directed, with a compelling message and history that deserves to be heard.
Paloma, along with managing their large veggie garden every year for their own consumption and storage, designed and implemented the self-sustained eco-lodge across the road from their house, has a deep knowledge and respect for plants and natural cycles, and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by her elegance and apparent ease of making everything beautiful, not to mention plentiful. Inti showed us his best hiding spots and forts, and how best to pick the broad beans Paloma was going to prepare for their upcoming camping trip in southern Chile.
Yet again, we were reminded by how people, and in this case an entire family, can bridge traditional skills and values with their counterparts in modernity. Chile is such a fascinating country in this respect. Its people are firmly rooted in tradition, and branching from those roots, some communities like those around Pichilemu are building stronger and more inclusive foundations for sustainability than many we have seen in ‘the developed world’.
Forging on, with ever-growing awe and admiration of all the beautiful people, we spent the days hitchhiking into town for various supplies, while we watched Pichilemu transform from a sleepy town whose shops were never open to a traffic-jammed summer-getaway-party scene whose guest cabins were never available…
…diligently organizing and building our gear…
…surfing (strangely, mirroring my experience with the horses, the jump from the rocks into the lineup at Punta de Lobos became more and more terrifying and I became less and less willing to do it. Where was all this fear coming from?)…
…and soaking up the last comforts of summer and nature’s beauty as seen from a relatively safe distance.
Were we ready? Would we ever be? I was far from believing I would be.
However, during one of Panchu’s sound-healing meditation sessions, in one of the haunting and sudden silent transitions between instruments, I felt myself floating underwater and looking at a mermaid. A female figure, lit by a halo of backlit hair, through which filtered underwater late-afternoon sun rays. She was wearing a long flowing dress and looked at me with deep compassion, in a way that I can only describe as serene. The Spanish word for mermaid is sirena, and in French, sirène, and I know that I experienced Serenity in its most perfect form. The strong feminine underwater force made me entirely calm, not noticing the fact that I was underwater, floating without breath, not wanting for anything. I must have been desperate for reassurance, because I don’t normally look for signs or supernatural phenomena, to help me make decisions, let alone see them.
Photo by @christianvizl of real-life mermaid Andrea
But there she was… looking back on my vision, i’m almost crying thinking that I was probably seeing Andrea as this ethereal mermaid, supreme water woman that she is. She actually creates most of her own marketing for the beautiful clothes that she makes by photographing them being worn underwater. This comes together now in my mind, and for how much I looked up to her and was encouraged by her during our time sharing her home, I’m not surprised that she came to me in meditation to tell me that I could do it, and that I would, no matter how hard it would be to ride out of those gates when the time came.
Catalina, Matty, me, and Andrea in the old boat, after the first rains
I have so much gratitude for Andrea, Panchu, Catalina, Ramon, Paloma, Inti, German, Carlos, Tomas, Camila, Temi, Gabriel, Gustavo, Diego, Victor, Caballo Blanco, Eduardo and all the people of Pichilemu, Cahuil and Punta de Lobos who helped us organise our journey on horseback. Their generosity and encouragement made a difficult transition into something truly enjoyable and inspiring, a gesture we will always hold onto and hope to be able to pass on.