SUP Magazine - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS BY L. NEVAREZ

We’d been walk­ing through dense bush land of the Galapá­gos Is­lands, fol­low­ing a nar­row path run­ning along the arid, deep-coved south­west coast. Our eyes were riv­eted on the ocean be­yond, our bod­ies hardly able to con­tain our en­thu­si­asm as we made out invit­ing lines of swell ca­ressed by a light off­shore breeze. We’d been here for less than two hours but the magic of the place had al­ready pulled us un­der its spell.

World-fa­mous for their key role in the de­vel­op­ment­ment of Charles Dar­win’s the­ory of the evo­lu­tion of species, the Galápagos Is­lands are, para­dox­i­cally, al­most com­pletely un­known to the gen­eral pub­lic. A re­mote sanc­tu­ary of unique flflora and fauna, lost in the mid­dle of the Paci­fific Ocean, there’s no lack of charm and in­ter­est for trav­ellers, as SUP surfer Alexis De­niel, his girl­friend Me­lanie and I dis­cov­ered when we vis­ited the dis­tinc­tive travel des­ti­na­tion.

Dur­ing the long flflight from con­ti­nen­tal South Amer­ica, watch­ing the end­less azure-blue ex­panse through that lit­tle round plane win­dow, I was struck by how iso­lated this chain of 48 vol­canic dots on the map ac­tu­ally is, scat­tered like gravel in the deep blue ocean, about 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador. I thought about those fi­first Span­ish ex­plor­ers, and of the fa­mous Bri­tish nat­u­ral­ist Dar­win, who landed here in 1835 on his equally fa­mous three-mas­ter, the Bea­gle. It was much less of an ad­ven­ture get­ting there for us, and once we’d fifin­ished with the im­mi­gra­tion for­mal­i­ties we quickly piled our board bags into the pick-up with our lo­cal con­tact and guide, Danny. He gave us a quick run-down on the plan.

“The swell has dropped a bit, but there are still plenty of good waves to ride to­day, if you’ve got the en­ergy,” he said. “We can drop your bags offff at your lodg­ings, then go check out some of the spots if you like.”

That’s how, after 36 hours of trav­el­ing and four difff­fer­ent flflights, we found our­selves on a long march up the coast, bags on our backs and boards un­der our arms.

Even­tu­ally, we stop in front of a makeshift sand­walled wind­break, from where we could see sev­eral difff­fer­ent waves rolling over a reef. The fi­first looked a bit dicey, but a few hun­dred yards fur­ther was a beau­ti­ful, shoul­der-high left with­out a soul in sight. We raced down the path and in a flflash, Danny and Alexis were across the black rocks and in the water. With no trace of hu­man ac­tiv­ity and the end­less deep blue all around, we quickly got the im­pres­sion of be­ing at the very edge of the world.

Alexis thought he was the only one rid­ing a wave but was sur­prised to fifind a few gi­ant sea lions rac­ing along­side him and, when he kicked out, gi­ant tur­tles flfloat­ing in the gen­tle roll of the in­side. Both were a reminder that na­ture is very much king here.

“Sorry, for­got to warn you we wouldn’t be alone,” Danny said, now in fi­fits of laugh­ter. “No kid- ding though, watch out for the tur­tles, you could hurt them, but they could have all your fifins offff just like that.”

Alexis took note and scored a few more rolling lefts all the way to the tur­tles, un­til the jet­lag kicked in and we left the spot empty once again.

The swell had di­min­ished the next day, but with a promis­ing new swell on the hori­zon, we took the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the east coast of the is­land.

We climbed the slope of a dormant vol­cano that dom­i­nated the val­ley and offf­fered spec­tac­u­lar panoramic views of the south­ern part of the is­land. Upon reach­ing the top, we were stunned to fifind an im­mense la­goon, hun­dreds of yards long that had built up in the crater. Var­i­ous species of birds flflew to and from the water, wash­ing their wings in this un­ex­pected bird­bath, which turned out to be the big­gest la­goon in the en­tire is­land chain.

We car­ried on east, aim­ing for the home of the gi­ant tor­toises that the is­lands are known for. These en­demic crea­tures seemed to have walked straight out of the Juras­sic pe­riod, and are as im­pres­sive as they are peace­ful. De­spite the mas­sive weight of their cum­ber­some shells and heavy, scaly feet, their slow walk has a cu­ri­ous grace. These rep­tiles have a rep­u­ta­tion for ex­treme re­silience, ca­pa­ble of pass­ing half a year or more with­out eat­ing or drink­ing, and liv­ing an av­er­age of 100 years. After their visit in the

path and bark­ing rau­cously at any­one who tried to pass. An­i­mals were clearly the rulers of that par­tic­u­lar roost. De­spite all our for­eign trips, we’d never felt more like guests than there.

The draw of the water was too much for Alexis and Me­lanie, who soon in­flflated their boards and read­ied their gear. The pair pad­dled across the water as a ju­ve­nile sea lion play­fully fol­lowed them and a pel­i­can flflew over­head on its way to the rocks at the south­ern end of the bay. Tak­ing it all in from the van­tage point of their boards, they slowly ad­vanced across the bay, savour­ing ev­ery mo­ment and en­joy­ing the im­mense priv­i­lege of such an in­ti­mate mo­ment with na­ture.

Judg­ing by the foam that swept over the dis­tant rocks vis­i­ble from our win­dow, the much-an­tic­i­pated swell had ar­rived. Ready to check out some difff­fer­ent spots, Alexis quickly grabbed his gear and we rushed offff to meet Danny, the eter­nal op­ti­mist. We walked down a dirt track just op­po­site the house, the sun bright­en­ing the af­ter­noon sky and a steady wind tick­ling the backs of our necks. We passed a few cu­ri­ous lo­cals, in­trigued by the boards un­der our arms and bags on our backs, then ar­rived in a lit­tle cul-de-sac with a small, al­most hid­den foot­path lead­ing offff it. Push­ing our way through the dense veg­e­ta­tion, the sound of break­ing waves be­came louder with ev­ery step. A splen­did cres­cent beach came into view, as did the lovely, clean rights glint­ing emer­ald green in the sun­light. It wasn’t big, but the boys were anx­ious to get out after be­ing de­prived of waves for the past two days. Fol­low­ing Danny along the beach to the en­try spot, Alexis was stopped in his tracks by an im­pos­ing iguana sun­ning it­self on the vol­canic rocks, mo­tion­less, as if dead. Dar­win wrote in his mem­oirs about these rep­tiles, the “dis­gust­ing, un­gainly lizards” and “goblins of the depths.” Huge num­bers of them cov­ered the nearby rocks. Their dis­tinc­tive crests, crawl­ing walk and re­sem­blance to di­nosaurs was both fas­ci­nat­ing and im­pres­sive in equal mea­sure.

With the sun slowly sink­ing to­wards the dis­tant hori­zon, beau­ti­ful light was cast upon the wooded hill­side be­hind the bay and the vil­lage be­yond. Alexis and Danny took full ad­van­tage of the small but per­fectly formed rights, the ses­sion fi­fill­ing us with prom­ise for the days ahead.



The alarm rang the next morn­ing with the sun still be­low the hori­zon. After swal­low­ing a quick cof­fee, Alexis rushed down to the same spot from the pre­vi­ous night. The swell had clearly in­creased and over­head bombs ex­ploded over the reef. The im­pos­ing walls of water were his play­ground and he scored tube time in the hol­lower sec­tions. Danny and a body­board­ing friend, Jeri­cho, soon joined him, stoked to share the spot and its ex­cel­lent waves with their new French friend.

After three hours of se­ri­ous sur­fif­ing, the change of tide sig­naled an end to the morn­ing’s fes­tiv­i­ties. We de­cided to go eat in the vil­lage. The sea front was beau­ti­ful as we passed groups of sea li- ons squat­ting on patches of beach, ly­ing on benches un­der the shade of trees and slowly cross­ing café ter­races. They re­mind me of the stray dogs you see ev­ery­where in Morocco, just as com­fort­able in hu­man com­pany and to­tally in­te­grated into lo­cal life. Un­for­get­table.

The fol­low­ing days were blessed with more qual­ity swell, which ap­par­ently isn’t al­ways so con­sis­tent in the Galápagos. “Did you come speci­fif­i­cally for this big swell or is it just good luck?” Danny had asked when we fi­first ar­rived. A lucky star was shin­ing on our trip and we were en­joy­ing ev­ery minute of it. The ses­sions con­tin­ued, difff­fer­ent parts of the bay, difff­fer­ent spots de­pend­ing on the tides. We fell asleep after days fi­filled with miles of walk­ing and up­wards of six hours of pad­dling.

After yet an­other one of these days, Danny asked if we’d like to go to an iso­lated spot ac­ces­si­ble only by sea the next morn­ing. The fore­cast looked great, so we made plans to meet him at his pon­toon boat at dawn.

With all our gear on board, we left the bay. Danny pointed out all of the in­ter­est­ing sites along the way. This in­cluded a stun­ningly beau­ti­ful lit­tle is­land with a long tongue of white sand and crys­tal-clear water. “It’s a par­adise for the sea lions and other wild an­i­mals out here,” he ex­plained.

The jour­ney con­tin­ued, pass­ing end­less miles of wild, vir­gin coast­line, be­fore en­ter­ing a large, calm bay at the foot of a moun­tain. The water was an as­ton­ish­ing shade of green and be­yond the fi­first band of veg­e­ta­tion, wide craters re­minded us of the vol­canic ori­gins of the is­land. As the boat slowly ad­vanced across the bay, Danny pointed to a wave that just broke, “See that? That’s the take-offff zone. This is go­ing to be good fun!” With not an­other soul in sight, Alexis and Danny hopped in the water and made their way straight to the peak.

Al­though the wave wasn’t as well-formed as some of the other spots, the shoul­der-high sets break­ing amidst this sur­real scenery was more than enough. They rolled in of­ten, much to the boys’ de­light as they tried new tricks and shouted en­cour­age­ment at each other. It felt—and looked like—we were sur­fif­ing on the moon.

Be­side our lu­nar surf ses­sion, our boat trip gave us a view of an­other bay that we hadn’t seen be­fore but wasn’t far from our lodg­ings. “There must be a path lead­ing there through the bush,” said Alexis, clearly schem­ing up an­other plan. “I think we should try and get there for a pad­dle,” he con­tin­ued, al­ready get­ting his gear out. We headed out along a small, rocky path that led north­wards away from the house, even­tu­ally join­ing a larger path that seemed to head in the right di­rec­tion. Be­low us we saw a beau­ti­ful blue creek shad­owed by a dark vol­canic cliffff. A lit­tle path led us down, be­fore we came face-to-face with a big statue of Charles Dar­win, com­plete with a plaque ex­plain­ing that this was the bay where he had fi­first made land­fall on the is­lands.

After soak­ing in the co­in­ci­dence, Alexis walked quickly to the water’s edge, un­packed his in­flflat­able board and pumped it up at top speed. Within a few min­utes, Alexis and Me­lanie were pad­dling over the crys­tal-clear water, not know­ing which way to look fi­first. The in­cred­i­ble clar­ity of the water al­lowed them to study the rocks be­low and watch a beau­ti­ful big tur­tle swim past in the gi­ant aquar­ium. While the out­side world has changed vastly, this amaz­ingly well-pre­served wilder­ness hadn’t changed much since Dar­win ar­rived nearly 200 years be­fore. The trip left us hop­ing it would stay that way.

Time goes by too quickly on the is­lands. Our visit was com­ing to­wards its epi­logue. Alexis had got­ten into the habit of go­ing to surf the same spot ev­ery af­ter­noon, a 40-minute hike down a trail and only ac­ces­si­ble for a short ses­sion with the tide at a speci­fific level. The wave was fi­fickle, but in­cluded a hol­low right sec­tion that re­quired speed and drive to make. After lots of prac­tice, Alexis had learned his way around this iso­lated spot and fully ap­pre­ci­ated it.

With time for one last ses­sion, we wanted to leave on a sub­lime note. The swell had sub­sided some­what since the pre­vi­ous day but the shal­low reef helped con­cen­trate the wave lines into beau­ti­ful bowls. As we walked across the beach, the sight of solid, head-high sets tugged at Alexis. He was on the water in a flflash and two min­utes later was stroking into a big right, pop­ping out of the tube 50 yards fur­ther down like a pea from a pea shooter. Alexis surfed alone, save for the ubiq­ui­tous sea lions and tur­tles watch­ing him. As the sun fell, Alexis tore him­self away and fi­fi­nally came back to land. The sweet­ness of that fi­fi­nal surf was only es­ca­lated by our im­pend­ing de­par­ture.

Walk­ing back through the bushes, guided by the bright light of the moon, we re­counted the un­for­get­table mo­ments from a trip like no other. Just as they did for the leg­endary Charles Dar­win, the Galápagos made a deep im­pres­sion on us. One that will last for­ever.

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