Ob­ject Im­per­ma­nence

Surfer - - Contents - By ASHTYN DOU­GLAS

Ramón Navarro, Kohl Chris­tensen, Otto Flores and a lo­cal crew of Chileans score an ephemeral sand­bar on the verge of its dis­ap­pear­ance

Ramón Navarro, Kohl Chris­tensen, Otto Flores and a lo­cal crew of Chileans score an ephemeral sand­bar on the verge of its dis­ap­pear­ance

Stand­ing at the edge of a ver­dant cliff on a cold, fall morn­ing in South­ern Chile, lo­cal tube hound Ramón Navarro couldn’t be­lieve his eyes. There was a long-pe­riod south­west swell in the water and the sun had just started to il­lu­mi­nate the lively, frigid wa­ters of the Pa­cific Ocean be­low him. A bit­ing off­shore wind was groom­ing a reel­ing left-hand point into a gassed-up Mun­daka looka­like. To the best of his knowl­edge, this wave had never been surfed be­fore, most likely be­cause it had never looked like this be­fore.

Navarro had been to this spe­cific stretch of coast­line mul­ti­ple times over the years, but had never seen the nor­mally bro­ken-up wave con­nect all the way down the point. Af­ter hear­ing whis­pers that the sand was start­ing to fill in and cre­ate shapely walls, he and his friend Otto Flores, a Puerto Ri­can surfer who was vis­it­ing Chile, had awo­ken early that morn­ing to scout the point and see if the ru­mors were true.

“The first wave we saw spit three times,” Navarro re­mem­bers. “It was per­fect 8- to 10-foot bar­rels all the way through. I spent so many years in the area and I had never seen the sand­bar that good. I don’t know why ev­ery­thing came to­gether, but the sand­bar was fir­ing. It was the best sur­prise.”

Navarro grew up in the small fish­ing vil­lage of Pichilemu, hon­ing his skills at Punta de Lo­bos, at a time when there were few surfers in Chile. Over the past 20 years, he’s ven­tured far­ther and far­ther away from his back­yard to find new, empty breaks, un­earthing more than 10 qual­ity waves up and down the coast, mostly by talk­ing to lo­cal fish­er­man. But this wave didn’t look like any other left-hand point com­mon to South­ern Chile. This one was as wide as it was tall.

Af­ter the duo picked their jaws off the ground, they ran back to the main road, jumped in Navarro’s car and raced to Pichelemu to grab their boards. Along the way, they made a pit stop at the ho­tel where Hawaii-based big-wave surfer Kohl Chris­tensen was stay­ing.

Chris­tensen and Navarro have been friends for decades, and when he’s not on Oahu, Chris­tensen is usu­ally at Navarro’s side, pad­dling into a newly dis­cov­ered point or big-wave spot in Chile. “I met Kohl in the win­ter of 1997,” says Navarro. “He showed up here and he was just this crazy gringo charg­ing big waves. Since then, he’s been on nearly ev­ery big swell in Chile and we started trav­el­ing to­gether. Now he speaks Span­ish bet­ter than me.”

When the lanky Chris­tensen opened the door to his ho­tel room, Navarro couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “There’s this new wave and it’s fir­ing,” Navarro told him, “Let’s go. Bring your 7'0".”

Chris­tensen was skep­ti­cal. The south­ern coast of Chile is chock-full of left-break­ing points and he won­dered what made this spot so spe­cial. But as soon as the crew re­turned to the wave, Chris­tensen started “scream­ing and jump­ing up and down like a lit­tle kid,” he ad­mits. They all un­loaded their boards and stuffed them­selves into thick wet­suits as quickly as pos­si­ble. In min­utes, they were scor­ing some of the best waves of their lives.

“I’m from Chile and I’ve surfed so many epic waves here, but I’ve never surfed a point­break that big and that hol­low,” says Navarro. “It was one of the best waves I’ve surfed in Chile for sure. No ques­tion about it.”

But over­sized, drain­ing tubes of­ten come at a price, and this mysto point was no ex­cep­tion. For ev­ery make­able wave that marched down the point, there were three nasty ones right be­hind it. “We weren’t mak­ing a lot of the drops be­cause it was suck­ing up so much and go­ing be­low sea level,” ex­plains Chris­tensen. “And the pound­ings were pretty bad. It was so shal­low that you’d get pinned to the bot­tom ev­ery time.”

For the next week, the crew, in­clud­ing a few lo­cal Chileans, would ar­rive at the point at 7 a.m. and wouldn’t leave un­til 8 p.m., head­ing back to the beach ev­ery few hours to load up on mate or to cook fish over the fire. At the end of the week, they de­cided to name the wave “So­los” and they swore to keep its lo­ca­tion con­fi­den­tial.

Un­for­tu­nately, due to the fleet­ing na­ture of sand­bars, not much se­crecy was needed. “I came back a few months later and it wasn’t there any­more,” says Chris­tensen. “It was all sec­tioned out and the bar had been eaten up. I think it had some­thing to do with a nearby river that opened up.”

Navarro re­turned to the spot ev­ery two weeks, but the bar they had scored was com­pletely gone. Ac­cord­ing to Navarro, the quick com­ing and go­ing of a wave is com­mon along this rugged coast­line.

“I’ve spent pretty much my whole life try­ing to find new waves and this one was right un­der my nose,” says Navarro. “And that’s be­cause sand­bars are so tricky. They change all of the time and there are so many things that need to hap­pen in or­der for them to get good. This ac­tu­ally isn’t the first time I surfed a spot in Chile with epic waves that you go and check again on a sim­i­lar swell and it just isn’t the same.”

Navarro, Chris­tensen and Flores hope the wave will re­turn some­day, but they aren’t hold­ing their breath. Much like when you catch the best wave of the day and then de­cide to im­me­di­ately head back to the beach, Navarro and co. know that what they ex­pe­ri­enced would be im­pos­si­ble to top.

(Clock­wise from top left)

José Ig­na­cio Navarro, fully hooded and fully tubed along Chile’s icy fringe. Photo by DE HEECKEREN

Chilean smoke­stacks. Photo by FARIAS Flores and Navarro, re­fu­el­ing be­tween ses­sions. Photo by FARIAS

“I think in Chile, you can still find that sense of ad­ven­ture,” says Chris­tensen, ex­plor­ing the in­side of an over­sized cav­ern. “There are a lot of surfers around the world, but there are still places where you can dis­cover new waves.” Photo by DE HEECKEREN

Like the nee­dle of a com­pass point­ing north, Ramón Navarro is al­ways aimed at the next great big-wave spot along the Chilean coast­line. But he doesn’t mind stum­bling upon freight-train­ing point­breaks, ei­ther. Photo by JIMENEZ

(Left) “There was this kid Leon Vicuña [pic­tured] who got some men­tal waves,” says Flores. “He got these long, in­cred­i­ble tubes. It took an ex­pe­ri­enced surfer to surf that kind of wave.” Photo by FARIAS

(Right) Navarro, tak­ing a breather be­tween bar­rels. Photo by DE HEECKEREN

(Be­low) “That was magic,” says Chris­tensen of the tran­si­tory wave be­low. “Now it’s gone and who knows if it’ll ever come back. But we’ll al­ways have this spe­cial mo­ment be­tween friends.” Photo by FARIAS

“I’d say it’s one of the top three waves I’ve surfed in my life,” says Otto Flores, pic­tured here in­side a So­los gem with Navarro on the shoul­der. “It was just one of those lucky mis­takes. Per­fect place, per­fect time. A lot of peo­ple have gone back to that wave and haven’t seen it how we saw it. Out of the nine days I was there, I spent six of them surf­ing that wave and they were long, happy days.” Photo by DE HEECKEREN

What’s Kohl Chris­tensen point­ing at? Just one of the best left-hand points along the coast of Chile. Photo by DE HEECKEREN (Right) There can be noth­ing bet­ter than crack­ing open a few cold ones around a fire af­ter a day pack­ing un­crowded, keg­ging...

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