JUNE 3, 2018

Surfer - - Contents -

As so much mod­ern surf ex­plo­ration be­gins, this trip started from a blog post. Ben Wei­land, ac­claimed film­maker and cu­ra­tor of the vi­sion­ary Arc­tic Surf blog, was look­ing through Wan­na­surf.com in 2009 when he came across a man who claimed he and his brother were the only surfers in a par­tic­u­lar South At­lantic is­land chain, and, oddly enough, they were look­ing for com­pany.

The is­lands had po­ten­tial, no doubt, but the more Wei­land re­searched, the more he re­al­ized this zone was as fickle surf-wise as it was ex­pen­sive to reach. It took nine years for Wei­land to find any­one will­ing to fi­nance the south­ern surf ex­pe­di­tion, but even­tu­ally the surf brand Roark de­cided to take a chance, and as­sem­bled a team to ac­com­pany Wei­land, and now we’re air­borne.

There’s only one com­mer­cial flight from San­ti­ago, Chile, to our des­ti­na­tion per week, and we’re on it. From the sky, the is­lands —776 in to­tal—blend to­gether into a sprawl­ing brown land­mass, scored by a se­ries of dark blue in­lets and wa­ter­ways. The land­scape is some­how both vi­brant and stark, like Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia meets Ice­land—on Mars.

We de­plane onto the Bri­tish Forces South At­lantic base and are greeted by sun­shine and brisk win­ter winds. Scan­ning my doc­u­ments at cus­toms, the agent smiles and says, “Oh, you’re the surfer group. I heard about you guys.” She hands me a pam­phlet that reads, “Mine­fields re­main on the is­lands.”

There was a war over these is­lands nearly 36 years ago, when Ar­gentina in­vaded the Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­tory and both na­tions en­tered into a months-long mil­i­tary con­flict. The lo­cals tell me that Bri­tain was about to end their oc­cu­pa­tion of the is­lands be­fore the war started in 1982. The is­lands had been part of an old trade route made ob­so­lete by the Panama Canal. But when Ar­gentina showed up unan­nounced and “started the fight,” the Bri­tish felt they needed to de­fend their claim. In the wake of the con­flict, count­less land­mines re­main on the is­lands, hope­fully far from the re­gions best surf breaks.

Here on the main is­land, there are only 2,000 full-time res­i­dents, half of which serve for the Bri­tish Forces South At­lantic Is­lands, con­sist­ing of the Bri­tish Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. There are no trees on the is­land, just mild hills lit­tered with bowl­ing-ball-size stones, sheep, geese, al­ba­tross and seag­ulls. Gi­ant wind tur­bines spin across the des­o­late land­scape as we drive to­wards our home for the next few weeks.

The five of us—wei­land, surfers Parker Cof­fin and LJ O’leary, pho­tog­ra­pher Dy­lan Gor­don and I—are dropped off at a bed and break­fast next to a ceme­tery over­look­ing a har­bor. We drag our board bags up the drive­way to find our host, Ar­lette, wait­ing to greet us at the front door with fresh-baked sugar cook­ies. It’s 4:30 p.m. and the sun is al­ready set­ting, so we pile into a pair of Toy­ota Hilux and jam to­ward the only nearby wave ac­ces­si­ble by car, aptly named Surf Bay.

As we pull up we see fos­sil-white sand and a punchy, head-high, semi-close­out ex­plod­ing di­rectly out front. “What the fuck was that?” Cof­fin hoots at the top of his voice. Gor­don puts the emer­gency brake on and we march through the soft, muddy grass onto the beach for a closer look. With the sun al­ready down and the tem­per­a­tures plung­ing quickly, it seems we’ll have to wait un­til morn­ing for our first taste of the surf.

We de­cide to head to the pub to meet Sean Mof­fatt, the man whose In­ter­net post first sparked Wei­land’s imag­i­na­tion nine years ago. Mof­fatt is an en­duro bike racer first and a surfer some­where fur­ther down the line. He brought a printed map of the ar­chi­pel­ago and shows us the ar­eas that he knows pro­duce waves, and the zones that he hasn’t ex­plored, but look promis­ing. Fly­ing into the is­land, we had seen what looked like nu­mer­ous slabs and points reel­ing un­der­neath us, and we snapped pho­tos on our iphones to later cross-ref­er­ence on the map. We pin­point where we be­lieve we’ll find the best waves—an area no­body has ever surfed, not even the lo­cals.

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