JUNE 3, 2018
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.