By Sara Maar. Photography by Picnic Fotografia
Locals and foreigners alike are beginning to discover the waves that roll into Colombia’s coastline, planting a new flag on the map of surf culture.
The dying embers are still burning from the bonfire the night before. The sun has just risen from behind the mountains of the Sierra Nevada as hammocks rock to the soothing song of the waves a few feet away. One by one, heads peek out from the sleeping bags as eyes focus on the swell, still hazy from last night’s sleep. If the waves are there, nothing else matters.
The surfers begin to rise and stretch; there is little talk as morning yawns replace the need for words. Boardshorts are snatched from hammock ropes that serve as improvised clotheslines. Sunblock and wax are ruggedly applied to faces and boards. The surfers wade out and duck dive into the deep blue, while a breakfast of arepas de huevo and coffee awaits them on a long wooden table in the sand.
The best waves in Colombia stroke the sands of the Pacific Coast, but these have gone largely undiscovered due to the region’s remoteness and resulting high-priced airfares. The majority of Colombia’s surfers thus head to the Caribbean when looking for good surf, with the soft sand beaches north of Santa Marta in and around Tayrona Park having become the country’s number one surfing destination.
Most of Colombia’s surfers come from coastal cities like Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta and Riohacha, but there is very little of the territorial animosity that plagues many surf spots around the globe. The best surfers of course get the most respect, but even but this loose hierarchy is subordinate to the genuine camaraderie found in the local surfing community. Here, once in the water, place of birth and skill level seldom matter.
When the waves are good, surfers leave their daily lives behind to spend a weekend basking in the ocean’s positive energy. Many can be found here on the northern coast where the Sierras meet the sand, spending their nights in hammocks and tents along the beach. Portable cooking stoves and canned food often dictate the meals of choice for these surfers, though many opt for one the many campsite restaurants that dot this popular coastal area.
There’s a strong connection between locals and the surfers that come from other cities; children look up to them, and will often sit on the beach to watch them surf while imagining what it must be like to catch a wave. Surfers play around with them, offering tips on surfing and sometimes leaving a board or two behind so they might give surfing a try, something many of these children would otherwise never have the chance to do. This interaction between surfers and locals encourages the sport’s practice in such communities, helping elevate its status within the country. There’s a lot of potential for the growth of surfing as a major sport in Colombia with its variety of great beaches, good waves, and young people all over who are willing and ready to learn how to ride them.
Of course this is not to say that it’s a completely foreign activity – surfing was first practiced in Colombia in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But even after a few decades there’s still a lack of certified instructors, well-organized surfing events and judges, sponsorship and affordable gear. Those who want to get certified as instructors or judges must travel to other countries such as Ecuador or Peru, and the surfing events that do end up taking place in Colombia lack sponsorship and are often poorly organized. Making matters even worse, most of the surfboards have to be purchased abroad as the few that can be found in Colombia are either second-hand or very expensive. This segments the sport, making it available to only those few Colombians who can afford it.
There are, however, a number of enterprising surfers who are trying to help spread the sport and its associated culture, exploring new markets to take advantage of the business opportunities resulting from such growth. But whether or not surfing grows as a professional sport and reaches commercial heights as a successful business venture, there will always be soul surfers. These are the passionate die-hards who surf for the mere pleasure of surfing, who get up early on Saturdays and set off in search of some remote break to be at one with the ocean for a while. They respect and learn from it, and return to live their lives in the concrete cities with their boards packed and waves in their heart, planning for the next time they can get away.
Powered by Facebook Comments