El Gringo is gnarly. It is like a cold version of Pipeline at high tide. The wave flares out and backwashes with tons of power. It’s a really sketchy and unpredictable wave that breaks in shallow water right on the reef. The reef is covered in these giant mussels and limpets that have sharp volcano-style tips. In between those hazards there are thousands of sea urchins.
If you go down on a wave and there is one behind it, chances are you’ll end up cut to pieces getting blown up onto dry reef. You have to time the paddle out in between sets since you jump into a little slot in the reef as the water is draining out of it. You ride the flowing water through the slot out to the end of the dry reef.
When it’s really big there is this super-thick foam on top of the water. The foam makes everything really quiet. If you break your leash, like I did, you end up having to tread water a good foot above the surface to breathe. The foam makes it really tricky to take breaths in between hold downs and while swimming against the strong current to get around the reef to the safe zone on the back side of the island.
I was the only guy surfing El Gringo for six weeks. It was so good that I had to paddle out every day, even if I was alone. I was glad I did every time. There was the occasional traveling surfer who would come through and try his luck out there, so I wasn’t completely alone every session, but every one of the guys who tried El Gringo got annihilated and sent in. One even left in an ambulance.
Stoked I got lucky and didn’t get hurt that badly throughout that six-week affair. My friend Noel, who tragically passed away surfing Puerto Escondido recently, broke his neck surfing El Gringo years before.
The entire time I was surfing El Gringo, and northern Chile in general, was fun and exciting.