Arica Gutter-Punks and Vampires

Arica, Chile, is a trip. It’s hot and never rains, ever. It is a dry and dusty desert city. There is not a tree or bush for hundreds of miles. The locals say it’s one of the poorest cities, with the most cocaine, in all of Chile.

The surf is gnarly in Arica. It is offshore every morning, but every day at 11 a.m. the wind switches onshore, blowing everything out and leaving us surfers without much to do.

The streets of Arica are filled with packs of kids dressed in full punk garbage. They are true gutter punks. They are literally getting hammered, puking on each other, and passing out in the dirty gutters. Some of them were thrashers with skateboards and Dead Kennedys patches. Others were straight-up homeless looking; in fact they probably were homeless.

I would get up every morning at 5  a.m., grab my board and wetsuit, and get the bus to ride a few miles down the road to the island. The island holds a really heavy wave called El Gringo.

Just so happens that El Gringo is the last place that the sun hits in Arica every morning. The only cliff in the town, which has a giant cross statue on top of it, shadows the island for an hour or so after the sun rises. This shade is crucial for vampire partiers who want to roll through the morning hours.

Lots of the party people would close the shady clubs down around 5 a.m. and head out to the little island to escape the desert sunrise. True South American vampires hiding from the sun.

I would show up to go surf this crazy wave at the island alone each morning and have to get through all of these wasted vampires, who were blaring their club music, pounding drinks, and snorting coke. They always park right in front of the reef access to the wave, and these guys would all throw their empty bottles from the hoods of their cars onto the rocks right there. It was heavy at El Gringo.

The wave, sea lions, and reef are gnarly enough. With the addition of a negotiation through a nasty group of wasted vampires every morning, I had my work cut out first thing each day.

The vampires always left an hour or so after I paddled out, because the sun would eventually get high enough to scare them back indoors. Around mid-morning a couple of the local surfers would pull up and check the surf, but for whatever reason would rarely ever paddle out. I became friends with one of them, named Kurt. Kurt took me to tow some other big-wave spots later in my trip. I ended up crashing at the hostel he and his wife owned. They were both really cool.

The photo gallery has an image of the island that I took from the cliff where the big cross sits—the same cliff that shades the wave from the sun for the vampires each morning. You have to jump off these mussel- and urchin-infested rocks to get into and out of the lineup at El Gringo. A friend took a photo of me commuting to the wave via bus. Arica is a trip.

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