South America has countless miles of coast line, yet there are barely any publicized windsurfing destinations other than those in Brazil. When you look at a map you realize how one country dominates in occupying the majority of the west coast of South America. Miles and miles of untouched, undiscovered beaches. The country is Chile, the wind is plentiful and the waves are unreal.Photos by Chris Hughes.
|Windy Season||September to December|
|Wet Suit?||Yes, 5/3 winter suit for max time on water.|
- How To Get There
Let’s face it; you’re nearly flying to the other side of the world so it’s not going to be cheap. You need to fly to Santiago from where there are many options. We found the cheapest airlines for taking kit were Swiss Air and Air France. The actual ticket with both cost just under £700. Excess baggage with Swiss Air costs £114 each way, but on the day some friends of ours managed to pay this price for return! Air France charge £130 both ways if you pay in advance.LAN Airlines is the local airline and excess baggage costs US $200 each way (£100) per windsurfer. However, it is definitely worth checking with the airline before booking and packing your kit. Some will charge more if you have too much weight in one bag, whereas some will charge more if you have split the kit up into lots of bags.
From Santiago you can fly to Santa Domingo and then it’s an hour’s drive to Matanzas. Or it is a two and a half hour drive from Santiago to Matanzas. The Chilean coastline is so long that you have to restrict yourself. Windsurfers base themselves at this tiny village where the amenities of the Western world are far, far away but within an hour’s drive you have six different spots to satisfy every kind of windsurfer and there are never, ever any crowds.
Renting a 4X4
There are tons of rental companies at the airport. The one we used was called “Free Rent A Car Chile” but ironicly it was far from “free”! We got quite a good discount because Chris and I are good at blagging! So ours was cheap at £1,600 for 5 weeks (between 4 of us) but it should have been closer to £2000. This was the cheapest company we found. Most quoted over US$4,500(over £2,000).
- How The Wind Works
The best time to go is September to December, with the ultimate time being mid October until early December. As you move into January and February the weather system moves further south so you can still get amazing conditions but further down the country (for which we had no experience of). However, March is also a very good month in the Matanzas region but the swell big; quite often over mast high. The wind is generated by alternate pressure over the coastal and in-land regions; high pressure on the coast and low pressure far in land.
On a normal day around Matanzas the wind kicks in by 1 pm at the latest. This may sound quite late but the sun doesn’t set until after 9pm and the wind holds up until around 8pm so you still have plenty of sailing time. At Topocalma the wind kicks in a couple of hours earlier and it is usually around 5 knots stronger than the other spots. The prevailing winds are south westerly so if the forecast says the wrong direction then you probably won’t get any wind. In addition to this cloud and wind do not coincide, so if it’s really cloudy in the morning you might not get any wind, but there is often the chance that the cloud will lift and the wind kicks in later on.
- The Sailing Spots
Square Rock (La roca quadrada)
On a smaller day this wave is not at all intimidating, peeling off a square rock 2 km downwind of Matanzas. You can often get 5-6 turns on the wave but beware though because with a little more swell the wave becomes tubular, hollow and powerful. You need a 4×4 to sail here because you literally have to drive 2 km across the sand from Matanzas to get there.
10 minutes from Matanzas this is a perfect flat water spot in the river just before it meets the ocean. It’s like sailing on a lake and perfect for any level of sailor, but just down wind where the river meets the ocean you can also get some jumping in. The land is privately owned and at the weekends Bernado (old Chilean man) sits at the gate accepting CH$2,000 (£2) per car in return for opening the gate! If you need to get in during the week you can go to his house and he unlocks it for you. (His house is the blue and white one third from the end on the right before you get to the gate.)
Matanzas is a huge bay where the wave curls all the way round. When you first see it, its breathtaking. The wave is quite a fast one so you have to stay close to it; no big, loopy bottom turns, and you can get 5-6 turns on the wave crossing sections. It’s less hollow than square rock, and on small days it can be a good place for beginner wave riders but when it gets to logo/mast high it can be mean! The wave is actually quite variable here. In five weeks we saw it flat, over mast high, softly peeling, quickly peeling and on one day, after a very large swell, it became extremely hollow and sections would close out. But normally it’s a relatively fast wave that’s pretty soft and peels nicely.
Pupuya is upwind of Matanzas and satisfies all your jumping needs. The wind here is more on shore and you can get plenty of speed up before hitting the ramps. When the swell is small it’s a great place to go too, but if the swell is particularly big then it’s not a good option because the waves here are bigger combined with the onshore wind – not much fun. You need a 4×4 to drive onto the beach.
This place is absolute joy! I have never seen so many waves perfectly peeling one after the other whilst it simultaneously blows 3.7m weather! You must remember that it is windier here than anywhere else, so on a relatively windy day you can literally get blown off the water by mid afternoon so the best thing is to get there early. If you DO get blown off the water you still have plenty of time to get back to Matanzas to sail for the rest of the day. The waves are nicely spaced, with decent gaps between the sets so as long as you work on your timing it can be easy to get out here.
It is a 40 minute drive to the gate of Hacienda Topocalma and from here on all of the land is privately owned so you have to get permission before you are allowed in. It sounds annoying but you can understand why when you see how beautiful the place is. Once you’ve rung the bell, and left photo ID on the gate, you’re in and another 20 minute drive to the beach. At the T-junction you turn left (unless you want to go the surfing beach, Puertocillo, in which case go right.)
Once you arrive at the beach make sure you park on the land side of the lagoon (unless you want to have sand blown into every acienda you thought existed) rig up, sail across the lagoon, walk across the beach and the wave is yours.
They only let 30-40 cars into the acienda (for both the windsurfing and surfing beach) every day so at weekends get there early to avoid disappointment.
This spot is a little further away than the others. It takes an hour and a half to get to and the wind is usually around 5 knots lighter than the Matanzas region, so go on a good forecast. This is the slowest peeling wave I have ever seen and ridden, and when I say you can get 12 turns on a wave I’m not exaggerating. You sometimes have to hook in between sections to give your arms a rest. But the wave is so unbelievably slow and predictable that it’s almost a different type of wave riding to anything I’ve ever experienced. On one occasion we went on a huge swell and it was breaking mast and a half high and still peeling.
At all the beaches there aren’t really any hazards. If you come in too far down wind it’s sandy and the only problem is a long walk back. The only exception is Square Rock. If you ride the section of the wave which is furthest up wind, and stack it in the wave you should water start reasonably quickly. There are a few rocks which you could end up on but it’s quite unlikely, and certainly nothing like a Ho’okipa style experience.
- Water State
The water state varies at each spot so see below. On the Chilean coast you are facing thousands of miles of open Pacific Ocean, so you need a winter wetsuit (5.3) if you want to last as long as possible on the water. You can survive with a long sleeved summer suit but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s about the same water temperature as the water in the south of England in early November so gloves and boots aren’t necessary.
- Instruction And Kit Hire
This is not a place for instruction and there are no windsurfing centers. At the Olas de Matanzas camp site Hector has a small windsurfing shop where he hires equipment but it is limited so if you do want to hire e mail well in advance: email@example.com
Kit rental costs are CH$25,000-30,000 (£25-30)/day for a board, two sails, wetsuit and harness.
A Chilean windsurfer called Hector teamed up with a windsurfing architect called Felipe and together they created Olas de Matanzas. It is really the only/best option for accommodation in the area and you can either camp or stay in one of their six log cabins depending on your budget. The cabins come in all shapes and sizes and are totally awesome complete with decking, BBQ’s and log fires. From here you can rig up and walk to the ocean; it’s such a great set up.
To camp costs CH$5,000 (£5) /person/day and if you need tent and sleeping bag then add another 5,000 on and ask ahead of time. A couple of people we met had rented small vans and slept in their vans at the camp site, so this is another option but by not having a 4×4 you limit your beach access.
Living costs in Chile are pretty cheap; you can eat out for the equivalent of £2. However, we ended up cooking almost every night because after long sessions on the water we couldn’t really be bothered to leave the cabin. You can buy some fresh produce in Matanzas itself and the bare essentials. In Navidad and La Boca (10 mins away) you can find some slightly larger stores offering a wider variety of food. A small supermarket recently opened in Rapel (20 mins away) with the biggest in Santa Domingo which is just over an hour away. The best thing is to stock up on your way to Matanzas from the airport in Santa Domingo. A good bottle of Chilean wine costs £1.50 and you can get 1 litre of vodka for £2.50. This indicates the general level of pricing in the supermarkets.
You’re based two and a half hours away from Santiago so the nightlife is what you make it to be! If you meet other people staying around you, you can team up, have bbq’s etc but that is about it! If you want a raging night out then your closest option is Pichilemu. An hour and a half south of Matanzas this is the biggest village you will come across on the nearby coastal region. There is one nightclub, it’s called 127 (ciento veinte-siete) and the best night is a Saturday. Chileans party late, so don’t expect it to start filling up until around 1 am and it costs £3.00 to get in, including a drink.
The local drink is Pisco which is essentially a white brandy and they either drink Pisco sours,(which is the brandy mixed with lemon juice and sugar: highly recommended) or Piscola (Pisco and Coke).
- Bored Of Windsurfing
Chile is an awesome place to be if you are unlucky enough to not have wind, but depending on what you do you may have to drive a little.
Shop: A day trip to Santiago which is two and a half hours away.
Surf: Chile is quite famous for surfing; Puertocillo is the famous surfing spot near Matanzas, but the best surfs we had were at Topocalma. Punta Lobos is near Pichilemu and isvery famous for surfing; in 2006 it was a photo taken at Punta Lobos that won the Billabong prize for largest wave paddled into.
Taste Wine: You can also go wine tasting which we highly recommend. Santa Cruz is the nearest place to Matanzas (an hour and a half south) and there are lots of vine yards. Cost is around £5 plus depending on where you go. We visitedMontGras which is a vineyard just before you reach Santa Cruz.
White Water Rafting: The Andes dominate the east of Chile so you can go trekking, climbing, skiing (if it’s their winter) but we went for the white water rafting option which was three and a half hours away and cost £15. I definitely advise anyone to spend at least a day or two seeing other parts of the country because the climate and landscape changes so much and it’s well worth seeing.
Off the water
If there’s a few of you and you need fresh bread every day, pre-order at the shop the day before because otherwise they will sell out!
Very few Chileans in the Matanzas area speak English, so take a Spanish phrase book if you can’t already speak it.
The nearest cash point is an hour and a half away so take plenty of money out at the airport before you leave.
On the water
Beware of the sea lions. They are harmless but can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting to see them pop up here and there.
You have to remember that until very recently the local Chileans rarely saw foreign windsurfers. They are super friendly, and it is very unlikely that you will end up fighting for a wave. But if, on the off-chance you do, we realized that they have their own rules for right of way on a wave. It seems that whoever is on the wave first is irrelevant to them; what is more important is who is further up wind. It is up to you as to whether you want to explain the correct rules to them, but we decided to just let them have their waves as it seemed the appropriate thing to do.
Name: Tanya Saleh
Local beach: Hayling Island, UK
How many years sailing: 9
Last windsurf move you cracked: Aerial
What you’re working on now: Too many too mention!
Competition results if applicable: UK Student National Champion 2004-2007
Name: Chris Hughes
Local beach: Derby Canal (!)
How many years sailing: 3
Last windsurf move you cracked: Forward loop out of the straps
What you’re working on now: A clew first, switch stance, one handed up haul.