It has been a crazy couple of years in the wacky world of weather.
First we had the strongest El Nino in decades, which produced an unprecedented number of tropical storms and sent a nearly endless train of monster swells to Hawaii. Then we swung into a mild La Nina that only lasted a few months, and now it is starting to look like we could be heading back into another El Nino.
In the meantime, California has received a record amount of rainfall this winter (even more than the benchmark 1982 El Nino season), which couldn’t have come at a better time, since this winter’s precipitation essentially negated the drought that had been plaguing the west coast. California, Oregon, Washington, and even Wyoming had banner years for snow, with a number of resorts around Tahoe logging more than 50 feet of the fluffy stuff. Meanwhile, Colorado had an abysmal snow season, with temperatures as high as the 70s and 80s in the Denver area as early as February. To say that the weather has been irregular would be an understatement.
But perhaps nowhere has felt the impact of this crazy weather pattern more than South America. While Chile found itself in the midst of a historic drought plagued by months of fires, its neighbour to the north was inundated with enough rain to supply both countries for years. Peru suffered immense flooding over the past few months, with rainfall in March reaching as high as 10-times the normal level. Areas around the capital city of Lima and up north near Trujillo have become veritable disaster zones, with widespread destruction, dozens of deaths, and thousands of people displaced from their homes.
Located right in the middle of the chaos is Chicama, the wave many claim is the longest in the world. A brownwater lefthander that can provide rides of over 2,000 meters and two minutes, Chicama is a mainstay of the Peruvian surf scene, and sees a major influx of surf tourists every season. But this year, the area has also seen massive destruction from flooding, a fact that has threatened not only the surf tourism industry in Chicama, but also the safety and livelihood of thousand of locals.
Chicama Surf Resort is at ground zero for this destruction, and finds itself in a unique position to both report on the situation and help with the relief efforts. “Our lovely Chicama suffered heavy rains and some floods too,” said Miguel Vegas van Oordt, general manager of Chicama Surf Resort, “but it was the outskirts of Chicama [village] where the real damage happened. Farmlands and houses were destroyed, leaving families without anything.”
While weather conditions and road access have now returned to normal and surf operations are proceeding as usual, Miguel and the Chicama Surf Resort are not turning a blind eye to the destruction and loss surrounding them. The resort is leading local relief efforts, coordinating with donors and aid providers, and has itself donated over a ton of food and water to locally displaced families.
They are also working with Gabriel Villeran, the Peruvian country director for the non-profit Waves for Water, which has distributed over 1000 water filters in the Piura region (including Mancora and Lobitos), and just delivered another 1000 for the Trujillo region. Many villages in this region have needs that existed before the floods, and are now exacerbated to crisis levels.
Clearly, the work of rebuilding is far from over. So while the sand at Chicama is reported to be great at the moment, and a steady run of south Pacific swells has lined up for the first few weeks of May, thigh-burning mile-long waves aren’t the only reason to visit the area. Surfers planning to do trips to the Chicama region can coordinate with local agents such as Miguel to better understand the needs and what they can do to help.
As travelers from affluent countries, we have the opportunity to bring with us much-needed supplies and equipment (including water filters, which can be facilitated through Jon Rose’s WavesForWater non-profit organisation). While we often celebrate the storms that create our waves, it is important to keep in mind that they are also very destructive, and can have lasting impacts on local people. Surfers have the unfortunate reputation of being a little myopic and self-serving, but situations such as the recent disaster at Chicama are a great opportunity for us to prove that we are interested in more than our next ride.