Ten P.M. in the surf house and all is quiet. After hours in the water most of the inhabitants are hitting the recovery button, closing doors and going to bed.
At ten thirty a car pulls up outside. As the reggeaton fades, five girls get out giggling. Each is carrying a bottle of booze or a pack of beer. Looks like its going to be a lively night and, perhaps unsurprisingly, my plans for the evening change….
More cars come and go and by midnight ten locals and the gringo are knocking back tequila slugs by candlelight on the terrace. The BBQ has been relit, and stories of the wave that got away are being related. This is the surf community of Arica. Out to celebrate a birthday, on the roof top at Yoyo’s surf school. “Big Wednesday” plays in the bedroom, booze, joints and a little powder improve everyone’s English, obviously, and the night rolls on. The soft ocean air blows through the tie die drapes and at some point, as we run out of firewood, floor boards are pried up.
By 4am there is a slumped party victim in the corner, moves are being made as the boys line up the girls and Yoyo and I are mid discussion about the cocaine dealing that offers a more lucrative opportunity for many in Arica and the addiction issues that various people in the crew are (or are not) dealing with. Tomorrow seems a long way away.
Yoyo is pushing 40 and is, in many ways, living the dream. The dream, perhaps, of a twenty year old surf kid. His surf house is 100m from a point break left with peeling A-frame waves, perfect for teaching gringos to ride a wave at 25 dollars a go. His charismatic charm and enthusiasm (not always 100% natural as I was finding out that night) mean he is central to a group of friends and his community. He is clearly lionised by the constant flow of travelling surfers half his age, that pass through the house every week, his self mythologising rarely given the opportunity to grate before the the rotation moves and its a another set of impressionable youth to be, well, impressed.
His days are a mix of inspiring local surf talent, teaching gringos to ‘paddle harder’, BBQ’s and blazin hard in his hammock. Back in my twenties, living as a beach bum in my van in Cornwall, I’d seen people like this and it made me realise that I didn’t want to follow that path myself. Seemed like there was more, so I went back to Uni, and walked a different line. Always held a torch for the lifestyle though, so it was a comfortable few days re-living the tropes and stereotypes of it all. Throwing the boards in the back of a battered hi-ace with no seats and barreling down to the beach, smoke blowing out the windows, music thrashing through papery speakers, rattling the doors. Fist bumps and high fives with the crew we were getting to know down there. Exhaustion from a couple of hours paddling and pulling back into the sandy parking lot with salty skin and sandy scalp. Fill the time between tides with idle distraction, watch surf clips on Youtube lounging amongst the ashtrays and rizzla. The freshening slap of water as we go back in for a sunset session and then an evening of and chilling and chat.
(Long board day at the little point break…)
The rest of our time in Arica…. Well, even the tourist board here knows they’ve got pretty much shit-all else to do. So other than surf it really was eat or sleep. Or check the swell forecast. Every day we ‘nearly’ left, but a good morning session meant we’d find an excuse to stay another night. We figured the tide for the next break down the coast (Las Manchas) and got hammered and rolled until getting accustomed to the faster more hollow beach break. We went on a wild goose chase to find an olive oil factory but Yoyo got too stoned on the way to remember how to get there. An hour later we arrived to an empty yard. Oh, and at some point I met a local stick and poke tattoo artist and decided to mark myself permanently, spending two evenings on the table reflecting on circumstances and path I’ve been on since that first ink work back in ’98 with a head full of similar ideas.
As the to and fro of Facebook messages with potential buyers for Gellan suggested we actually had a legitimate buyer it was time to hit the road, finally. One last session, scoring an all time highlight, with local press hollywood snapping the sequence of my line, we set off into the desert for the 2500km drive to Santiago.