Surf’s up in Peru, and commuters hit the waves
LIMA, March 24 — Not for these commuters the rush for the bus, the crowds on the train or the slow, frustrating crawl through the traffic.
Instead every day some Lima residents head for the beach on their way to work.
The Peruvian capital is one of the few mega-cities where the beaches abutt the city lines, and the Makaha beach in particular has gained a reputation as a top-notch surfing spot.
So as the sun rises, surf-fans dressed in wetsuits can be seen waxing their boards or stretching to warm up before plunging into the Pacific Ocean waters. Early birds paddle with their arms to catch the first wave of the day.
“It energises you,” Santiago Mariani, an international organisations consultant, told AFP. “You start the day in a different way, de-stressed, by contact with the sea.”
Stefan Reich, a psychologist, said surfing in the morning makes him “eager to be in on the day, to be involved in my missions. The truth is it’s spectacular.”
The beach is just minutes from government offices, including the Peruvian Government Palace, where many of the early morning surfers work and they are now a common scene in Lima’s urban landscape.
Wetsuit clad surfers walk down streets or steep stairs snaking up the cliffs carrying their surfboards.
“I come four times a week. I clean off afterwards, I keep my suit in the car and then I go to work. I start at 8am,” said lawyer Juan Mujica who has been taking an early morning dip for the past 10 years.
“Whenever I’m late, my colleagues understand because they know that I go to the beach to do my favourite sport, which is surfing,” Mujica said at Punta Roquitas beach, while changing his clothes after shampooing his hair with water in a bucket.
And he vows he will “keep going as long as God gives me the strength.”
Previously a sport for the affluent, surfing in Peru is gaining popularity among lower-income residents, partly because of the easy access to the waves.
“This is a great advantage of Lima and, besides, there are good waves to ride,” said Roberto Meza, director of Waves Peru, the area’s oldest surfing school. He began with just one school in 1992 and now has 40.
Under a misty Lima sky, the five-mile long beaches are filled by early morning, with surfers of all ages and backgrounds.
“In Peru there are about 100,000 surfers and more will follow,” Meza said.
Five years ago, there were only about 60,000 Peruvian surfers along the country’s roughly 1,550 miles of beaches.
The rising popularity is derived partly from the fame gained by Peru’s international surfing champions, such as Sofia Mulanovich, said Meza.
The sport is also becoming organised and professionalised.
In office parking lots, surfboards sometimes stick out of car trunks. Some workers keep their surfboards propped up near their desks, easy to grab if they want to head to the beach at the end of the day.
One group of evangelists call themselves “Christian Surfers International”. Their slogan is “A Christian without a Bible is like surfing without a board.”
Peru still is behind countries like Australia, Brazil, South Africa and the United States for the number of surfers.
Nevertheless, international brands and stores associated with surfing are popping up in beachside communities like Miraflores, San Isidro and Barranco.
With mass production, prices for surfing equipment have been falling.
“For about 700 soles (about RM780), you can get a surfboard, wax and wetsuit, but in summer you do not need a suit,” Meza said. “A surfboard can also be shared among three or four.”
Surfing schools might also have encouraged the sport’s popularity by changing its image, said Fernando Vidal, a surfing instructor at Makaha beach.
“Previously, moms worried if their children were at the beach all day, thinking ‘marijuana,’” he said, with a laugh. — AFP-Relaxnews