Riding The World’s First Surf Boards In Peru

surfing in peru

CABALLITOS DE TOTORA BOATS AT SUNSET IN HUANCHACO, VIA CHRISTIAN VINCES/SHUTTERSTOCK

A certain set of fishermen who earn their livelihood along Peru’s lengthy coast became known, many years ago, as the cowboys of the water. What inspired this strange name? When these men straddle their steeds – which, unbelievably are made of reeds – they look remarkably like Clint Eastwood.

Caballitos de totora, their “little reed horses,” are designed to be mounted with both legs over the hull, so that their riders can keep their feet in the sand as they make their way, paddle in hand, through the waves and into the clear South Pacific waters where they cast their nets. Some say that these nifty watercrafts represent the world’s first form of surfing.

surfing in peru

A MAN TAKING HIS ‘LITTLE REED HORSE’ OUT TO FISH, VIA  CHRISTIAN VINCES/SHUTTERSTOCK

Caballitos de totora have been ridden in the region for at least 3,000 years. Archaeologists have found ancient clay vessels crafted into the shape of fishermen riding banana-shaped boats, and they’re believed to be legacies of the Moche and later the Chimu people of northern Peru.

Skip forward to the present day and, inevitably, local people are moving away from traditional fishing techniques to newer industrial methods. One of the few places where you can still see them in action is the humming fishing village of Huanchaco in Trujillo city, about eight hours north of Lima.

surfing in peru

CABALLITOS DE TOTORA ON HUANCHACO’S BEACH, VIA KSENIA RAGOZINA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Huanchaco is likely to be where the caballitos de totora were first made. Reeds for the boats were, and still are, harvested from the wetlands at the edge of the town, which is now an ecological reserve. The impressive legacy of the area pulls in surfers from across the country and across the globe, and over the years Huanchaco has developed a laid-back, easy-going vibe which fits well with the sun and sunsets.

If you’ve set your heart on having a go on a little reed horse try and catch the boatmen when they’ve finished their day’s work, and offer them a contribution for the ride of about $5.

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Jo Eckersley

Jo is a British freelance writer who has lived in five cities over the last five years, most recently Sri Lanka. Interested in politics, travel, activism and culture, her work has appeared in The New Internationalist, Time Out Sri Lanka and The Big Issue North. You can read more at joannaeckersley.com, or get in touch via Twitter @joeckersley.

1 Comment

  1. With some of the longest surf breaks in the world, Peru’s northern coast region of La Libertad is one of the top surf spots in the world. If you are up to being carried nearly a mile down the beach on a good day, these waves will give you some of the most memorable rides of your life.

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