As dawn breaks, the fishermen are already returning home. Who knows what ungodly hour they headed out for their daily catch, but chances are this routine has been going on in more or less the same fashion for millennia. Evidence from pottery shards suggests that the long reed boats which every fisherman in Huanchaco is paddling, have been in use for around 3000 years with the design changing very little to this day. With a long pointed bow curving up out of the water, and lots of flotation provided by locally collected reeds, the boats are perfectly shaped for the heavy Pacific swells marching constantly westwards towards the coast. Peruvians also claim that these boats were the first surfing craft, pre dating any Polynesian surfers.
I can picture how appealing the iconic left hand point breaks of the area were too much temptation for the Peruvian fishermen not to surf them. Inevitably, one of them would have stood up on the rickety water craft sparking the competitive nature of men, and before long, fishermen all along the coast would return morning after morning, standing tall, triumphantly surfing their catch all the way to the beach. This is pure speculation, but as I watch the boats effortlessly gliding down the faces of decent size waves, I believe it to be true.
Armed with a 7 foot length of bamboo split in half to serve as a kayak style paddle, I try my luck at the wave breaking off the pier. My legs aren’t used to the coarse texture of the reeds and as I straddle the wobbling boat, I am getting seriously chaffed. I decide to move to kneeling which is more off balance, but a huge improvement in comfort with augmented paddling power. I manage to crash my way through the shore break and sit waiting for a set to come in. The familiar green bumps begin to rise on the horizon and it takes a bit of effort to get the 15 foot long boat pointed towards shore and some forward momentum. I feel the wave rising the back of the boat and paddle harder. After a few solid strokes, I’m on the wave, digging my paddle into the face to for support and to steer my way down the line. The flat bottom picks up speed instantly and in a split second, I’m sideways and thrown into the murky green washing machine. As I pop back up, I see the little reed horse has righted itself 50 feet towards shore, and beyond, a group of locals on the beach are laughing their heads off.
- February 2015