Surfing will debut at this year’s Olympic Games and Chile will be represented by Manuel Selman. Chile’s geography and talented athletes make Chile an unrivaled country for this sport.
Pichilemu, in the O’Higgins Region, is known as Chile’s surfing capital. But we can’t just talk about one place when it comes to surfing. The former El Alacrán Island (El Gringo wave) in Arica is the only place in the country where the World Championship Tour has been held, but there are other great spots in Iquique (Tarapacá Region), Viña del Mar (Valparaíso Region), Totoralillo (Coquimbo Region), Motu Hava in the Hanga Roa cove (Rapa Nui) and Curanipe (Maule Region).
“Our long coastline is rich and varied in the types of waves that it possesses,” explains the president of the Chilean Surfing Federation, Matías Álvarez. “In Chile, you can practice surfing in all types of conditions and we have constant waves all year round. Plus, surfing is a sport for all ages, genders and social groups. The large number of beaches means that you can practice surfing without them being packed with people. That is why foreigners are always visiting us and they, in turn, influence the development of out athletes,” he states.
Figures from the Chilean Surfing Federation show that there are 15,000 surfers and 37 surf clubs in Chile. The sport has become so strong nationally that the Chilean team finished in 8th place in the ISA World Surfing Games that took place in El Salvador in May and June. The team was represented by great surfers like Estela López, Lorena Fica and Manuel Selman, the latter who has managed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games, where the sport will debut.
On International Surfing Day, some of the most important Chilean surfers tell us about what motivates them and the characteristics that make Chile a surfing country.
Lorena is five-time national surfing champion and South American vice-champion in the World Surf League. She is Chile’s highest ranked female surfer in the World Surfing League’s Qualifying Series and was part of the Chilean team that participated in the ISA World Surfing Games that took place in El Tunco, El Salvador, this month.
“What made me want to be a surfer is the contact with the ocean; we have a very good relationship. I really like sports and surfing has helped to guide my way since I was little. What I most enjoy is being able to break free, to let things flow through sport, to express myself and, at the same time, to meet people, to create a circle, a community, where we are all equal in the water,” she explains.
Originally from Arica, Lorena states that “Chile is know throughout the world for its surfing, for its waves, for its perfect left-handers and gigantic waves, as well as for its tubular waves. The north of Chile is well-known for its really tubular waves and the south for its perfect left-handers. In both places (north and south), the gigantic ocean waves exceed five meters in height.”
Ranked in the world’s top ten on the Big Wave Tour 2015-2016, the big wave surfer from Pichilemu (O’Higgins Region) says that surfing has always interested him, as he used to see surfers from around the world come to his mother’s hotel in Pichilemu. “I fell in love with surfing after trying it for the first time when I was 11 years old. To this day, I haven’t gotten off of the board (…) To be able to surf a huge wave that’s been traveling for kilometers and kilometers and to feel that adrenaline rush is awesome.”
“Our country has large perfect waves that can be compared to the best in the world, like Hawaii, Portugal and Mexico. Chile has similar potential. We are a surfing country,” he declares.
At just 14 years of age, surfer Rafaella Montesi has already earned great triumphs: Under-12 Champion in the South American Children’s Surf Championship held in Colombia (2019) and Under-14 bronze medalist in the South American Children’s Surf Championship, held once more in Colombia (2020).
“I’ve always liked playing sports. When I was three, I learned how to ski; it was what we did as a family, with my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Later, I switched from skiing to snowboarding and I loved it. That was when my curiosity for board sports began. Being in contact with the ocean, out in the open air, is the best sensation in the world,” she explains.
“Being a coastal country with extensive coastlines and a lot of beaches, with different types of waves and different climates, means that Chile is a country that can promote tourism through surfing. There are enormous waves, like in Pichilemu and Arica, where world championships have already been held.”
Estela is a 15-year-old surfer from Navidad (O’Higgins Region), who was also part of the Chilean team that participated in the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador. She placed in the top 21 and just missed out on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games. “It is one of the most difficult world championships in history, so I went to give my best without really expecting a great result, just to get as far as I could. So, to finish in 21st place was incredible, given the level of competition and the number of women that were competing. I was very happy and now I really want to give it everything to keep getting better results,” she declared.
Estela says that having a surfer qualify for the Olympic Games will be a great leg up for the sport in Chile. “It’s definitely going to help Chilean surfing so much. Now that we have a Chilean surfer competing at the Olympic Games, it’s obviously going to get everyone supporting sports more in the country, especially surfing, because it hasn’t had much support up to now. It’s going to open a lot of doors for those of us that are now coming through,” she added.