The Cradle of the Caballito de Totora
Huanchaco is located in Northern Peru, near Trujillo, the third largest city in Peru. Huanchaco was an important port, during Moche and Chimu empires, 100- 1400 A.D.
The art of surfing began in Huanchaco 5000 years ago with the ‘Tup’, the name given to the Caballito de Totora during the Moche Empire. Modern surfing started in Huanchaco right after Felipe Pomar won the ISF World Surfing Championship in 1965.
Huanchaqueros maintain many aspects of these ancient traditions, the most notable being the continued use of the caballito de totora. This ancient marine culture and the quality of the waves were the key reasons Huanchaco was designated the Fifth World Surfing Reserve by the Save the Waves Coalition.
The Caballito de Totora
The ancient inhabitants of Northern Peru built a small vessel that allowed them to successfully face the challenge of the waves in order to go fishing. This craft was made of a reed known as “Totora” from the Quechua word “Tutura”. The scientific name for this reed is Scirpus californicus, and it grows in swamps or estuaries.In Huanchaco, the ponds where the totora grows are called “Wachaques”, “Balsares” or “Totorales.
According to Hawaiian resident Robin Mair, a regarded surfboard shaper, naval architect and marine engineer, the designers of the caballito de totora built this vessel with a pronounced rocker (curve from bow to stern along the bottom).This rocker had a specific purpose, which was to help lift the caballito de totora over an approaching wave, or when returning, to prevent the caballito de totora from burying the bow as it moved down or in front of a wave. Mair continues with his observations regarding the caballito de totora pointing out the reason of its narrow width was dictated by the surf line, and inevitably the users would end up surfing the caballitos de totora back in to shore on the waves.
There are many investigations that support Mair’s observations, among them the book from researcher,Enrique Amayo PhD, a must read in order to have a thorough understanding of this issue. Amayo, E. (2016). Mar y Olas/Rito y deporte, del Tup o Caballito de Totora a la moderna Tabla o Surf: su origen en la Costa Norte del Antiguo Perú (1500 a.C.-1532) Lima, Peru. Universidad Agraria La Molina.
Due to archeological discoveries near Huanchaco, led by Yale archeologist Gabriel Prieto, we know now for a fact that the totora surfboard is at least 3500 years old. A few years ago Prieto and his team unearthed a well preserved half of a miniature caballito de totora that has been carbon date 3500 years old.
There are six distinct waves in Huanchaco that stretch for two kilometers.
La Poza, the southernmost located wave, is a big wall that can hold waves well over three meters, especially during the austral summer.
Sun Kella, a nice right, fast and steep, one of the two right points of Huanchaco.
El Mirador-El Elio, this wave sometimes can connect giving the surfer a long and fun ride.
La Punta del Muelle is one of Huanchaco’s best waves.
La Curva, a protected small wave inside the bay, perfect for beginners.
El Boquerón, the other right of Huanchaco, a heavy wave with a thick wall that breaks far out from the shore.
Surfers and shapers
More than 10% of the population of Huanchaco surf. Around 4pm each day, children who have finished their school day, and adults who have finished work, head out for a surf with their friends. Longboarders, shortboarders, SUPers, body-boarders and even a few caballito de totora, ride waves together.
There are many high-performance surfers among them. The most outstanding surfer from Huanchaco is Benoit “Piccolo” Clemente Rothfuss, the two times WSL Longboard World Surfing Champion.
Juninho Urcia is another amazing surfer from Huanchaco. Urcia was the youngest surfer to be crowned as the Peruvian Surfing National Champion.
Another surfer to be highlighted is Carlos “Huevito” Ucañán, a fisherman with incredible surfing abilities, having surfed waves with his caballito de totora. He recently toured Australia demonstrating the living history of this original surf-craft.
Huanchaco is the perfect surfing hub for La Libertad area, and there are several world-class waves within a 100 Km ratio including Chicama, Puemape and Pacasmayo to the North and Cerro Negro, Puerto Morín, La Ramada, Salaverry and Las Delicias to the South.
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