This past week, Nate and I have been staying at a lovely little surf camp called My Surf Camp Peru. Just two hours south of Lima, the camp is located in Punta Hermosa, a dusty beach town nearly vacant right now as school’s started back up and the summer vacationers are back home.
We originally signed up because Nate really wanted to learn how to surf. I was open but more excited for him than personally looking forward to it. In Cuenca we were doing some research, and I stumbled across My Surf Camp Peru’s website. We saw that the weeklong camp was for beginners and included a private room and meals. The total cost for two people would be $1,300, a little more than our daily budget allowed for, but we decided to make the exception and tighten our belts in other parts of the trip to keep our average daily spending at $100/day.
Without much more information than that, we emailed the owner, Victor, and asked if he had availability for us. He responded right away that he had a room for us, and we sent a deposit of $500 via Paypal to secure our spots.
On the first day of the camp- a Sunday- Victor picked us up from our hostel in Lima, and we made the 2 hour drive down to the camp. It’s located on a dusty road in a quiet residential area. Most of the surrounding buildings seem to be summer rentals that are now vacant. There’s a convenience store two blocks away that sells water, beer, snacks, and a little restaurant on the corner. The beach is a 5 minute walk from camp.
We checked into our little private room which has a double bed, book shelf and a bathroom (with hot water!). The accommodations are sparse but comfortable, although the camp doesn’t have air conditioning, so evenings can get hot.
On the first day, we went out for our first surf lesson. We loaded up Victor’s van with surf boards, leashes, rash guards and our towels and headed just a few minutes down the road to the local beach. Victor took time explaining the theory behind surfing and had us practice popping up on a stone bench shaped like a surf board.
Fortunately, it was more informative than this surf lesson from Forgetting Sarah Marshall...
After a few quick minutes of the basics, we took our boards to the water fighting the waves out to the break where we could catch some baby ones and practice our new skills.
We learned right away that surfing is HARD, technically and physically. I stupidly thought that it would require a lot of leg strength and endurance imagining myself in a squat gliding across the waves. This fantasy only works if you can manage to catch a wave and stand up on your board. The other 99% of the time is spent paddling like hell. This means lots of work on your shoulders and upper back. I now get why the “swimmers’ build” is so top heavy.
Nate stood up right away and was a natural. I struggled more but eventually was able to stand up on the last day of surfing, riding a wave all the way into shore.
Surf Camp Schedule
Each day at surf camp we wake up for 8:30 a.m. breakfast, which Victor’s mom makes. She’s a lovely woman who speaks only Spanish and seems to run the place doing all of the cooking and cleaning. After breakfast we load up the van(s) with gear and head out by 9:30 a.m. to a surf spot. Some days we go 5 minutes from the camp, others we drive for over an hour to find good waves.
At the beach, we unload the gear and then spend 10-15 minutes doing group stretches on the sand. We jog down the beach and then swim all the way back giving our bodies the chance to warm up in the chilly water.
Then, we grab our boards, most of which are too heavy to carry so we balance them on our heads, and head to the water. Getting out past the surf is an art form. Victor stares at the ocean motioning for us to wade in with our boards, "No... back, now in a bit, now back up, back up." When the set has passed, he yells for us to put our boards in the water, hop on and paddle like crazy to get past the break before the next set comes.
If you miss it, get ready for some hell. More advanced surfers have smaller, lighter boards that they can use to “duck dive” through oncoming waves, meaning they push the board down underwater right before the wave hits and dive under it with their board. For beginners with heavier long boards, we have to throw one leg over the board, forcing it to flip upside down with our bodies trapped below the board underwater as the wave passes. Then, if you have the strength, you roll the board back heaving your body along with it so you’re upright again. Then you paddle. If you’re me, you jump off your board, dive under the wave and then fight like crazy so the leash attached to your ankle doesn’t pull you too far back when the wave takes your board with it. It’s a process.
Once we’re out past the break, Victor has us paddle to him one by one. He watches and waits and watches and waits and then yells, “PADDLE, PADDLE, PADDLE!” as a wave starts sucking you back. When he yells, “AND STAND UP” you’re supposed to pop up quickly but smoothly, get your balance and ride the wave in. Sometimes my board’s nose turns downward and I just flip off the front. Other times I fall sideways off the board mid stand up. Either way I usually get rolled around under the water trying to avoid getting hit by my board (or the ocean floor). Once I got held down for two waves in quick succession and had to remind myself as I panicked that I’d be able to pop up and grab air soon.
The tricky part is that waves don’t come one at a time. So if you take a crack at the first wave of a set and you fall or get thrown, you don’t have much time to resurface, throw your body back up onto your board and rearrange before the second wave of the set comes crashing down.
The benefit is that you get lots of tries. If you can reset quickly, point your board toward the beach and hold tight as the second (third, fourth) wave comes crashing down, you can essentially boogie board for a second before trying again to stand up. Then you paddle, paddle, paddle back out to the group and wait for your turn again.
At one beach the waves were too strong to paddle back out diagonally against them, so we had to ride our wave all the way in, get out on the beach, balance our board back on our heads, walk down the beach a ways and then get in and paddle straight in that way. This is to avoid other surfers who don’t love it when you paddle directly through their path when they’re trying to catch a wave.
We usually surf from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. taking little breaks when we’re exhausted. Then we buy a snack (gatorade, oreos, etc.) and load everything back in the van to head back to camp.
When we return, Victor’s mom has a feast waiting for us. She makes rice and chicken curry, pastas, quinoa with fish, ground beef and more. We rinse our rash guards, put our boards away and sit down for a big meal.
After lunch we usually have a break to nap, shower and read. Some surfers head back out in the afternoon on their own. By 7 p.m. everyone is usually hanging out downstairs drinking beer and talking.
The more advanced surfers just use the camp as a place to sleep and get information about what waves are good. The beginners need full lessons and reminders of what to pack each morning.
Dinner at 8 p.m. is another massive meal as a group. It’s great to hear stories from other surfers about waves they’ve caught and all the crazy places they’ve been to look for them. Two Florida guys headed out at 4 a.m. one morning to try to surf chicama, one of the world’s longest left break waves (you can surf continuously for up to 2 miles).
After dinner people continue to drink, talk, and play cards. Nate and I go to bed around 10 p.m. exhausted from the physical exercise and sun. The next day, we do it all again!
Overall, I like the set up. The camp is a three story building with 10 rooms total. It holds about 20 people max which makes for a great size group. The physical exercise everyday is amazing. The water is cold when it hits you, but you’re working so hard to paddle and pop up that you never feel uncomfortable. The food here is also excellent. Overall, the vibe is laid back, and the people a surf camp attracts are down to earth, well traveled and looking to have fun.
If given the chance, I would definitely do another surf camp on this trip or future ones!