Pacasmayo, Thursday, 7:12 AM. I’m stumbling through the morning haze towards the lighthouse with my board under my arm when two mototaxis come buzzing around the bend like angry bees.
The leading three-wheeler is piloted by an ample gentleman wearing a hat that looks like it used to be a cushion. His mototaxi bulges with surfboards of various shapes and sizes. My bloodshot eyes catch his and he shakes his head, giving me the thumbs down: El Faro’s point break isn’t working this morning.
The taxi passes. My thoughts drift towards the warm bed that I exchanged for my damp wetsuit. The daydream is shattered as another mototaxi skids to a halt behind me. Muted cursing issues from the depths of the vehicle. The flimsy side door to the passenger compartment swings open and a shaggy blond head pops out.
“Alright mate,” says the head in a strong Dutch accent, “Want to come to Puemape?”
I’ve got no towel, sunblock, money, surf wax, or clothes. I don’t know how long the journey is and my large intestine is growling. But that’s not what I’m thinking about.
What I’m thinking about is this: every time I speak with a Peruvian surfer about Puemape, they raise their flat hand, palm out. One by one, their fingers curl shut, until their palm is a fist. As their fingers close in sequence, they make a growling noise. Tubes.
For years I’ve watched from a safe distance as surfers tuck into tubes, hollering like drunken cowboys. My envy has been festering and growing, chipping away at my common sense and self-preservation instincts. My envy makes me stupid.
“Sure,” I say. “Why not?”
I’m curled into a ball in the back of one of the mototaxis, trying to avoid the bullets of cold air that rip through the passenger compartment. The whole thing seems to be held together with old parcel tape.
I ride with a Dutch couple, Oscar and Maike. We scream pleasantries at each other in competition with the engine. Our vehicle weaves on and off the side of the highway, trying to avoid the articulated trucks that monopolize the lanes. The mototaxi leaves the main road and heads down a side street. We hum past sand dunes that spread from the shoulder toward the faint white line in the center of the road.
The driver, Pedro, rolls to a stop and guns his tiny engine. Ahead is a two-foot-high dune that completely covers the road. The mototaxi bumps onto the sand and jack-knifes into a three-wheel drift. We exit the dune at an angle that very nearly warms my wetsuit.
The mototaxi stops at a collection of lopsided adobe houses, and we get out. Immediately, Pedro trots away from our shivering group. He’s eager to impress us by showing us the spot to paddle out. I follow him onto a rocky ledge that slopes down into the white, churning soup. My eyes drift out to sea, where booming, glassy two-meter waves are rolling in.
According to Pedro, all I have to do is walk over some pitted black rocks through a knee-high tsunami, then, with the right timing, jump over “la ola mas grande” when it comes.
My heart thumps as I shuffle out onto the rocks. Water batters my legs. “Now go!” someone behind me says, and I leap over the biggest set wave.
Paddle paddle paddle. My arms are weak, my shoulders are stiff. A wave rises up in front of me and I push the nose of my board down hard, duck-diving. I feel the icy rush of water breach my wetsuit. The wave rakes my back and passes.
I’m outside. I’ve made it. Finally, a shot at some barrels.
I paddle onto a couple of thick grey waves, but they sink down into rounded faces. None of them are standing up. To satisfy myself, I need a hollow wave.
Something bulges up from the horizon. It grows steep, fast. I spin around, take a couple of strokes. The bottom drops away from the water and I feel the tail of my board lift. The wave kicks me forwards and I rise to my feet, skimming down the face in a steep takeoff.
The lip of the wave above my head is feathering, ready to pitch out from the wall of water and away into a tunnel. This is it. I give my board a couple of hard pumps with my feet for speed and tuck into the wave, crouching down.
Then the wave sags. The curl hits me square in the face with a damp slap.
My frozen fingers fumble with the room key. It’s 11:34. The door slides open and my friend Jean raises an eyebrow. “Where have you been?” She asks.
“I went to Puemape by accident,” I explain. The saltwater in my sinuses is making them tingle
“How was it?” she asks, unfazed.