It was a dark and stormy night…. Well, actually, it was nothing of the sort. It was a bright and sunny day without a hint of wind. Not only that, the thick groundswell was surging shoreward in majestic fashion from the southwest, humping up and heaving over a dozen shallow reefs. Perfect barrels, oily glass, two to three times overhead. Four surfers as far as the eye can see. The Billabong Odyssey has landed in Chile and I can see why this South American country has had been selected for the most recent – and most ambitious – big wave expedition to be launched by the global ocean adventure project. Chile is truly the land of raw elements. There’s Earth – lots of Earth, and quite a bit of water, all of it moving. Vigorously. Fire, too, although that’s beneath the earth in the form of the plate tectonic disco which makes this region one of the most active on the globe for earthquakes. All the classic elements are here in abundant supply – except the wind, of which there does not seem to be any.
We are also scheduled to conduct a serious high level meeting with the Gobernador Maritimo, the top regional official of the Armada de Chile (Navy), to arrange permission for our watercraft to operate during the high surf conditions. One does not simply rock into town with a fleet of 155 horsepower waterbikes and jump into the surf and expect to get away with it. There are strict protocols in place, but the Billabong Odyssey’s global reputation for advancing the frontiers of big-wave safety is helping to open doors. As with most places in the world where man is tiny compared to the obvious forces of nature, there exists a distinct wild-west air.
Not in a dangerous way, but in a way that says go ahead and go out into the desert, or out into that ocean, but you BETTER know what you’re doing. With that in mind, we sat down to a formal meeting with the Gobernador de Armada for the region, the top naval official, along with his top aides. The meeting had been arranged through a close friend of our associate, Matias Lopez, and opened doors for us that might have otherwise made this mission impossible. As a maritime culture, Chile’s Navy wields considerable power, and their track record of military successes is never forgotten. to arrange permission for our watercraft to operate during the high surf conditions. One does not simply rock into town with a fleet of 155 horsepower waterbikes and jump into the surf and expect to get away with it.
At any rate, our handy visual aids were quite useful in crossing the language barrier concerning what it is the Billabong Odyssey hoped to achieve while in South America. After working out various safety and communication protocols, the charts of the region were pulled out and the conversation turned serious. After mentioning a few potential targets across the border in Peru, the position of the Armada was made clear the biggest waves are in Chile. Aye, aye, sir. We left the meeting with our official letter from the Gobernador permitting our expedition within Chilean waters and asking the logistical support of the Naval and Port officials throughout the country. The next hurdle of the day was equally critical to the ongoing success of the expedition. The container had finally been released from Customs so we found ourselves standing in a vast brown dirt yard of steel shipping containers, overlooked by a mammoth 5000-foot wall of brown dirt.
Eventually, a truck rumbled in and another machine rushed over to disengage its cargo…a green steel 40-foot container. Placed gingerly upon the brown dirt, the team rushed over, broke the seal and the doors swung open, revealing a bunch of MAPCARGO stickers and the precious contents in prime condition. We moved quickly in the growing darkness to remove the 4 Yamahas from their temporary metallic home and whisk them off to a safe location. We only need to move 4 hours north through the desert, meet up with some surfers, and we’ll be in business. Adventure comes from discovering that what you thought was reality is not, and how you react to those discoveries dictates whether your adventure is good or bad. There are a million things that can go wrong on a project of this sort. For example, you can ship Waverunners and their trailers for thousands of miles, but unless you can actually attach the trailers to a car or a truck you might not make it that last mile to the beach.
Indeed, finding a few trucks with just the right hitches to tow the three trailers became a growing nightmare. Forget Hertz. Not gonna cut it in a place like this, and besides, this is a strange tax free zone so no rentals will make it past the regional border which lay out there in the vast brown dirt desert. But we have friends who help us solve problems of this nature. What a wonderful thing that Fletcha has a flatbed truck with a 2-inch tow ball, and he’s not EVEN afraid to whip out a blowtorch and clip off the overhanging metal bar that blocked our Norte Americano hitch from locking on. Fletcha also put a Nissan Terrano (the Pathfinder del Sur) with a tow ball at our disposal, but a third was days away from availability. No worries, Trailer No. Three was forklifted onto the flatbed of the truck, which gave our entire entourage the perfect Jed Clampett looks made so popular in reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies.
Our 10 am departure was Manana-fied again and again and we did indeed hit the rode at sunset so the majestic brown dirt splendor of the Atacama desert transit can only be imagined. Other than the adrenaline joy of a third-world checkpoint wherein one must explain the presence of several tons of exotic equipment and the occasional vehicular overheating episode, the four-hour road trip was rather nondescript. We arrive at our accommodations and find the sleeping bodies of Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach and Shane Dorian, sleeping off the effects of their air trip.
We have watercraft, we have surfers, and we have evidence that a fairly decent swell is being churned up by a sturdy storm unwinding in the South Pacific. All systems go…