Growing up in Southern California, I’ve spent most of my leisurely time as a teenager and adult at the beach, around surfers. Then, I dated one for many years (before marrying him). You would think I could surf. I guess I was more interested in watching and admiring surfers than becoming one.
Then in December of 2009, while vacationing in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica, at the age of 25, I learned how to surf. Cristian, a handsome Venezuelan in his late twenties was my instructor (see picture of Cristian and B to the left) . He was patient, kind, motivating and made my first experience fun and exciting. I surfed for three hours that afternoon. The first time I stood up, riding the whitewash, I was pumped. There was nothing like it. I just wanted to do it again—and again. I loved the feeling of taking off on a wave and looking down the line, seeing Brandon—camera in hand—smiling at me. Alive and free. We both knew this was the beginning of something great.
It’s an activity Brandon and I can enjoy together, a good workout, and a great way to work through the stress in my shoulders and mind. Plus, any sport that doesn’t involve falling onto the ground or hard snow is my kind of sport. Being so clumsy, surfing didn’t come natural at first.
Practice, in my case, makes better. It took me a couple years to become skilled at riding a long 10-foot board. And, I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it by any means. Now, I am practicing on a 6’6” Kris Cabezas board that my beautiful brother and husband had custom made for me for my birthday. (A surprise gift I received during our last few days in Santiago, which we’ll talk about later.) Surfing on a shorter board has been difficult, but always rewarding.
“When I am in the water, I am free. I have no cares in the world. “ — Brandon.
Brandon started surfing around the age of 11. Today he would rather surf than do just about anything else in the world. It’s his lifeline and first love, after me of course. He is a true soul surfer. Always hungry for waves and perfection, often he will check several of the local breaks before heading out to hopefully catch the best wave of the day. Disruptions including environment conditions (Peru), the wind, weather (Chile), work (back in California) or just bad waves can be disappointing, but never discouraging. There’s always tomorrow.
Surfing can be more than a hobby or collection of surfboards. Most people I know its a passion, a lifestyle—a culture.
Kris Cabezas, an old friend of Brandon’s who is originally from Orange County, is a perfect example of a die-hard surfer who is deeply rooted in the culture. His entire life has revolved around surfing – from his childhood, through high school when he was on the amateur circuit, to his current business of shaping surfboards. Where he lives, his friends and even what he eats revolves around the waves.
After Valparaiso, we met up with Kris in Pichilemu, which is about a four-hour bus ride (via Pullman del Sur for $12/ticket) south west of Santiago. It was one of the most beautiful rides we’ve had yet.
Since Chile was well into its winter season it had been raining a lot. The atmosphere and chill was similar to some parts of Northern California in the winter. Three of the hours traveling were along Highway 78, which is surrounded by tall pine forests and rolling green pastures. Out the window to the left snow capped Andes Mountains, to the right the big beautiful crystal blue Pacific Ocean. Stunning. The beauty reminded us of driving north on PCH in California through Big Sur, or along the coast in Long Beach, Washington, where Brandon’s uncle Kurt lives (hi, uncle!).
Lobos is not really for beginners as it regularly offers big waves — getting as big as 20-30 feet after a good swell. As you can see in the picture above of Brandon, the views above Lobos from the cliffs and the rocks are breathtaking. However, after discovering just how long the coastline is, a beginner has an endless selection of spots to surf in and around Pichilemu.
Kris moved to Pichilemu about five years ago as the economy in the States worsened. Before moving he was an apprentice and ghost shaper for Timmy Patterson, a renowned 3rd generation board shaper in San Clemente, California.
Timmy taught Kris most of what he knows today about the board building process, including shaping, laminating, hot coating, sanding, glossing, fin production, and airbrushing. Eventually Kris, while working for Timmy, branched out and started his own label, Cabezas.
How did Kris end up in Chile?
His father is originally from Chile and his mother is from the U.S. As a child Kris and his brother Ryan would travel to Chile to visit family regularly. Unfortunately, Kris parents separated and his father moved back to Chile. As the economy in the States started to crumble in 2007, Kris was struggling to build his business.
At the same time the economy in Chile was getting stronger. And, with not many shapers in Chile, Kris saw an opportunity to make a true name for him self. He took the plunge and moved to Pichilemu.
Today, with no regrets, Kris, with Timmy’s guidance, and family support, is a very successful and driven shaper in Chile. He has a large clientele including South American professionals, and last year he acquired a large business account shaping boards for Maui and Sons, a prominent surf company based out of Malibu California, with surf shops around the world – primarily in South America. Today, he is pumping out boards left and right.
The first day of meeting Kris and his beautiful girlfriend, Ale, we hit it off right away. He graciously offered us a room at his home – a cozy beach cottage about a 10-minute walk from Punta de Lobos.
We nestled here for five days. Kris and Ale introduced us to their friends, took us to Kris’ shaping warehouse to see his major production, and showed us around town.
The very small town of Pichilemu is for those who love to surf and not just look the part by hanging out in trendy surf cafés. You will not find those here. Strictly fish markets, tiendas (corner markets), empanadas and lots of Chileans hopped up on wine. No joke.
The days were sunny, air temperature was in the low-mid 60s. At night it would get to almost freezing, while the water was on average in the low-50s (BURR)! The waves weren’t great during our stay, however, Kris and his brother Ryan, weren’t going to let Brandon leave without trying to find and ride some good waves.
Driving on the sand, along the coastline, the hunt for waves was on. A few deep-sanded dunes later, the boys choose a spot, suited up and headed out. Ale and I watched from shore. There was no one else in sight or in the water. Just us.
‘Shredding’ is the only way to describe watching Kris and Ryan surf. Wow. Pure talent. And, for Brandon to be out in the water killing it with them, I couldn’t be more proud. It was a beautiful day.
Each night Ale and I, sharing cooking secrets and ideas, would prepare a beautiful family dinner. One night I prepared bean, shrimp and cheese Chimichangas. Ryan nor Kris hadn’t had a chimichanga since they left California. They were stoked. Another night we prepared and baked a beautiful carrot and potato stuffed Corbina (caught fresh that morning). This was by far one of my favorite dinners.
Usually a few friends came over and we would feast. After dinner we shared life stories and lots of laughs over wine and rum. It was relaxing, peaceful, freezing cold and a time we will remember forever. It’s the simple pleasures in life that make a difference.
After four nights, saying good-bye was tough. However, we know we will be back. Hopefully sooner than later.
Stay tuned for “Chile: The gigantic city of Santiago (Part III)”
For more pictures of our adventures, visit our Facebook Fan Page.
Until next time, keep shredding and living. Much love, Katie and Brandon.