Villlaran on surfing safari in the Andes
Last time we saw Gabriel, he was making waves at the ISA World Surfing Games where he and Sofia Mulanovich led Peru to victory. This Easter, however, Gabriel headed inland to meet the challenge of Red Bull Olas de los Andes at Cuispata on the outskirts of the historic Peruvian city of Cusco. Joining him was Gabriel’s compatriot Leonardo Gonzales, an expert kayaker, and together the friends headed up the Vilcanota River to find a stretch of water known for its strong currents and razor sharp rocks.
The pair had been inspired to go on the expedition after watching a video on the region and realising the combination of strong currents and large rocks in the Vilcanota created the perfect conditions to static surf on the waves.
“The Vilcanota is very strong, the current is constantly pulling. I needed to make sure that Gabriel remained safe. The first job was to scope out an area of the river that had the right conditions,” says Leonardo. “We needed to find a place that had big waves within a wide stretch of the river. We also needed to know that Gabriel would be able to swim to shore after the job was done.”
To find the perfect spot for some static surfing Gabriel and Leonardo took a boat trip along the river from their base in Cusipata. After searching for two days the duo found a wave that they decided would be perfect for a ‘dry run’. While gripping one end of towrope, Leonardo lowered his good friend into the Vilcanota River.
“The most difficult part of the operation was letting go of the rope when Gabriel was in position. The smallest mistake could have resulted in a big injury. You just can’t afford to take any chances with a current as strong as that.”
With mixed results from the practice run, the project was put on hold by a tropical rainstorm. When the storm passed the conditions had changed significantly. The rainfall had made the waters rise considerably, lots of mud had been swept into the river and the current was stronger than ever.
Undeterred the pair went out on the boat and found a new location. Despite suffering minor injuries from his first attempt at static surfing Gabriel got back in the water and began to successfully surf in the middle of the Peruvian Andes. Gabriel was satisfied with the results and swam back to the riverbank happy that he had completed what he had set out to do.
“In the end everything worked out perfectly and it was a lot of fun. I was out there surfing for a couple of hours and by the end I was even pulling off some tricks. Everything was great and I will never forget this adventure. I have to thank Leo for sharing all his knowledge, without him none of this would have been possible.”
Gabriel y Leonardo © Red Bull
Gabriel Villaran: Long haired lover from Lima
When Peruvian Pro surfer Gabriel Villaran attempted some static surfing in the sacred land of the Incas, we were waiting on dry land with a towel and a few questions. Find out exactly what went down at Red Bull Olas de los Andes in our exclusive chat with Gabriel…
So Gabriel, what can you tell us about your first attempt at static surfing?
The experience of surfing in a river is definitely different from surfing the ocean. I’m naturally a very curious guy and that led me to investigate the possibility of surfing away from the ocean. It turns out that my country, Peru, has the perfect conditions and we found this great place just outside Cusco. The stretch of river here is spectacular, big waves right in the middle of mountains and jungle. It was funny seeing the locals react to me and my surfboard, they thought I was totally insane!
When did you first become aware of waves away from the ocean?
The idea for this project appeared in my head when I saw a video of some guys static surfing on the Zambezi River in Africa. Right away I wanted to investigate the possibility of doing something similar here in Peru. I knew I would need the help of somebody who knew rivers better than me so I gave kayaker Leonardo Gonzales a call and got him involved.
Is a wave still a wave wherever you find it or did you have to change your style?
Waves in the river work fine for a kayak and you catch them like you would in the ocean, but with a surfboard things are a little more complicated. Also, here in Cusco we’re 3,000 metres above sea level so the altitude brings its own difficulties. I got so tired I wanted to borrow another pair of legs. Something thing that helped me in the river is being able to see exactly how the wave is behaving. In the ocean you just get one chance to catch each wave but in a river the wave is there all the time. During this project we had some difficultly finding a big enough wave to do what I wanted to do. That was until we had some heavy rain and the water level rose. With this dense water I was able to feel get involved and pull out some tricks, that is all I want to do every time I surf!
It sounds like the mission was a success?
Definitely, surfing the Vilcanota River was something I had wanted to do for a long time and to get it done feels great. This was the first static surfing ride in Peru and I’m proud to have done it in Cusco because the place is so special. Lots of people helped me to complete my mission and I would like say a big thank you to all of them. In particular, I must say thanks to Leonardo, he was the man who showed us where to go and every call he made turned out to be right one.
Why is Cusco of such importance to you?
For me, Cusco is a magical place. I consider it to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. You just have to walk around to feel the unique energy that exists here. You see a different kind of culture which you will never see anywhere else, not even in Lima. You see so many different types of animals in the jungle, mountains, rivers and blue skies. You don’t often see all these things together in one place. I think every Peruvian has a special connection with Cusco and the region around it. I feel lucky to have had the chance to surf on the Vilcanota River , a stretch of water that links to the Urubamba River and connects Machu Piccuhu, the Sacred Valley and many other Inca ruins. It’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the mystical vibe of the place.