Billabong Pico Alto

Secrets of Pico Alto

With a Green Alert called for the Billabong Pico Alto in Peru July 3, Big Wave World Tour founder Gary Linden reveals some of the break's secrets -- from what makes the wave so incredibly good, to why more surfers haven't yet have made the trip.

The Wave:
Pico Alto, Peru, on top of its tremendous history in the big wave surfing tradition, is one of the most consistent big wave spots. It pulls the swell directly into this offshore reef, and it takes about 45 minutes to paddle to.

2012 Billabong Pico Alto Racing the beast in 2012. - WSL

The break picks up the south swell in the Southern Hemisphere, so swells that move farther south, that have a broader spectrum, will move directly south and come up and hit Chile and Peru straight on.

The Fun:
The consistency of Peru is unique. Peru is a rough ocean, because of the Humboldt current that carries the swell; it not only brings the fish, but also the swell, so there's always waves there. It's prone of the most consistent waves in the Pacific.

The triangular shape of the reef is so long, it allows for an extremely long ride when it lines up. So it's not just a drop, it's performance surfing on a big wave level. I've actually been able to bury a rail on my 10-foot board and do cutbacks.

The History:
Peru was probably the first civilization to surf, on reed rafts. There are documented cases from 4000 years ago of Peruvians surfing, so the surf culture there is rich. In the late 1950s and all through the 1960s, there was a big exchange between Hawaii and Peru, they were the two centers of big wave surfing in the world; the first international championships were originally in Peru.

Club Waikiki in Miraflores [a beachside neighborhood in Lima, Peru], was a sister club for Hawaii's outrigger canoe club, so they'd have events in Peru, they'd invite the Hawaiians and Californians who were big wave surfers. The Club Waikiki, is steeped in history, it's a social club.

If you remember the early Beach Boys songs, they sing about Peru!

2012 Billabong Pico Alto Carlos Burle (BRA), savoring his win at Pico Alto in 2012. - WSL / Richard Hallman

The Big Wave World Tour:
One of my goals in creating the Big Wave World Tour is to grow the culture of big wave surfing around the world. [When there are contests], people start buying boards, wetsuits, and become enamored of surfing again. In Peru, the big wetsuit company is booming, Sofia Mulanovich was one of the country's first world champions in any sport. (Mulanovich was ASP Women's World Champion in 2004.)

The Reason More Surfers Haven't Been (Yet):
Peru was a Mecca of international surfing, but it went away. In the 1970s a military government came in, [and the country was plagued by corruption and violence through the 1980s]. Then [President Alberto] Fujimori came in and turned the economy around in the '90s.

The economy had started to boom again, and I started running the BWWT there in 2009. A couple of Peru's original big wave surfers, who used to paddle out without leashes or wetsuits, came to me and said, “Gary, you brought it back. We're so stoked.”

The Big Wave World Tour has run at Pico Alto four times: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. ASPworldtour dot com will stream it live Thursday, July 3.