High tide in Ecuador: The growing popularity of surfing in Ecuador

12/Abril/2013 | 21:57

By RICARDO MARTINO
Translation: Andrea Cáceres
Editing: Lance Brashear, Eric Samson
Photography: Surf Ecuador

Upon hearing the word “surf,” the images of Hawaii, California, and other popular, ocean-sport destinations often come to mind. But surfing has gained great momentum in an unexpected region of the globe: Ecuador.

All this week, Montañita, a popular surf spot in Ecuador, is hosting the ISA World Masters, a competition for surfers age 35 and older, with 150 contestants, including 13 from Ecuador. Among the competitors are former champions, Magnum Martínez of Venezuela and Sunny García and Rochelle Ballard, from Hawaii.

Professional and amateur tourists alike have begun to consider the Ecuadorean coast a “must visit” destination to ride the Pacific waves. According to the president of the International Surfing Association (ISA), Fernando Aguirre, Ecuador wasn’t even considered a surfing destination 20 years ago. Today it’s a completely different scene.

“Today Ecuador is not only taken into consideration by the rest of the world, but we now have three world champions…the country is considered by athletes as a place of high performance in South America,” he says.

In the past decade Ecuador has hosted the World Surfing Games (2004), the Quicksilver ISA World Junior Surfing Championship (2009), and the ISA South American Beach Games (2011).

Surfing in Ecuador has come a long way since the famous German surfer, Frederitch ‘Pitti’ Block, came from his adopted land of Peru to the Ecuadorean coast in 1962, a visit which marks the birth of surfing in Ecuador.

But despite 640 km of coast and ideal conditions for surfing, Ecuador remained off the radar for decades.

The Ecuadorean Federation of Surfing (FES), a governing body that regulates and promotes surfing in Ecuador, estimated that by 1980 only 200 amateur surfers frequented the beaches of Ecuador. Today, that number had increased to more than 5,000, according to Aguirre.

As the general surfing population has increased so has the number and skill level of those who compete internationally. According to rankings published by FES, in 2011, 230 Ecuadorean contestants in 13 categories appeared in national competitions, slightly below the 257 in 2010, but much stronger than previously years.

The FES is recognized by and receives support from the Ecuadorean Ministry of Sports. With annual funds of nearly $100K the federation manages tournaments and national rankings, regulates local surf clubs, sponsors Ecuadorean participation in international events, and promotes Ecuador as a host country for competitions. Additionally, FES has implemented the “High Performance Plan” whereby athletes receive a monthly stipend and specialized support and training. Seven surfers are currently part of the program.

Daniel Gonell, a local surfing expert, believes that the work of the organization is very important for the growth of surfing. “The FES is made up of surfers with heart that love the sport, love their country and give their best,” he says.

The popularity of surfing in Ecuador has given rise to a local surfing economy and culture. Surf shops associated with major brands and surf schools now appear in all of the major coastal sites of Ecuador. The increase in surfing schools in the country is an indicator of the evolution of the sport in Ecuador. There are now more athletes training and more schools to train them.

Gonell adds that surf training is vital for the sport’s development. “Talent has to be nurtured with other things such as physical and psychological preparation,” he says.

According to Gonell, the growth of a surfing culture and the presence of international surfers in Ecuador means that young people, “see surf not only as a sport and a recreational activity but also as a way of life, whether it is working as an instructor or competing in regional or global championships.”

As the administrators of the web page www.surfecuador.ec, Gonell works tirelessly to contribute what he calls a “grain of sand” toward the progress of surf in Ecuador. At his online portal, surfers can find data regarding the most important surf spots with technical characteristics, weather forecasts, major news, forums, a photo gallery, and information about competitions.

Despite the growth of surfing Gonell thinks Ecuador still remains a step behind other countries like Brazil, Perú and Chile, all of which have competitors in every major surf category and participate in most worldwide tournaments. Nonetheless, he recognizes that the country “has made a great improvement and is on a good path”.

Felipe “Pachín” Rodríguez, a competitor in this week’s events in Montañita, feels the same way. Though he believes there remains “a lot to do”, he says Ecuador is blessed with wonderful waves and a privileged climate.

“If you have the conditions, sooner or later, the satisfaction will come. Sport is life.”

Ciudad Coastal Ecuador

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