Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ocean Saints

Ramon at Santos del Mar, 2008. Photo by Living Color.

Chilean surfers Christian Merello and Ramon Navarro recently discovered Santos del Mar, a big-wave surf spot off the coast of the 7th Region of Chile. Ramon and Merello have barely ridden the wave, because it rarely breaks, but they compare it to Maverick's in California and Dungeons in South Africa. The name Santos del Mar comes from the rock formations found on the coast in front of the wave, tall slab forms resembling the outlines of saints similar to the Catholic statues found in outdoor shrines - called grutas in Chilean - that fishermen build everywhere on this coastline to protect their boats and their lives from the cold sea.

In the winter of 2007 Merello was driving home to Pichilemu from a too-big session at another spot farther south, when billowing sea mist far out to sea caught his eye. He pulled his car over, took out his video camera and sat down to wait. Sure enough, minutes later giant sets of waves rolled in and he sat in awe as huge waves he could barely see broke far out to sea. He had discovered an unsurfed, unknown, and massive cloudbreak reef. He called Ramon from the side of the road, barely able to talk from the excitement.

Ramon recounts: "At first we didn't tell anyone. I told Merello to keep his mouth shut! We wanted to keep it a secret, and have it as our own tow-spot when everywhere else was too big. We've only surfed it a couple of times with two jet skis, with a very small crew - my cousin, a photographer, Merello and myself. It's a very remote and very unique spot and it has the potential to hold the biggest waves in the world. We've studied the maritime charts, and it's as epic as it can be for big waves. We still haven't seen it or surfed it at its biggest.

"But we decided to let the secret out and tell the world about Santos del Mar, because of the huge environmental threat it now faces. It's better to be exposed and alive & well, than unknown and dead from pollution."

Santos del Mar is in grave danger from industrialization: a Chilean-American energy company called AES GENER S.A. has plans to build a massive, 147-hectare (368 acres) coal burning electricity plant with a 2-kilometer breakwater and pier for cargo ships delivering coal from Australia. The pier and breakwater will directly alter this new big wave surf spot, perhaps burying it completely. Furthermore, the 750-megawatt power plant will destroy a beautiful coastal region, stain a remote agricultural area, and severly pollute fertile coastal fishing grounds. Air pollution from the coal will pollute the region, and not to mention the global warming implications! Ramon and Save The Waves are partnering to help the local opposition movement in Chanco and Santiago to sink this very bad idea from being built.

We are confident that this project, called "Termoelectrica Los Robles" will be stopped because the environmental impact statement produced by the company has numerous shortcomings and ignores important environmental factors; many federal agencies and citizen groups are also against the project. However, there is much power behind this 1.3-billion dollar project, and the fight against it will be tough.

More information and photos about the project, the opposition, and solutions at:

Merello at Santos del Mar, 2008. Photo Living Color.