When the first Hawaiian surfboard landed here, in the 1930s, it didn’t represent wave riding’s debut in South America but rather its homecoming. Sorry, Hawaii: Peruvians were shredding it some two thousand years before everyone else, says Enrique Amayo, a retired historian with São Paulo State University in Brazil. Since at least 1,500 B.C., locals in the laid-back beach town of Huanchaco, 350 miles northwest of Lima, have been riding caballitos de totora, or “little reed horses,” that may well be the world’s first boards. “Setting the record straight is an act of historical justice,” Amayo says, since the pre-Columbian sport was all but wiped out by the conquering Spaniards. Today, fishermen still use these ancient vessels, paddling out each morning alongside wet suit–clad rippers, and as psychedelic sunsets spread over the liquid horizon of Huanchaco Bay, the caballitos strike an impressive silhouette, resting against the seawall like giant reed tusks, waiting to slice through the next day’s waves.
Muchik Surf School is run by brothers Chicho and Omar Huamanchumo, who first learned to ride waves on a caballito de totora.
The vast Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, the capital of the pre-Incan Chimú civilization, is just 15 minutes by car from Huanchaco.
Big Ben Huanchaco has fantastic seafood (stewed crabs, pescado a lo macho), with an unbeatable view of the bay. At Picantería Chanito, look for ceviche made from just-caught fish.
It’s a 75-minute flight from Lima to Trujillo, which is just minutes from the beach. Quality seaside hotel options are limited, so stay in Trujillo proper at the Casa Andina Premium or the Hotel Libertador. ■