Easter Island, ‘La isla de Pascua’
Rapa Nui is a small rocky island halfway between Tahiti and Chile. It sits out there pretty much alone, and is commonly referred to as the most isolated place on earth. Rapa Nui, from my experience, is a magical place.
The land is rugged, the people real, the wind and the ocean powerful and crisp, almost cold…
When I first landed in Hanga Roa, almost ten years ago I had some idea of what I was getting into… (my buddy Kohl had lived there after high school) but really I was just a young, carefree surfer happy for whatever adventure came my way. Friends of friends had been how I was surviving, and it kept working as we made our way, east into Polynesia. I had been traveling in South America for months, and was basically out of funds. That didn’t really matter because my bank card didn’t work in the island’s one and only ATM. Luckily a young family was hosting us, took us in, and everything was fine. I spent the month of September there. I remember because diez y ocho de Septiembre is a big national holiday in Chile, and Rapa Nui has celebrations too. I went to a great house party and was welcomed in with aloha. I don’t know if the people of Rapa Nui really care about ‘Chilean Independence’ but it’s a day off of work and everyone barbecues… everyone loves an excuse to have a good time… sounds like Hawaii.
My buddy Ramon had to stay in Chile for a surf contest for that weekend, but he flew out right after, and we had a great adventure exploring the island for weeks. Our focus was on surfing, but it’s impossible to explore Rapa Nui and not be swept off your feet by the moai.
I paddled out solo one morning (in board shorts) to windy, five-foot Mataveri, on a swallow tail 6’3, and proceeded to get thrown over the falls on extremely fast, powerful waves. I air dropped into a few, skittered and was eaten. Humbled and freezing, on another set wave, throwing myself over the ledge, same result, plus a broken board. More waves on the head. I took off my leash, saying good bye to a chunk of tail, and started swimming in… But there’s no beach to land on, just boulders with waves slamming. The current was ripping me down the point, and all I could do was commit and bodysurf one up onto the smooth rocks and drag myself up and out of the ocean. Luckily, I was in one piece, no slices, no bruises, no broken teeth. I rock hopped up the point, hoping to retrieve what was left of my board. I got ten feet away right as the next set hit, and I watched my board get torn to bits in the rolling boulders.
When Ramon arrived, and sussed out the ocean temperature, the sharp reef, and rocks, and sea urchins- he didn’t think twice. Full suit and booties.
I saluted his good sense and armored up too. We went through a good number of boards in that first trip. We gave all the waves a good go. Even Papa Tangaroa.
Papa Tangaroa (the slab of reef named after the God of the Sea) is one of the most dangerous waves in the world.
It’s over ten feet quite often. You see perfect hollow a-frames from the beach. You think… maybe I could have made that one…
You get in the water and you realize how shallow and sharp the bottom is. How fast the current is sliding over knives. How heavy and unpredictable the bowl is. How it comes in sideways, the bottom drops out…
We surfed Papa Tangaroa (both of us goofy foots, and the right being the main peak) and we survived, but we understood, almost immediately, that the wave was beyond us. On the biggest, most perfect day we saw, both Ramon and I agreed that to attempt the surf (Fifteen foot hollow barrels) would be a life or death decision. We both opted to continue living.
There are no safe waves on the island. Everywhere the reef is sharp, the sea urchins (wana) thick, and never a user friendly entrance or exit from the water. On Oahu we’re spoiled. Almost every wave has a safe and easy exit. ‘Aim for the soft, warm, white sand.’ Easy. In Rapa Nui, when it’s time to get out of the water, it’s time to pay attention and not make any mistakes.
Serious injury means going to the airport and waiting for the next day’s one flight. Either to Tahiti or Santiago, alternating days, alternating directions.
We rented a classic surf mobile. It was missing a door. The car worked great, maybe one of my favorite rides ever.
Rapa Nui is a culture that loves horses. One of my favorite memories is riding through the countryside with a family, some of us with saddles, some with out. Some with shoes, some barefoot. Their youngest son was preparing for an annual race that specified barefoot, bareback. He figured that he had a good chance cause he was so small. I think he was 8.
La factoria de Moai
There’s one zone on the southern side of the island, where the rock is just right for carving Moai. I’ve heard that in years since my visit there’s new tourist infrastructure… i.e. park rangers, rules, required guides etc. But when we were there, there was nothing. Just us and the mountain. A very peaceful place where some of the largest moai are half-carved, still attached to the mountain and dozens are laying about ready to head off in different directions. It feels like one day everyone, after generations of carving the huge statues, decided to be done, and just walked away from it.
In The High Line I talk about the moai. If you enjoy traveling to distant lands, put this place on your list. It’s an amazing destination, and I guarantee it will evolve your brain towards something new. Rapa Nui is a perfect chunk of the human experience. Everything is there condensed down to the basics. Raw and beautiful.