The Beaches of Tocayos

Villa

Photo courtesy of Aaron Chang

The primary beach in Tocayos is Playa Norte.  In the sequel to Tocayos, which I have not yet published, much of the action takes place in a second beach, which I refer to as Playa Sur.  Playa Norte and Playa Sur are fictional locations, of course, but they are inspired by two actual beaches, Punta Hermosa and Villa.  This can get a little confusing, so here’s a table:

In Tocayos In Peru
Playa Norte Playa Norte beach, in the town of Punta Hermosa
Playa Sur Villa Beach, in front of Villa Beach and Tennis Club

The actual Punta Hermosa in Peru has two beaches, Playa Norte and Playa Sur. Tocayos remains true only the actual Playa Norte.  It was the gathering place for surfers heading out to Pico Alto:

Pico Alto is a monster wave that breaks over a submerged reef a kilometer to the west of my family’s beach house. The reef requires so much force to make a wave that it breaks only a few times a year. Semana Santa is one of them. Every year during Semana Santa the surfers, the very best surfers from all the beaches north and south of Lima, they come to Playa Norte.

They arrive in ones and twos, driving Beetles and bathtub Volvos with long, skinny surfboards strapped to the roof. Some belong there, some do not, but they all gather along the malecon overlooking the beach, just below my house. There they walk back and forth, in a study of the ocean, each other, and their own hearts. Some go back to their car and check their glove compartments for lost bars of wax. Then they check the seams in their front seats for the keys they lost last summer. They untie and re-tie their bathing suit strings. They walk back to the malecon and warm up their muscles. They stretch their bones. They walk back to their car and examine their surfboards, still on the roof racks. They examine each other’s surfboards. They invite the other surfers to examine their surfboards. Anything to keep from thinking about what is going to happen to them.

Villa, the inspiration for the fictitious Playa Sur, is closer to Lima.  It’s known for its beach and tennis club, and its really nasty surf.  The only beaches I’ve found, read about, or seen pictures of, that have breakers more hollow and vicious as those of Villa are Sandy Beach and the shore break at Waimea.  Both are on Oahu.  The Wedge, in Southern California, is a body-surfing E-Ticket, but not as vicious as Villa.

Outside, the waves in Villa are big, hollow, powerful, and impossible to board surf. A few board surfers tried surfing them when I lived in Peru, but their broken boards washed up on the beach and they seldom ventured back out.  When that lip hit your board, it was all over.

Inside, the surf is just as hollow but thick with sand.  The wave scoops up sand from the bottom like a commercial fishing trawler scoops up fish.  I could seldom get through the middle section of Villa without carrying a fistful of sand back to the beach in my shorts.  The only way around that was to get lucky enough to ride an outside wave all the way to shore.  Since the big waves usually closed out, that almost never happened.

VillaBody

It’s hard to appreciate the appeal of body surfing from shore.  You almost never get to see the action.  Board surfing is much more exciting to watch.  But if you’re drawn to the heart of a wave, body surfing is pretty cool.  This picture is not of Villa, but the wave resembles an average size wave at Villa.

Needless to say, I surfed Villa with Duck fins or Churchills.  Without them, I couldn’t get enough force to slide down the face before going over the falls.  I have gone over the falls at Villa, and one time I hit the sand so hard I couldn’t walk for a week.  The calcification on my spine still shows up in X-rays.  The fins also came in handy for dealing with rip tides, though we actively looked for rip tides.  Rip tides helped us get through the surf quicker.  Carlos didn’t surf Villa much, but when he did, he did it without fins.  Carlos was a purist.  And a fish.

There’s a lot more action in Playa Sur in the sequel to Tocayos.

Rick

About Pico Alto

pico-alto

The first time Carlos invited me to his beach house in Punta Hermosa, we immediately went body surfing.  The water off the coast of Peru is surprisingly cold, so when we got out of the water, we warmed up under the afternoon sun on the porch.  The beach season hadn’t started yet, so we had the porch to ourselves.  He loved to spin yarns about Pico Alto.  Those conversations inspired the description in Tocayos.

Here it is, in the voice of the narrator, Carlos:

It is a terrible wave, Pico Alto. Sullen from its long slumber, it rises heavily into a deep blue wall four stories high, eager to punish the mortal who has dared to awaken it. It takes a special man in an unusual state of mind to paddle his board into the path of Pico Alto. As the wave rises beneath him, he must thrust his arms into the water and paddle down the catapulting mass with the frenzy of a madman so he can reach the crest with enough speed to hop onto his fluttering board before the wind rips it out of his hands. As he slaps his bare feet onto the board he is suspended in a wind-blown burst of sea spray for a heart-stopping moment of weightlessness. Then he drops into the concave abyss yawning open beneath him.

If you are a big-wave surfer, you dream of this moment. You can imagine what you will do, but until you put yourself in that place and time, you cannot know what you will do. You might drop fast enough to slip under the collapsing tonnage, and with a menace of unbelievable proportions rising behind you, find the courage to dig the rail of the board and carve a stream of starlight into immortality. O, to share heaven with the gods! To roar back up the shoulder of the wave and burst into the sight of your friends with your arms straight in the air and your shorts stiff with bravado! To know, as the board skids across the water and slows, as you drop to your chest and paddle slowly back into the lineup, that you are a Great One.

Or perhaps not. It can be something as tiny as a drop of sea spray in your eye. Or a hurried waxing that allows your foot to slip on the wet board. Maybe you cannot quite find your balance. Or your nerve. The top of Pico Alto is a bad place to lose your nerve. The gods watch with disinterest as you fall that great distance with your board twisting and turning around you like a leaf in a whirlwind. When you slap into the surface of the water forty feet below, they turn away as the brute force of the wave crushes your twig of a body, thrusting you down, ten meters beneath your next breath, pinning you in a swirling, lung-bursting tumble for thirty seconds before it lets you crawl to the surface for a single gasp of foam-filled air. Only one. Because while taking that breath your panicked brain realizes that you are now in Poseidon’s Anvil, where you will experience the singular terror of turning to face the next wave unfurling four stories above you.

The picture of Pico Alto, above, is from National Geographic.

You can download Tocayos for $4.99 here.  (You can read the first 20% for free.) I’ll have a print version available from Tattered Cover Press soon.

Rick

How I Met the Real Carlos

Dodge440

In the novel Tocayos, Carlos describes meeting Charly in class:

I continued to move down the aisle, banging my metal lunch pail and my old leather book bag against the desks and shoulders of my fellow students. Some moved over, some shoved me into my fellow students on the other side of the aisle. It was pleasant mayhem until I saw Charly the American. He was sitting in the last seat next to the window, his desk tipped on its back legs in exactly the same way that I liked to tip my desk. Not only this, but contrary to not only school rules but school custom, he had discarded our school jacket, he had loosened our school tie, and he had rolled up the sleeves of our school uniform’s light blue shirt. His head was lodged into the corner, looking out at the gardens. He turned it slowly and rested his eyes on me.

I met the real Carlos in basketball practice.  Shortly after we both made the team, I found out he took the bus to get home, and had to walk a half mile home from the bus stop.  At the time, I lived a block away from school.  I wanted an excuse to drive the car, so I told him I’d give him a ride if he would claim it was too late to take the bus.

We owned a 1967 baby blue Chrysler 440 Coronet similar to the one in the picture above, and a white Rambler station wagon.  Showing up at dinnertime with Carlos in tow put my Mom on the spot.  She had to either interrupt dinner preparations to drive him home, or let me drive him.  She gave me the keys to the Rambler.  I didn’t have a license, but in those days, you first learned to drive, then you got your license.

That’s how I learned to drive, and how I became friends with the Carlos on which the narrator in the story is based.

Tocayos is available for $4.99 from Smashwords.  You can read the first 20% for free.

Rick