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Ignacio Salazar, Peruvian big wave rider, makes himself at home in Shellharbour | Illawarra Mercury

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Fear is your friend, says Windang-based Peruvian big wave surfer Ignacio Salazar – as long as you know how to handle it. For him, handling means feeling it, facing it, and pushing through to find a new challenge. That approach has been with him since he started riding big waves aged 14, stuck with him through near disaster, and fuels his trips to the world’s fiercest breaks, from Mavericks in California Tasmania’s Shipstern Bluff. For the time being though, he’s unable to get back to Peru to see his family and his ill grandmother, because of the coronavirus border closures. At least the East Coast Low has kept him busy around Shellharbour’s best breaks. Speaking to the 38-year-old on Friday, it’s easy to get the sense that once he’s conquered a certain wave, he’s not going to be satisfied until he finds something tougher, more powerful, more likely to send him to the bottom of the ocean. He speaks of embracing fear, being conscious that there may come a wipeout from which he can’t recover, a rock shelf he can’t dodge, but there’s also chance to use your lifetime of skill building to get you through, enjoy the moment, stand up straight, then get shot out the other side like it’s the barrel of a rifle. OK, what’s next? Here is the mind of a big wave rider. Necessarily, the nerves are pretty relaxed. Fear’s not a barrier, it’s more like a curiosity. Adrenaline junkie? Maybe, but maybe more mindful. It’s not like Salazar had much of a choice. Born into a surfing family – one great-grandmother, he says, was friends with Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Hawaiian who may not have invented surfing but certainly popularised it – Salazar’s local break just happened to be Punta Hermosa, 40 minutes down the coast from Peru’s capital Lima. “That’s where all the best surfers in Peru grew up,” he said. His forebears had built a batch there so they could surf the nation’s best waves, crowned by Pico Alto, a monster break fed by the entire breadth of the Pacific (it’s “high peak” in English). “Every tourist comes to Punta Hermosa to surf all the different types of waves,” he said. “My house was pretty much the first house to be built in the town. My great-grandmother and some friends discovered the town in the 60s, or the 50s, and built the house there.” He was 14 when he first rode Pico Alto, nine years after he started surfing. “I always liked big waves. Since I was a kid I always tried to surf the biggest waves. Once I moved to Australia I started to surf more varied waves, then progressively I started to surf the bigger ones – Shipsterns in Tasmania … Cape Solander, Kurnell – pretty much any wave that has a big barrel is what I look for.” Several years ago Alazar decided to move to Australia, which he called a “surfing Mecca”. Perhaps he didn’t realise the Australian sense of humour would also gift him the nickname “Spud”. Hardly befitting a man who makes his mark with agility and motion – but once he told his Aussie mates his nickname was “tata” (his baby brother’s pronunciation of Ignacio), Spud’s fate was sealed. “It’s a passion – a personal challenge, pretty much. Those sort of waves require a lot of skill, knowledge. You have to know what you’re doing out there. The challenge itself, the feeling of doing the drop, and making it, getting into a barrel … it’s something that makes you feel alive. A very pure feeling. “The fear is always there. So are thought in your mind that come around. But if you don’t face those fears you’re never going to know what you’re capable of. “Fear is an important factor in surfing because it makes you push yourself, know yourself better, to see what are your capabilities. There’s always fear.” Salazar can easily name his worst wipeout. Stuck between two waves after being towed into Mavericks, near San Francisco – “the gnarliest wave on the planet” – last year, he was unable to get on top and was smashed under for more than a minute. His wetsuit had trapped his hands, stopping him from activating his buoyancy vest. He used his teeth to remove the wetsuit and pulled the cord, then was thrown across the rocks like a tennis ball. “The jetski came and picked me up,” he said. “That’s when I went back out to get another wave. “If you don’t have fear I think you’re lying to yourself. Those are waves of consequences … there’s rocks, it’s pretty shallow, you need to be cautious. You have to know yourself. Not everyone likes to get a heavy wave, or get a wipeout. You have to enjoy that a little bit too.”

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