Near the small beach town of Pichilemu, Chile, lies one of the world’s greatest forces of nature. Punta de Lobos, a left-handed point break, isn’t just a popular local surf spot — it’s one of the most notorious big wave spots in the world. Thanks to generous southwest swells, the coast of Chile is the impact zone for consistently monstrous slabs of water, guided towards the point break by the Pacific Ocean’s Humboldt Current. Punta de Lobos has gained acclaim in recent years as a go-to spot for both Chilean surfing legends like Ramón Navarro and international swell-chasers like Californian Greg Long.
Although these two prominent watermen were familiar due to the close-knit nature of the big wave surfing world, their friendship dates back to a month spent chasing big waves in Cape Town, South Africa. It was in 2005 at the infamously huge wave break, Dungeons, that Long and Navarro bonded over their love of adventure and seeking the most thrilling waves that the world has to offer. In the years since, Long and Navarro would grow closer as they traveled the world in search of the most epic surf breaks, ultimately ending up right back in Navarro’s hometown, which happens to be the small seaside village of Pichilemu.
JH: Your relationship started in big waves, right? And now it's moved into this phase of environmental protection and sustainability. How do you guys remember how that evolved…from transitioning from “We're gonna go from riding the biggest waves in the world,” to “We're going to protect the biggest waves in the world?”
RN: I don't think it's one or other, I believe we are still doing them both. And as a professional big wave surfer, we make our name — and obviously when your name is getting bigger, you have more connections and you know more people. So your words are going to have some effect on the community, and big brands and NGOs that can help that problem. And most of the time, if you have that key, you need a little help to open a couple gates and help them, those environmental problems.
Navarro is no stranger to environmental activism. Over the years, he’s used his platform to be a driving force for positive change at his home break. He rallied community support to oppose a proposed pipeline set to dump sewage into the ocean just offshore of Pichilemu’s main beach and has been a longtime critic of coastal pollution stemming from pulp and power industries scattered throughout Chile. However, he’s best known for embarking on a decades-long crusade to protect Punta de Lobos from rampant overdevelopment, maintaining the area’s diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems while ensuring continued beach access for those that call the point home.
RN: I believe that in 2005, I was talking about protecting Lobos when I met everyone because it was the first international event I’d gotten invited to in South Africa. So I was starting to talk with everyone, saying “There is this place, it's beautiful, it's magic, it's an amazing wave — obviously because it's my home — but we need help.” We want to protect it and in those years we didn’t know how to protect it.
As the surf break gained notoriety in the early 2000s, so did the interest in building resorts and dwellings along the Chilean coastline. This flurry of development in Pichilemu led to poorly thought-out infrastructure while consideration of the preservation of the natural environment and local livelihoods of fishermen, like Navarro’s father, fell by the wayside.
JH: What did the final solution look like?
RN: I mean, every place has different ideas and solutions to save the place. The national laws in Chile don't permit any conservation plans on private land. So Lobos was private land, and, actually the owners those years had a plan with the project already accepted by the governments to build things there. They were going to build a lot of houses and parking lots and everything. So for us, there was no option — it was the only option. If we really wanted to protect the place, we had to raise money and buy the place.
GL: It was Ramón and the crew down there on the ground working for fifteen years. And it wasn't just a straight linear path of “Oh, we need to protect this, this is how we do it.” I remember hearing the updates and the different ideas and theories of how it could be done. There were probably fifty different ways thrown all around. And in the end, we just needed to raise money to buy the land and put it into a land trust, which was kind of unprecedented. And fifteen years later they did it. Of all the projects I've seen in my life, this was one that took the longest and was the most creative effort from so many people to make it happen. But obviously the people who were committed to it from day one and did not waiver was really what made it happen. And that was Ramón and his friends and the Chilean family down there.
In 2015, Navarro partnered with Save the Waves and Patagonia to launch the “Lobos Por Siempre” campaign, rallying hard against large-scale development plans and aiming to purchase the 4.5-acre Mirador Property at the tip of Punta de Lobos. Owned by a Chilean philanthropist at the time, the property owner agreed to hold the property in trust until enough money had been raised to purchase it for conservation. With a combined effort from multiple endowments, conservation foundations, and donations from surfers and environmentalists around the world, the campaign raised over $750,000. The property was purchased, and the Fundación Punta de Lobos was established to oversee continued conservation efforts on the land. In 2017, Punta de Lobos was dedicated as the seventh World Surfing Reserve. The point and the surrounding area are now part of a land trust safeguarding it from future development, while simultaneously protecting the marine and ecological biodiversity, surf resources, and local community’s fishing traditions.
JH: And so now that today the land sits on a land trust, how does that in fifty years, a hundred years — when our time on this planet has moved on — who controls that and how does it stay maintained?
RN: So what we have right now is a foundation. We give the opportunity to the people actually to be part of it. So you buy a GPS point on the point, so you can contribute money every month if you want. So you're going to be an owner of the point, technically, because you're going to own that specific point. So, the foundation is going to be the owner of the land, but everyone is going to be the foundation. So the point is not going to be owned just under one name, it's going to be under every single person that wants to help to support the place. And the contract obviously is forever. The land never can be sold and there never can be building on it.
But Navarro’s work is far from done. He aims to expand the protected land far beyond the Mirador property, continuing to raise money through the foundation to buy up other pieces of coastal property for the purpose of protecting local biodiversity and preserving the stretch of coastline for generations of surfers, fishermen, and local Chileans to come.
RN: We are five directors right now. And we are trying to grow because it's a piece of land we are still trying to protect. We have sixteen million people a year going to the park. And that was something huge for Pichilemu because when we started this project, not many people were going, or just surfers were going to the point, right? And now, because the whole project has gotten so famous, there're so many people going into there just to watch the surf, to surf, or see the events we do there. So the local authorities and even national authorities understand how important it is to protect this place and how important it is to protect other places like Lobos. So they have more respect for us and give us more opportunities to keep growing in this place. So maybe in the future, we can make the park bigger. That's kind of like the dream.
Navarro has brought the same fearlessness to the battle over environmental conservation that he demonstrates in charging down skyscraper-sized walls of water. His work is far from over, but he’s set a new standard for countless conservation projects. Thanks to support from nonprofits, conservation groups, and influential friends like Long, he’s been able to navigate uncharted waters, preserving the identity of his people by protecting the wild places that make Chile home and building a legacy of respect and reverence for the ocean for generations of surfers to come.
Get involved by donating to Fundación Punta de Lobos — you become a partial owner of the natural reserve and are directly supporting Navarro’s quest to buy up more coastal property along the point.
Watch Fisherman’s Son, a Patagonia Films documentary about Navarro and his home break, created in conjunction with the conservation campaign.
Follow @parquepuntadelobos on Instagram to stay up to date on the latest conservation wins in Pichilemu and @savethewavescoalition on Instagram to get involved in protecting the world’s most pristine surf spots for decades to come.