Felipe Pomar, the man who surfed a tsunami

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Felipe Pomar

First World Surf Champion and first to surf a tsunami

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At 71 years old, and on the 50th anniversary of his world title, “El Toro de Punta Rocas” continues to enter the water every morning at dawn. From the Malole Surf House, his Indonesian refuge for 30 years, this Peruvian living in Hawaii tells some of the thousands of stories and anecdotes that he has lived in a life dedicated entirely to surfing, especially big wave surfing.

On October 3, 1974, the city of Lima suffered one of the worst earthquakes in its history. It was 90 seconds of a seismic movement of a magnitude estimated at 7.4 degrees on the Richter scale that caused more than 200 deaths, more than 3,500 injured and destroyed more than 4,000 homes. That same morning, a few kilometers from the Peruvian capital, two intrepid surfers made the mistake of taking their boards and jumping into the sea in search of the biggest wave in the world. More than 45 years after that adventure that almost cost them their lives, one of the survivors recounts how he lived the terrifying experience.

“Suddenly the sea withdrew”

“The most memorable was the one that happened to Pitty Block and me when we went surfing in Punta Hermosa minutes after the earthquake. The earthquake lasted about 2 minutes and we entered the island in Punta Hermosa with the idea of ​​running whatever comes. We do not have the possibility that the sea would withdraw and drag us out to sea, as in reality it happened ”. “After spending really terrifying moments in the middle of a chaotic and unpredictable sea, we managed to cross the bay and each catch a wave of those that they call“ tsunami ”, the size of a two-story house.”

 

“When we were looking towards the sea, before entering, my friend started shouting and pointing towards an island that was on the right hand side of where we were and I looked towards where he was pointing and I saw several people on top of the island who were doing very strange movements. Something strange was happening. And out of surprise, a very loud noise started, it was like having a train passing three or two meters away, or having a plane behind you and then the earth began to shake ”.

Finally, the noise and madness stopped. Without thinking twice, they both crossed the beach and jumped into the water.

“When we were in the right place, my friend caught a wave and came back soon and said: ‘I want to go ashore’, I asked him why, if we had just entered, and he said: ‘Yes, but that little wave that I just grabbing has taken me back and kept me under the water much more than any other wave, it’s very strange, and I want to go to the beach ‘”.

“I tried to row as fast as I could. When I looked again, I realized that despite being paddling hard, we were going out to sea. So I decided to stop rowing, I sat down on the board and began to do deep breathing to relax, because I did not know what was going to happen, but I knew that we no longer had control. What was going to happen was going to happen, because we couldn’t do anything about it ”.

The force of the current carried them two kilometers inland, where they encountered a dangerous panorama: “There were not only eddies, but also chupinas (small waves that are usually less than one meter) that were ten times more large than normal and they did not have any similarities, but they were all different, and instead of advancing in an orderly way (as they usually do) they did it in a completely opposite way. So it was like being in a crazy sea that was doing things never seen before ”.

Not knowing what could happen to them and at the mercy of the ocean, they even thought of rowing inland to catch a boat

Without many options, Felipe convinced Pitty to cross the bay. Thus, swimming parallel to the beach, they managed to get away from that panorama: “I looked at the horizon with the idea that the wave of 100 meters would not appear and, after one or two kilometers, we were able to cross the bay to get closer to the site where they usually break waves ”.

Although the violence of the water was stronger than normal and the waves higher than usual, when they got there they had at least the opportunity to catch some and then swim towards the mainland: “All we wanted was to get to the beach alive ”.

“I told my friend: ‘Let’s grab the first thing we can and go to the beach as quickly as possible.’ I was a little ahead of him and a wave came to me, which was big, but I was thinking that a wave of 100 meters would come, therefore I did not calculate the size of the wave, but it was not what I was afraid of. I caught the wave and as usual when you catch it, you stop and break. I did all that and then I thought: ‘What are you doing, you must not be running the wave, what you must do is lie down and go facing the beach’. But immediately I had another thought which was: ‘Maybe you won’t make it to the beach, maybe it will be the last of your life, so you better run it and have fun.’

With the  amateur spirit in his veins, Felipe managed to tame the ocean and got close enough to the coast to then swim towards it and was finally able to stand on the sand, but not before seeing a scene from a movie: “Out of the corner of my eye I saw a boat fishing boat that flew through the air and then hit a rocky mountain and in an instant the fishing boat was turned into little pieces of wood.

Behind him came his friend, with whom he hugged, jumped, shouted and even danced with happiness, until they both fled the place to seek refuge. That afternoon they headed to another fishing village that was a few kilometers away and they found what had happened: “When we arrived we realized that there was not a single boat in the water, they were all either on top of the houses or leaning against they”. Without realizing it, they had survived a tsunami.