El Buey: one of Latin America's most versatile big waves | Photo:

It's one of the world's most out-of-the-radar big waves and certainly one of the most exciting surf breaks in Latin America and the South Pacific. Bienvenidos a El Buey.

Arica is a well-known surf town in the north of Chile, which has been attracting surfers and bodyboarders for decades.

The region showcases a chain of exciting reef breaks, breaking close to the shore on the wave-rich Alacran Peninsula.

These shallow, hard-breaking lineups like El Gringo have achieved international notoriety since the Rip Curl Search landed in 2007.

At the time, even the world's best surfers struggled to tame the local tubes. Eventually, Andy Irons defeated Damien Hobgood in the final.

The truth is that Arica, the "City of Eternal Spring," is highly consistent for swell and light winds.

The small urban community is located in the coastal heart of the world's driest desert - Atacama.

El Buey, Arica, Chile: a big wave that reminds us of Waimea Bay, Maverics, and Sunset Beach | Photo: Big Buey/Lineas Magazine

The Bull

Despite the many options available in the vicinity, there's one gem that stands out. It's called El Buey or The Bull, in English.

It's not as famous as Chile's cold water temple, Punta de Lobos, located 1,365 miles (2,197 kilometers) south, but it surely demands respect and should not be underestimated.

El Buey is a big wave arena breaking 0.25 miles (400 meters) west of Arica's Playa El Laucho.

The offshore beauty is considered one of the best peaks in Chile, providing perfect, fast, and tubular left and right-hand waves.

El Buey can withstand any size swell. It reminds us of waves like Waimea Bay, Mavericks, and Sunset Beach.

The left-hander will focus S-SSW swells into booming barrels, while the right will wall up anything with more W in it and offer steep drops and roller coaster walls. 

The spot can hold 20-foot-plus (six-meter) waves, but there have been surfers lucky enough to take on 40-foot (12-meter) walls of saltwater.

El Buey is quite wind-sensitive, though, and needs an E offshore breeze to pop up in grand style.

Low and mid-tide are the best periods to surf this Chilean beast with sand and rock bottom.

El Buey: the wave starts breaking at eight feet and can go up to 20 feet plus | Photo: Santos del Mar Invitational

A Heavy A-Frame Barreling Wave

Locals often check its conditions from Morro de Arica, the sand-covered hill that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

Interestingly, El Gringo and El Buey seem to work coordinately; when the former is unrideable, the latter shines to life.

El Buey has always been low-key on the international big wave surfing scene.

Nevertheless, the Chilean surf break is home to the Santos del Mar Invitational, a competition that attracts international riders.

Ramon Navarro, Cristian Merello, Rafael Tapia, Gabriel Villaran, Miguel Tudela, Carlos Burle, Danilo Couto, Lucas Silveira, Rusty Long, Nick Lamb, and Kohl Christensen were only a few of the big wave riders invited to the prestigious event.

In 2022, Peruvian charger Cristobal de Col found a large, deep, and hollow cavern, stayed pitted, and found the exit to ignite the spectators of the event.

In the end, he stated that he waited 22 years to ride that wave.

El Buey: Miguel Tudela landed a WSL Big Wave Paddle-In nomination in 2015 with this big and clean right-hander | Photo: Dias/WSL

The Long Paddle

If you plan to surf El Buey it is important to observe the positioning of the locals in the lineup and be accustomed to inflatable life vests.

A successful ride at the Chilean open ocean wave can take you 200 yards down the line, especially the right-hander.

The deepwater surf break is more consistent from April to August, i.e., autumn and wintertime, because the wave only starts breaking at eight feet (2.4 meters).

The left-hander will produce cylinder waves with S-SW (190-210º) swells. The right will work with swells coming from over 220º swells, that is, more westerly wave trains.

The best way to get to the lineup is by boat or jet ski.

Nevertheless, besides Playa El Laucho, it's possible to paddle from Hotel Arica's nearby parking lot or El Gringo.

It's a long paddle with occasional overhead closeouts, so it's always a tricky call.

Whatever your decision is, wear a helmet. A wipeout here could be nasty and potentially dangerous.

El Buey, Chile | ID and X-Ray

Location: El Buey, Arica, Chile
Type of Wave: Offshore Reef Break
Length: 150+ yards (150 meters)
Best Swell Direction: S, SW, WSW
Best Wave Size: 8-20 Feet
Best Wind Direction: E
Best Tide: Low, Mid
Best Time to Surf: Fall-Spring (April-August)
Skill Level: Intermediate and Advanced
Best Board: Shortboard, Longboard, Gun, Bodyboard
Crowd: Moderate
Water Quality: Fair
Hazards: Hold-Downs
Bottom: Sand and Rock
Water Temperature: 59-77 °F (15-25 °C)
Getting There: Paddle out, Boat, Jet Ski

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