Waves for Development: Surf Volunteer Programs in Lobitos, Peru

It is no secret among the surf community that the Pacific coast of Peru is something of a surfers paradise, with consistent off shore winds and few crowds. With a few exceptions, many waves can be found still breaking clean and empty for the more intrepid surfers to discover and enjoy. Word spreads and things are changing fast though; every year brings new surf businesses, foreign investments, more accessible waves. Good news for some, but, as is so often the case, not so good for the locals, who typically become frozen out of developments in their own backyard.

Travel to the coastal town of Lobitos, however, and you will see just how ‘much better’ a surf holiday could be.

With consistent swells, a world-class left hand break, and other waves suitable for all levels of surfer, the small town of Lobitos, 65km south of the surf capital Mancora, is well placed for surf tourism. Seeing the potential, a group of travelling surfers who had witnessed first hand the grim reality of surf-related development elsewhere, decided to get in first and see if they could change the future, simply by empowering the local community to take control of their own surf destiny.

WAVES for Development started out a little over 2 years ago, and since clinching a donation of 400 surfboards, has gone from strength to strength. Their surf volunteer programs have delivered classes in swimming, surfing, English, photography, surf board repair, guitar, environmental management and social entrepreneurship among others.

They are also developing micro-finance initiatives to help local businesses establish themselves and service the growing surf tourism industry. The aim is simply to provide the local community with the skills, resources and knowledge to develop in whatever way they see fit. All this while giving volunteers plenty of time to enjoy the fantastic surf and to experience a side of Peru no tourist could ever hope to.

“We believe that surf travel should benefit the people and the communities where it happens.” – WAVES for Development

Much Better Adventure caught up with Dave Aabo, one of the Waves for Development project founders, to find out a bit more about the surf, and what lies in store for Waves.

Which break do you surf most at Lobitos?

While there are a number of waves around Lobitos, I typically surf the point the most. Generally speaking it’s the most consistent and offers the longest rides.

Is there normally a favourite among volunteers?

With options to surf heavy barrels at el Hueco, the Point sucking and peeling for hundreds of meters, and additional quality lefts at Muelles and Piscinas, there are non-crowded options for everyone. It is the sort of place where you can get surfed out every day!

Volunteers typically like the wave that’s working the best at any given point in time. The Piscinas wave can be a bit mellower of a drop than the point so intermediate surfers occasionally favour that wave. Other times it can throw tubes and even close out. The swell direction and amount of sand at the breaks oftentimes dictates where volunteers favour. For beginners, the protected inside of the Lobitos point has mellow waves offering ideal learning conditions. Peeling waves provide ideal opportunities to improve your surfing.

For surf travellers, where else would you recommend for surfing in Peru?

Chicama, Huanchaco and Mancora all have fun waves.

What activities can you locally do aside from surf?

Aside from surfing, you can take a trip to the local caves, go for a boat ride with the local fisherman, learn about the amazing history and culture of the area. Additionally, other nearby towns such as Negritos have attractions including the most occidental point in South America and beautiful flamingos.

WAVES Projects have being going less than 2 years. Are you pleased with progress and results so far?

February 2008 was our first two-week pilot program in Lobitos. At times I’m amazed at how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. Adding Naomi Godden, our Program Manager, to the team in June 2009 really catapulted us forward in the development of the program. Now we have over 6 local staff and ongoing programs that over 200 youth have participated in (including school and after-school programs). That’s more that half the local youth population. We have anywhere from 10-20 regular participants aged 8-20.


Was it always going to be Lobitos? Did you consider anywhere else?

We discussed some other options, but we wanted a smaller community to get started. Our intention has always been to see if it can work in Lobitos then expand to other communities both within Peru and in other countries. In and around Lobitos was where the majority of us met for the first time.

What is your long-term vision for WAVES and Lobitos?

Our vision for Lobitos is that some of the younger participants, both male and female become the future leaders of the program. We have a few ‘assistant-ships’ that allow some of the more mature youth to take a leadership role in the current programs. Ideally, as an organization, WAVES will pass over the reins to the local leaders and start a similar program elsewhere.

We see you have been making a film. Where can we see it?

Any other exciting projects and plans in pipeline?

Keep your eyes out for new developments related to WAVES in the towns of Chicama and Negritos in Peru.


Dave, a founder of WAVES for Development, has been providing his energy to making WAVES a reality since 2005. His love for adventure, curiosity of new cultures, and commitment to changing the world through social enterprises are contagious. Since 2000, he has lived and worked in Africa, South America and the United States. He has spent more than four years in Peru developing small business and conservation initiatives that incorporate tourism in rural communities located in the mountains, coast and jungle of Peru. Dave has also worked with ProNaturaleza, the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, to support the development of community-base voluntourism programs in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, located in the Peruvian jungle.

Dave will be presenting at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference 2010 (ESTC 2010) (September 8-10, 2010, Portland, Oregon, USA) on a panel “Voluntourism: from a community project to a consumer product.” The session will take place Thursday, September 9th, 2010, from 4:15-5:45pm, sharing various local and international best practice examples of effective approaches to developing, implementing and marketing voluntourism projects.


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