Forging a surf culture on Chile’s Juan Fernández Islands

The plan is part of a broader initiative to boost tourism to the natural island paradise that was hit hard by last year’s earthquake.


Work has begun on a bold project to transform the Chilean archipelago that provided the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s famed 18th century novel, Robinson Crusoe, into a top class surfing destination.

The Juan Fernández Islands are still recovering from the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Chile in February 2010 and a devastating plane accident that rocked the close-knit community in September.

But now the Chilean government, along with local businesses and charity group, Desafío Levantemos Chile, have launched a tourism strategy to give the island community a much-needed boost .

The plan is to foster a grassroots surfing culture on Juan Fernández that will attract intrepid surfers from around the world to the island paradise.

As a first step, locals have been invited to take part in a free, two-day surf school on November 20-21. The classes will be led by Chilean surfing legends Ramón Navarro, Cristián Merello and David Dvorquez.

Organizers hope the surf school will inspire locals to take up the new sport while helping to promote the huge surf potential of the small cluster of islands that was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1977.

“This is a top class activity that is unprecedented on these islands,” the surf school’s director, Javier Gana told La Tercera.

“The workshops will cover the technical aspects of conventional and stand up paddle surfing…focusing specifically on island locals.”

Residents and tourism operators on Juan Fernández will also be given new supplies of surfboards, paddles and wetsuits as part of the initiative.

With 1,200 visitors each year, the islands are already a popular Chilean destination for foreign tourists but the government hopes the latest initiative will strengthen these numbers.

“We have been working together with the private sector to introduce different activities on Juan Fernández, directed towards local residents and potential visitors for the upcoming summer season,” Chile’s Under Secretary for Tourism, Jacqueline Plass, told La Tercera.

“Our objective is to demonstrate the unique beauty of the islands and some of the many opportunities that can be experienced there, such as the nature and wildlife, the adventure tourism and the local cuisine.”

The Juan Fernández surfing initiative has received support from Copec, Adidas, Quicksilver, Los Morros Surf Shop, Windsurfing Chile and Rusty.