Tortuga Bay gives a wonderful idea of the scale of geological time. It is made from the ground up spines of the pencil spined sea urchins that we saw whilst snorkelling on Floreana as well as the excrement they produce after eating the white corals found offshore. The sand formed in this way is very fine and a beautiful shade of white. Just imagine how many thousands or even millions of years that it must have taken for these echinoderms to form the tonnes of sand that make up most of the Galapagos Islands’ beaches.
The beach is reached via a two kilometre path through the dunes from our hotel in Puerto Ayora. At the beginning of the path you sign in and out again to make sure that nobody is left on the beach when the gates are locked at 6pm. The long beach receives most of the ocean swell that comes from the south.
I went there on Wednesday afternoon to check out the waves to see what sort of board I should hire. On arrival I was disappointed in the waves – a strong onshore wind was blowing the shape out of what offshore swell there was. I walked the length of the beach in the shallows (a favourite occupation of my wife, dog and I).
When I got to the end I got a shock as I saw what I thought was a dead marine iguana washed up on the beach. Upon closer inspection I saw it was breathing. I looked around and there were many more. They were just basking as we had seen them doing on Floreana, they just looked particularly strange against the white sand. I think most were females as they lacked the vivid colours of the larger males that we had seen on Floreana.
On Thursday after lunch I went to with our guide Javier to hire a board in town. The guy in the surf shop certainly looked the part – six foot plus, ponytail, very, very laid back. I didn’t need any ID, he just told me not to break the board and asked for 20 bucks. I got a 6’6″ pintail with a lot less float than I am used to, but it was the longest shortboard that he had (that should make sense to some people). We all walked down to the beach and I suited up.
The waves today were about 50% larger than yesterday and a little cleaner. A bit big for me – 6’+ (I hadn’t managed to get in the water very much this summer in Pembrokeshire so I am not surf fit). I got out the first time and gradually got battered back in. The board had very little “float” to it so was easy to duck dive – I got lots of practice at that, but it sat much lower in the water than I am used to, I could only get it to take off on steep waves and was if found it twitchy in the pop up (excuses, excuses!) Cue lots and lots of falling off.
After about an hour of getting battered about and duck diving I decided to head in to about chest height to the re-forms and caught just one proper unbroken wave – only about a three second ride as well as numerous late drops, wobbles and wipeouts. In the end I thought I’ve got to get out there and at least try to catch one proper Galapagos wave. Easy paddle out – 5 or 6 duck dives – was pretty good at them by then! I missed the first one, took off on the second one, was just popping up when it got vertical – it was like falling out of a second storey window. My feet missed the board and I headed into the spin cycle – not too long, but I knew I was out of my league. I managed to get back on the board before the next one caught me, ducked that and rode the one after that in on my belly – still a steep drop, great acceleration – just about managed to hold on. The best thing about the experience was sitting out the back watching frigate birds and blue footed boobies. There’s not many surf spots that can offer that.
I got back to the beach just as Amy Sanders and Karen arrived back from their dive and met up with the others who had been observing the marine iguanas, pelicans, blue footed boobies and a baby shark (glad I didn’t know about the last one until I was out of the water…).