Did you find Kimu’s story imaginative? When you finish reading the following essay, it is my hope that you will not only come to believe his adventure could have been true, but you’ll also discover a deep appreciation and admiration for the fishermen who still surf their tups along Peru’s northern beaches today. The heart of each of these fishermen, Kimu’s racing pulse, still beats with every wave ridden. Every time a Peruvian surfer slides down a magnificent surge of water he evokes a ritual that has been practiced and passed down for over five thousand years.


Languages spoken by fishermen on the north coast of Peru were suppressed during the colonial era of the eighteenth century, however, many words from the Mochica language—which was spoken in the valleys and coves from Pacasmayo towards the north of Peru—was rescued 100 years ago thanks in large part to the work of diligent researchers. Thus, tup, one of the native names for reed rafts, was rediscovered. It is most likely that reed rafts had several different names in the various ancient languages. When the Spaniards arrived in the Americas, they called the craft caballito de totora. In this book we use both names in the telling of our story and the reader must also be warned that subsequent investigations and research is sure to alter our current knowledge of the native name and the ancient history of these fishermen.


In this book Peruvians and people acquainted with Peruvian ancient history will find the images of pre-Columbian ceramics, jewelry, architecture and textiles as familiar as seeing your best friend paddling to meet a big wave. Thanks to the writings of chroniclers and modern studies of archaeologists, anthropologists and historians, readers will come to better understand the lives of fishermen in ancient Peru and how the waves of the Pacific Ocean seduced them to experience the indescribable pleasure of overcoming storms and conquering swells through the most pure and authentic art of surfing.

The Totora Reed Raft

The caballitos are cutting the surface of the water. They move forward with their skiff lines in an easy thrust and at a graceful and beautiful rhythm. The sea continues to be rough, strong waves come from afar that break and make the water jump and shine with the strokes of the Sun. It is beautiful to watch the caballitos surf the waves and foam with the joy of a pagan festival. Seeing them on the crests of the waves, I remember those other guys from Hawaii, who also surf, but on their wooden boards. The young surfriders with their white handkerchiefs and naked torsos appear to be sea gods on the acrobatic caballitos. Sunshine makes it all look as if everything was on fire.
Aurelio Miró Quesada Sosa
Costa, sierra y montaña (1969)


The first impression one gets when looking at the Peruvian coastal landscape is that of a desolate desert. It is expansive, interrupted only by a handful of rivers that descend from the highlands. Over the course of centuries, ancient inhabitants of the coast created ingenious hydraulic systems, allowing them to transform the riverbeds into fertile valleys that were favorable for agriculture. Nevertheless, lack of precipitation was a constant struggle and in many cases the great efforts made were not adequately rewarded. Due to the aridity of the soil, human effort was also needed to create acceptable crops. While generations experimented with horticulture from the very beginning the ocean was the most dependable source of sustenance. It also because a source of wealth, and ultimately shaped the very way of life for these ancient inhabitants.



Through fishing, maritime trade and ritual, these early societies were the first to be actively associated with the area’s powerful ocean swells. Because of the cold, southern current that runs along the Peruvian coast there is a rich, bio-diverse ecosystem with an incredible variety of fish and seafood to meet the nutritional needs of entire nations. Also, from the north, another current—this one composed of considerably warmer water—allows the existence of other varieties of marine species. This combination makes the Peruvian sea one of the richest and most abundant in the world.


Going back as far as 14,000 years ago, the Peruvian coastline has been home to thousands of fishing societies and communities. Millions and millions of people have depended on the sea, and even today it is still rich and abundant. If we take into account that when the Spaniards arrived to these lands, the domain of the Inca Empire stretched from Quito (currently the Republic of Ecuador) to Tucuman (now the Republic of Argentina), we can imagine the vast expanse of beaches on which fishing activities of the ancient Peruvians unfolded.


In this first chapter, we intend to go back thousands of years in time, and in order to grasp a trip of such magnitude it is necessary to sharpen our senses and use our imaginations. The story of the inhabitants of the warm coastal valleys west of the Andes, the Yungas (a Quechua word), is as desolate as the deserts that cross its territory. It is precisely in these deserts where archaeologists discovered the elements necessary to reconstruct the past of the old Yungas settlers. Perhaps even more fascinating than the history of the Tahuantisuyu [Quechua word for the Inca Empire], since the Yungas evolved in much more ancient times they would have faced considerably more difficulties in such an adverse environment.

The Sea, a Miracle of Life

Let us travel back in time when the early fishermen and coastal merchants had struck a harmonious balance with nature. One can still feel the cheerful bustling of the Yungas settlers. With hooks, spears, nets and crab traps they busy themselves along the seashore in search of food. Enormous freshwater lakes were fished and reeds harvested. Dense carob and guarango trees supplied wood and firewood. A multitude of species of fruit trees supplied vital vitamins. Mountains riddled with bushes turned the arid landscape green. Formed by sporadic flooding, lagoons proliferated along the coast and for years fishing was limited to these areas. But the Yungas, resourceful beings by nature, quickly learned to fish from the seashore with strings tied to strong, bone hooks. The fish that they had been catching in the lagoons were tasty and nutritious, but proved insignificant compared to the fish that could be caught at sea.

An Idea Was Born

Daily contemplation of the majestic and captivating sea led some fishermen to believe it possible to penetrate past the wave line, where everyday they saw unreachable, generously sized fish jumping. Tuna, halibut, grouper and the nutritious anchovy were all there for the taking if they could just get past the surf. If the small lagoons could offer such a varied richness of fish species, what could the stunning and boundless sea offer? Fish like these could feed whole families. The ancient coastal people must have sat along the beaches, watching sea life flourish as seductive sunsets dipped into the Pacific, thinking of the vast expansion of a sea full of mystery and life.

As their dreams were filled with exotic scenes of the abundant fish that they could see gliding through the clear waves, sooner or later the idea of finding a way of entering the water would take hold of their spirits. They would have watched the festival of flight of the guanay cormorants, Peruvian boobies, red-legged cormorants and pelicans diving in flocks into the water to dine on the delicious fish—unreachable for the Yunga fishermen. The hooks thrown from shore were capable of catching some of the smaller fish, but the acknowledgment of larger fish was always shaped by the ceaseless feast of seabirds beyond the waves. Finally, the obsession with catching those fish would take over their spirits, forcing them to activate all their creativity

The Conquest of the Surf Breaks

The Yungas longed to catch those fish to feed their people and the only way of doing so was to go for them. Overcoming the wall of water that stood between them and life-giving protein was imperative. Urged on by hunger, the Yungas returned to the lagoons in search of their everyday fish, and it was probably there, at the shore of one of those innumerable lagoons, where an anonymous fisherman conceived the idea of using bulrush or totora reed to make the first vessel: a floating surface that could hold the weight of the fisherman and his gear.

The First Totora Reed Rafts

For purposes of our story, we want to hold on to that magical moment when our anonymous Yungas fisherman dared, for the first time, to enter the water on his tup paddleboard. The waves would have broken upon the shore just as they do today, rejecting the presence of the intruding fisherman. The reed raft, fragile but secure, would float on the sea surface, receiving the weight of the man who paddles with his hands in a desperate attempt to pass through the breaks. After a strenuous effort, the fisherman makes it through the whitewater turbulence. In calmer waters he throws his nets and hooks. Hours later, after swaying to the hypnotic rhythm of the rolling swells, our hero sees his efforts crowned with an abundance of fish that must now be transported to shore. To prevent the spoils of his effort from slipping back into the sea every time a wave knocks him over, the fisherman places the fish in a net bag, which is tied to the raft—a technique still in use today.

The fisherman will respectfully contemplate the waves. He will study their shapes, how they change and move. He will recognize that they are his main obstacle to accomplish a better catch. He will return to the lagoon where totora reed grows in the wild, and when examining the shape of the plant—long and triangular—he will begin to design new type of vessel. He will experiment dozens, hundreds, thousands of times, until he finds an ideal craft that allows him to go into and out of the sea. The bow that allows him to break through the pounding waves, permitting him to go out fishing and come back to the shore by either paddling or surfing on the sea surface. Because of the “rocker” built into his board, this time he doesn’t nose diving while being pushed forward by waves. Thanks to this invention, perhaps the most extraordinary one conceived by the ancient Yungas, the immeasurable wealth of the Pacific Ocean is now able to sustain the inhabitants of the Peruvian coast.

The Initiation Ceremony

To learn how to handle a caballito de totora, one not only needed to possess unique skills, but also maturity and enough courage to face the inherent dangers of the Pacific. Some pieces of pottery found near Chan-Chan (the largest Pre-Columbian city in South America and located in the northern Peruvian region of La Libertad, 5 km west of Trujillo) represent the use of these rafts for carrying out rituals associated of a boy’s emergence into manhood. Before being considered a true fisherman, the young candidate had to hunt a jaguar in the Andes and sever its head as a trophy [Antonio Raimondi: Notas de Viaje, 1942]. Can you imagine this kind of initiation rite? There we have our young candidate, penetrating the foothills of the mountains in pursuit of one of the most astute, agile and lethal felines of the continent, in order to kill him and cut off his head as a trophy to prove that he had enough courage for the next challenge.


Next for the would-be-fisherman, they had to face the furious waves of their given fishing area. One can imagine how dangerous this fishing must have been if killing a jaguar was a simply a rite of passage. Not satisfied with having killed the jaguar, our aspiring, young fisherman nailed the head of his prey on the bow of his tup, so that the animal’s innate ferocity would grant him sufficient courage to face the army of waves trying to capsize his frail vessel and bury him in the unfathomable depths.

The Training Period

Everything seems to point at this as when, being part of the process, ancient Peruvians started surfing for pleasure. Think about it: There we have our young fisherman going in and out of the sea during the whole summertime, with the sole purpose to become acquainted with fishing activities. The first thing he had to learn was to deal with the waves in order to access the fishing area, usually located far behind the break-lines. And then, here comes the incredible part, he had to learn to circumvent those waves so that when he was leaving the sea towards the shore, the waves would not turn his fragile boat over.

The Pleasure of Surfing

Anyone who’s enjoyed the sensation of riding waves at least once understands it can be one of the most enjoyable, fun and pleasurable experiences. Can you imagine our young fisherman during his workout? Day after day, he paddles against the tide, the currents and waves reach deeper, calmer waters. Eventually he has to return to shore and taking advantage of the wave’s driving force must have been a high point in all of his efforts. This young fisherman, after paddling the infinite series of waves of a beach like Huanchaco (one of the current tourist districts of Trujillo, La Libertad) would have experienced an indescribable pleasure when, finally, he pointed the bow of his tup to shore and is carried away by a wave at an unprecedented speed. Ultimately facing waves when entering fishing areas, and riding the waves to come back into shore afterwards became one of the most important skills in the training of a Yungas fisherman.


Once the fisherman had experienced the delights of surfing surely he’d dip into the sea from time to time for the pure and simple pleasure of catching a few good waves. It is undeniable that the most skilled fishermen felt proud of their abilities and strength to face the sea. Culturally, their skills immediately placed them in the select social group of the expert fishermen. It should not surprise us to learn that contests and competitions were held to see who the best fishermen challenging the sea were. Paddling and crossing over foam, they rode waves in ritual and competitive events, similar to the ancient Greek Olympics.

Peru: Cradle of Surfing

Traditionally, the origin of the art of surfing is attributed to former members of the Hawaiian royalty, who surfed on wooden boards built by themselves with native materials found in the islands. Therefore, the art of surfing is recognized as the “sport of kings,” and most of its modern history, often based on studies done at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, tends to establish its origins in the blue waters of Oahu and the surrounding islands. However, for several decades, developments in the field of pre-Columbian archeology have revolutionized the traditional theory of the origin of the art of surfing. By studying the cultures of the coast of Peru, as highly developed as the ancient Egyptian civilizations, evidences prove that these men developed surfing thousands of years ago. Such is the case of the recent discovery of the ruins of Caral, which dates back five thousand years ago.


Two cultures, the Mochica and Chimu cultures—discovered thanks to the presence of huge ruins and archaeological sites—have turned the eyes of the world on these advanced civilizations. The vestiges of these cultures show great marine influence at a highly superior degree than that of any other civilizations of that time. In its iconography, as can be seen in the remains found in the Huaca Cao Viejo in the archaeological complex El Brujo, there are representations of endless sequences of waves. As noted by archeologists, the waves represented the movement, strength and power of the sea as a source of life [Cristobal Campana and Ricardo Morales: Historia de una Deidad Mochica, 1997].

An Archeological Revolution: the Mochica and Chimu Cultures

The economic and social development of the Mochica and Chimu cultures was linked to fishing: they turned the Pacific Ocean into one of the largest fisheries in the world. During that time, fish was the main source of protein in the diet of and estimated hundred thousand inhabitants of the city of Chan Chan. The Mochica and Chimu people devised their own styles of art, social organization and construction of large cities and pyramidal complexes. In the artistic creation of the Mochica, and even more so, in the artistic creation of Chimu, two symbols strongly associated with the deities appear frequently—the rainbow and the wave.


When the ancient inhabitants of Chan Chan noticed the colors of the rainbow shining through the clouds above the Andes, they knew that there was little time left before the rain began to fill the elaborate irrigation canals that fed their crops, thus, the rainbow was a symbol of fertility. In their magnificent artwork waves became a symbol of power: the eternal and incomparable power that controlled their universe. As a result, on fabrics and artwork depicting deities or supernatural situations, a border of waves around the design appears. The interpretation is that the old Yungas perceived that the waves held the real power over their lives.


The Mochica and Chimu cultures faced the challenge of living alongside a powerful coastline, exposing them most of the year to larger swells. Just imagine the endless sets of waves at a place like Chicama (a fishing and surf town in Northern Peru). One of the best waves in the surfing world, it is located south of the excavations of Lambayeque, where one of the most lavish and rich tombs of the Americas (Lord of Sipán) was discovered a few years ago. The first men who experienced the pleasure of surfing were fishermen who had to face the power of waves in order to get their food. The necessary courage resulted in a rite of passage, similar to other warrior rituals or traditions found throughout history.

An Ancient Rite of Passage Associated with Waves

One Mochica and Chimu ritual consisted of a man on his reed raft who had to find an egg of a seabird and take it to the beach to use it in a ceremony. Thus, he would be named “man-bird of the sea” [Antonio Raimondi: Notas de Viaje; 1942]. This reminds us of the motifs of the man-bird and egg search in the religious art of Rapa Nui (also referred to as Easter Island). From here speculations arose leading to the hypothesis that the source and true origin of the "bird-man” ceremonials, celebrated with variations throughout the Polynesian cultures and Hawaiian societies, already took place in Pre-Inca Peru. Furthermore, the act of proving one’s manhood with a feat of distance and survival is a ritual that has similar iterations in the Hawaiian culture. This hypothesis is also supported when taking into account the role that surfing began to play in religious ceremonies.

The City of Men Who Surfed

Nowhere else in the Americas will one find evidence of a society developed and related so closely to the sea as the one established by the settlers of Chan Chan in Northern Peru. Conditions there provide an interesting equation: 100,000 people to feed and a powerful sea that produced large swells throughout most of the year. Under these circumstances, the Chan Chan fishermen were forced to make their living at sea. They reflected their lifestyle on the walls of the city of Chan Chan, covering the walls with designs in high relief friezes depicting fishing scenes, series of waves, sea birds, nets, sea deities and spirits. In the Corredor de los Peces y las Aves (Corridor of Fish and Birds), big swells are represented together with the Peruvian or Humboldt Current, full of fish.

The Origen of Reed Rafts

Our main source of information comes from the comprehensive and monumental work done in Historia Marítima del Perú (Maritime History of Peru), published by the Instituto de Estudios Históricos Marítimos del Perú (Institute of Maritime Historical Studies of Peru). Led by historians such as Hermann Buse De La Guerra and José Antonio Del Busto Duthurburu, Peru’s navigation prehistory is explored. They confirm that the tup played a major role in Peru’s maritime history.


Regarding the age of the caballito or tup, there are currently a number of different theories. For example, we have the case of Salvador Canals Frau, who states, “the raft, which is made by tying several bundles of reed or totora stalks is Paleolithic,” which would place the appearance of the tup in the Stone Age [Salvador Canals Frau: Las Civilizaciones Prehispánicas en América, 1955]. On the other hand, Hermann Buse says, “In the world, reed rafts—better yet, reed bundle rafts—are ancient. They already appeared at the dawn of civilization and, beyond doubt, they are at the very beginning of navigation. It is very probable that they were preceded by worn-out trunks which the first bold creature used to enter the deep waters of a river or lake to bring something to or pick up something on the other bank or shore.”


These statements, of course, refer to the reed rafts of whose existence evidence was found in several places around the globe, such as in the Mexican lakes of Chapala, as well as Tlaxcala, in the Nile Valley, and Assyria on banks of the Mesopotamian Rivers. Also, reed rafts were common to countless communities in Asia, Australia, Tasmania and islands of Oceania. On Rapa Nui natives used bundles of straw that, technically and formally, in no way differ from the caballitos de totora that we see still on the beach in Huanchaco.

How Old are the Reed Rafts?

The exact age and dissemination of the caballito de totora or tup is still an unresolved issue for scientists. Reviewing the research of Peruvian historian Hermann Buse De La Guerra, we note that the issue of the age of reed rafts in Peru has been mostly clarified. “As its peak was already recognized by the incontestable evidence of old Mochica ceramics—early centuries of the Christian era—archeologists were deeply anxious to know when, in fact, they started using reed rafts, if it were the Mochica or people before them, and if it was the latter, in what century or millennium of prehistoric distance,” writes Buse [Hermann Buse De La Guerra: Perú 10,000 años; 1962].


Buse’s fundamental work at Huaca Prieta in the years of 1946 and 1947, which resulted in the discovery of the pre-ceramic era, clearly clarifies that “men four thousand years ago knew and used rafts to fish not far from the beach.” Abundant archaeological evidence attests to its use in very ancient times, and the discovery of nets and buoys in Huaca Prieta and the Chicama Valley, including four thousand-year-old pre-ceramic stratum, indicates that men then “practiced a type of sea fishing requiring the aid of vessels.” These mentioned vessels could not be any other kind of vessels than the reed bundle rafts. Its location is archaeologically proven (by the radiocarbon method, according to our present state of knowledge) by the end of the third millennium B.C.E., on the Northern Coast of the region of La Libertad.
All of these claims need archaeological support to determine the exact age of the tup, which brings us to the discoveries of Rafael Larco Hoyle. “The oldest representation of the use of the caballito de totora in ceramics, worth as irrefutable proof, is provided by Virú pottery, from the phase called the Evolutionary phase and that corresponds to the Formative phase in other frameworks,” writes Larco. “The caballito de totora is on Virú pottery, which shows that it was already in use.” [Rafael Larco Hoyle: Archaeologia Mundi. Perú; Genoa, 1966].


Considering that the Virú culture evolved closely linked to the sea in the first millennium B.C.E. and its terracotta representations of the tup correspond to the years 800-600 B.C.E., we can conclude, just as Buse, that: “regarding the caballito de totora, like the one that the fishermen still use in Huanchaco and the beaches of Lambayeque for their chores, we have extremely valuable pottery representations that place their existence approximately three thousand years ago.”


Testimony published in Hermann Buse De la Guerra’s book, Peru 10.000 Años, is plentiful. Buse hints very closely at this amazing chronology. And he’s hardly alone in this line of thinking.


“Gallinazo vases, from 2,200 years ago, also show the same caballitos, like the ones that are still being used in Northern Peru. Pottery remains also indicate that the fishing rafts were navigated by either one or two men,” writes Bird. [Junius Bird: Art and Life in Old Perú; 1962].


Meanwhile, Paul Kosok writes, “Designs on huacos (Peruvian pottery) of the early period of the Mochica culture show rafts similar to today’s caballitos de totora, which sets the tone to indicate how old they are.” [Paul Kosok; Life, Land and Water in Ancient Perú; 1965].

Hermann Buse states that “the caballito today is indispensable and it is still used when the waves are rough, although bit by bit it is being displaced in some tasks close to the beaches by modern boats, such as placing dragnets and reviewing crab and lobster traps. With three thousand years of history (or four thousand based on existing indications) and being a direct descendant of the primitive pre-ceramic reed rafts, the caballito is, of all the elements of the original culture still in force, one of the oldest and, consequently, one of the most prestigious lineage heritage, a unique case of clinging onto tradition.” [Hermann Buse De La Guerra: Historia Marítima del Perú, Tomo II, Vol 2; 1977].


Investigations by the Peruvian archaeologist Gabriel Prieto Burmester, who has been studying an ancient fishing village at the archaeological site of Pampas Gramalote since 2010 (located in the district of Huanchaco), has uncovered some of the oldest evidence. A miniature caballito de totora, which served as a piece to make offerings, was unearthed. These modern studies confirm that the tup was used in ancient Peru at least 3,500 years ago.


“Although it is assumed that the caballito de totora was used 4,000 or 5,000 years ago, today at least we know scientifically that it existed 3,500 years ago,” commented archaeologist Dan Sandweiss of the University of Maine in the United States. [El Comercio; August 3, 2014).


New findings in the capital of the oldest civilization of the Americas, Caral, and also in Áspero, Bandurria, Vichama and other archeological sites that are being studied confirm that fishermen 5,000 years ago also used totora reed to build their homes and their vessels. In order to barter with the communities of the highlands and jungle fishing was a major economic activity for these Yungas settlers, and considering previous and recent research of the various cultures of the Peruvian coast, we dare to propose in this book that the caballito de totora or tup was used on the coast of Ancient Peru five thousand years ago (and perhaps even before that). Therefore, the art of surfing is just as old.

Huanchaco’s Sea Festival

The Sea Festival, organized in Huanchaco, an ancient fishing port located about 350 miles north of Lima—was a unique and crucial event in the history of Peruvian surfing. It was this occurrence that began to spread Peru’s ancient surfing tradition across the globe. With a population of approximately 10,000 people, Huanchaco is the largest of the ancient coastal towns of northern Peru. Today you can still see the descendants of the Yunga fishermen entering the sea on their caballitos de totora. They continue to survive with the same fishing and raft building techniques inherited from their ancestors, in the same waters that once supplied food for the 100,000 inhabitants of the ancient city of Chan Chan.


In 1987, Felipe Pomar was the president of the Peruvian Surfing Federation and he traveled to Huanchaco to become acquainted with the area and to observe the caballitos de totora. When he saw the fishermen in the sea he was very surprised. The caballitos had been designed to cross the waves and then to surf to shore. On that trip he met Trujillo surfer Bernardo Alva, who told him about the advancing urban development invading the ponds where the totora were growing, filling them with construction material and dirt, threatening the very existence of the valuable totora ponds.


Upon some discussion they decided to organize a sports and cultural festival to raise awareness of how dangerous it was for Huanchaco to lose the raw materials used to build the tup. Alva was responsible for organizing the event. Felipe was responsible for promoting and convening famous foreign and Peruvian surfers to back the project. In that same year, Pomar traveled to California and visited the headquarters of Surfer Magazine, taking with him a replica of a small caballito de totora. He explained the importance of publishing a story on Huanchaco and its ancient tradition to the editors of the magazine. He skillfully managed to convince them and an article was published in April,1988, announcing the valuable objectives of the Sea Festival to the international world of surfing.


The first Sea Festival was successfully held in May 1988. There was a second and a third edition, which took place in 1990 and 1992 respectively. An impressive list of personalities were invited from notable scientists such as Thor Heyerdahl, Walter Alva, environmentalist Glenn Henning, and famous surfers such as Mark Foo, Bobby Owens, Todd Holland, Richard Schmidt and Ronnie Burns. Later, in 2007, 2008, and 2009, Alva organized the Pescadores de Olas event in Huanchaco for the same purpose of preserving valuable totora reed plantations. Pomar invited Surfer Magazine writer and editor Matt Warshaw to come and get acquainted with the event. He attended it in 2007. Warshaw wrote about the ancient surfing tradition that exists in Huanchaco in his book The History of Surfing, published in 2010.


It is also relevant to add that in 1977, in the Tabla Perú yearbook that the Comisión Nacional de Tabla (CONTA, Peru’s National Surfing Commission) published, there was an article written by Fortunato Quesada Lagarrigue where he stated that one of the objectives of the committee was to work towards regaining the international level that Peru’s surfing had in the 1960s—“when we had a world champion and surfing was a native Peruvian activity.” The president of CONTA was Luis Anavitarte Condemarín, who organized a university surfing championship in 1978. Its poster featured a caballito de totora.


Twenty years later, in 1998 Peru presented at the International Surfing Association’s (ISA) annual meeting that the caballito de totora or tup is the oldest surfing craft in world history. The paper was written by Adolfo Valderrama Bielich and was presented in Portugal, in November, by Ricardo Kaufman Torres For his part in it, Roberto Meza Vallvé took a caballito de totora to Portugal for display. Ten years later, on April 25, 2008, thanks to Felipe Pomar Rospigliosi and Javier Fernández Urbina’s efforts, the director of the Intereses Marítimos e Información de la Marina de Guerra del Perú (Maritime Affairs and Information of the Navy of Peru), Rear Admiral Reynaldo Pizarro Antram, sent a letter to the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INC, Peru’s National Institute of Culture) requesting international promotion campaigns to be carried out to publicize the contribution of pre-Hispanic Andean settlers to global navigation.


We invite Peru’s cultural authorities to participate and support the work undertaken by surfers and fishermen. A cultural heritage of Peru, the ancient tradition of surfing must be highlighted. Fortunately, a first step has already been taken. On August 27, 2003, National Directorial Resolution number 648 of the National Institute of Culture declares the caballito de totora a cultural heritage of Peru. The vessel is considered an expression of the traditional forms of living culture that characterize the communities of the coast of northern Peru, and that contributes to regional and national identity.

Five Thousand Years of Surfing

We have seen that modern archaeological evidence precisely locates the existence of the caballito de totora or tup going back at last 3,500 years. We have also explained that vestiges exist that indicate the caballito de totora or tup is even older. We do not want to exaggerate the age of the tup, but we cannot fail to note that three thousand years ago a Virú pottery maker used the caballito de totora as its model to immortalize history through his art on a ceramic pot. Therefore, it is not entirely unreasonable to think that the caballito de totora existed prior to its graphical representation.

These reed rafts represents the most important fishing tool of the ancient Yungas settlers. The sessions these brave and skillful fishermen had to endure in order to become familiar with the sea and the waves, and to gain mastery of the caballito, are as old as the culture itself.

Our conclusion is as radiant as the water of the Peruvian sea during sunrise. This is what Peru’s ancient tradition reveals today, which is kept alive in our surfer’s soul: over 5,000 years ago, the caballito de totora or tup was the key element in the life of ancient Yunga fishermen; therefore, surfing was also an integral part of their daily chores.