Photographer: Paul Kennedy/Lonely Planet Images
Adventure

Adrenaline-Craving Bankers Are Driving a Surfing Boom in Chile

And turning their backs on golf.

Christian Acevedo has been surfing in Chile for 26 years. Known in the community as El Macha, or “the clam,” because of the amount of time he spends at the ocean and in the rocks, Acevedo is one of Chile’s first certified instructors. He has taught surf camps at Puertecillo, a beach about 110 miles southwest of Santiago, as well as at Pichilemu, a more popular spot 25 miles farther down the coast. While working at Surfers Paradise surf shop in Santiago, he became a mentor to an entire generation of young surfers.

Andres Rochette of Deutsche Bank Securities in Curanipe, Chile.

In 2007 he realized there was a growing demographic in the city that wanted the best possible surfing gear. And in 2008 he opened El Ruco, a surf shop that caters to a more elite crowd. It was a prescient business move.

“They come in with their suits after work,” says Acevedo. “Many of them are bankers, stockbrokers, people related to the financial industry. We opened based on that segment’s needs.”

This new generation of Chilean bankers doesn’t care for such sedate, leisurely pastimes as golf. They want something more high-adrenaline: mountain biking, motocross, and, increasingly, surfing.

It’s symptomatic of a cultural shift: Bankers aren’t as interested in working 15 hours a day and then discussing deals on the golf course over the weekend. Now they want to get away from work in their free hours, to disconnect. You can’t take a mobile phone on a surfboard, they joke.

Andres Rochette, 31, vice president at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., started surfing 16 years ago and has traveled the world practicing the sport. Though his father, who’s also a banker, played golf, Rochette heads to the coast at the weekend.

“There is a generation of bankers from 25 to 35 years old who are part of this boom spreading among young people in general,” Rochette says. “Prejudice around surf is disappearing. You are no longer seen as a hippie in the office if you practice it, and that is important in an industry where image has historically mattered.”

A local surfer at Pichilemu.
Photographer: Paul Kennedy/Lonely Planet Images

A Matter of Geography

Santiago is bordered by some of the highest mountains in the Americas, making it a prime location for adventure sports—skiing in the mountains, mountain biking in the foothills, and surfing to the west. It’s only a three-hour drive from the city to some of the best surfing along the Pacific coast, including the left-point breaks at Pichilemu and Puertecillo in the center-south of Chile. Farther away, 270 miles south of Santiago, are the uncrowded beaches of Buchupureo. A two-hour flight north of the city brings you to giants such as El Gringo, a 12-foot-long wave near Arica

Though surfing spots such as Hawaii, Australia, Costa Rica, and California have a larger following among surfers, Chile’s waves are still considered world-class. Former World Championship Tour top contender Rob Machado shot a film in Chile this year and took to his Instagram account on Aug. 20 saying it was “one of my favorite sessions.” 

A post shared by rob_machado (@rob_machado) on

Nicolas De Camino, asset management director at financial-services firm BTG Pactual Chile, has been surfing for more than 15 years. On most Friday evenings, he’ll head out to beach resorts such as Pichilemu, where Maui & Sons hosted a qualifying event last year, for two days of surfing. He checks the Windguru, Surfline, and Magicseaweed websites to see where the best waves will be.

“Besides the connection with nature and adrenaline, the sport itself is physically very intense,” he says. “It allows you to get away from the capital and the routine and spend time with people who don’t necessarily think alike.” 

Ski resorts in the mountains may be open only four months a year, but hardened surfers can be found at the coast throughout the winter even though temperatures can go as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

A Different Generation

The new generation of bankers has different life priorities from older generations, says Rochette. Instead, they value personal time more than stability and certainty in work. For him, surfing allows a disconnection from the stress of the financial market and excessive connectivity during the week.

Above, Rob Machado in Chile

“The market has attracted professionals with new, simpler, and less ostentatious motivations that are more in contact with nature,” says Alvaro Bas, associate director at UBS Chile and another keen surfer. “Younger generations are doing more sports, and outdoor ones are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s fundamental to find a balance given this new velocity of life we experience today.”

Nicolas De Camino with his surfboard.

Still, the new bankers don’t disconnect entirely at the beach. While it may be hard to make a phone call from a surfboard, that doesn’t apply later in the evening. It isn’t unheard of to network with a beer in their hand around a campfire, or to make work-related phone calls.

In fact, many of the bankers make connections and form bonds during their weekends at the beach, says Ignacio Pedrosa, head of third-party distribution at BTG Pactual Chile. “Surfing is very common among young bankers in the Chilean industry,” he says. “Golf has a more social component, but it’s out of fashion. The ocean teaches you to be humble and to control your ego.”

Younger generations in Chile, who are increasingly studying abroad in places like Australia and California, have realized that now surfing is more massive and accessible to people who don’t practice the sport, according to Acevedo.

“And, most importantly, surf is definitely more fun than golfing,” Acevedo says.

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