Surf adventurers Julian and Joaquin Azulay embrace the now and battle the elements in the Falkland Islands.
Words & photos by Gauchos del Mar
Light / Dark
In 1982, Argentina and Britain waged war over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Great Britain won the Falklands War, but Argentina maintains a claim to the land to this day. Since the conflict, relationships between Falkland Islanders and Argentinians remain tense.
As Argentinian surfers, we wanted to go to the Falklands to try and create a bridge of peace through surfing. In our research, we found that there are two brothers in the Falklands who, just like us, surf. They were also, just like us, born after the 1982 war and therefore have no memory of it.
So, we contacted the Moffatt brothers and proposed our plan: to share an expedition around the Falklands in search of waves. After a week of dialogue through social media, we told them that we are Argentine. The conversation ended abruptly. One week later they replied, saying, “We prefer not to be part of this kind of project for fear of being used in any type of political way.”
Despite their refusal, we decided to set out and attempt to meet them in person.
There are more than 700 islands—and thousands of kilometers of coastline—in the Falklands archipelago. Weather and swell are famously unpredictable. We plan to explore the islands for waves by land, air, and sea. But without the help of local surfers, it won’t be easy.
We rent rooms in a Chilean family’s house in the capital city of Stanley, which will serve as our home base. As soon as we arrive, we call the Moffatt brothers to let them know we are here. No answer. No reply. Communication on the islands is not easy, but we are confident that we will cross paths with them at some point. The capital is very small. A truck with surfboards on the roof won’t go unnoticed.
Searching for waves proves as difficult as expected. There are few public beaches near the capital, and many of them are closed due to landmines leftover from the war. The lands are mostly private and permits are required to enter. Crossing farmlands through the public roads, we manage to make contact with a local farmer, who welcomes us and recommends we call the landowners before going on their property. The government owns the largest farms on the islands and grants us permission to explore Fitzroy Farm, where there is a beach with surf potential.
Upon arrival, we spot a group of shearers next to a presser and a pile of fleeces. They are responsible for shearing almost all the sheep on the capital island. For several generations, sheep have been one of the strongest industries in the local economy, specifically for meat consumption and wool export. But more recently, locals have begun practicing the traditional custom of spinning wool on wooden-swivel wheels.
We arrive at the beach after following the shearers’ directions, where we are met by a colony of gentoo penguins. The youngsters run to their parents, bumping into each other, falling over themselves, and screaming for food. While very clumsy on land, gentoos are the world’s fastest species of penguin when in and under the water.
After so much preparation and effort, we manage to surf some small waves with the penguins as our only witnesses. The water is icy and the wind is strong, making temperatures feel even colder. That night we camp in tall grass, sheltered from the wind behind a small hill. The next morning, the swell is gone.
Driving back to the capital, we see a potential wave down below the road. But it is inaccessible. The area is littered with minefields, a piece of the coast where Argentine troops suspected the British might land. Admission is prohibited and there are heavy fines for those who cross the fence. Anti-personnel mines detonate with a weight greater than 30 kilograms, so the only living things that dwell on these beaches are penguins and other birds.
Back in the capital, the forecast hints at possible good surf in a nearby bay, where we’ve been told the Moffatt brothers often surf. We go there hoping to meet them. The beach is beautiful, cold, and windy, with curious birds and a large pod of dolphins. But no Moffatts. We surf in solitude.
On West Falkland Island, there is a south-facing bay where we hope to find good conditions if a south swell meets a northerly wind. It is the largest island in the Falklands but it is almost uninhabited, with only around 100 residents. We load the truck onto a ferry for a two-hour trip across the Falklands Sound, then drive six hours over dirt roads.
Few travelers come to this island, but we are greeted warmly by Ana and Peter, an 80-year-old couple who give us permission to explore their land. We drive to the end of the road and build our camp on the beach. The next day, we wake up early and hike with our gear through hills and penguin colonies for more than two hours to access the bay.
The waves are small, but we can see the potential. Yet as soon as we put on our wetsuits, the wind turns onshore and ruins the surf in a matter of seconds. Forecasts are not reliable in these latitudes. Everything is a mission, and everything is a risk.
This pattern of frustration continues for days. Hiking. Penguins. Wind. We can’t find a good wave. The weather is incessantly unfavorable and, without local knowledge, every expedition suffers from complications. We decide to try searching by air.
An inter-island plane delivers us to Saunders Island, 160 kilometers away from the capital. The pilot promises to pick us up in three days, if the weather permits. We hike through several colonies of gentoo and king penguins, flocks of black-browed albatross nesting along the shore, and groups of elephant seals sunbathing on the kelp beds, until we reach a protected campsite under the mouth of a small cave close to where we think there will be a good surf if conditions line up. The next morning, we crawl out of the tent and the waves are 3 feet and glassy. Everything seems to be improving. A pod of Commerson’s dolphins appears in the lineup, joining us for several hours. The dolphins ride waves only with us, and letting the others pass. An unforgettable experience.
After several days in isolation, the plane returns. Before departure, the pilot warns us that the weather conditions are a bit sketchy. The ensuing 45-minute flight feels never ending. Violent winds and torrential rain shake the small aircraft from side to side, top to bottom. We land in the capital and consider our next move. We have been in the Falklands for more than 30 days now. The Moffatt brothers must know we are here.
A storm is coming in from the north. Cape Dolphin is situated at the northernmost tip of East Falkland, one of the most exposed locations to strong winds. Gusts can exceed 100 kilometers per hour and the currents can be very intense. We head there in search of new waves.
We cross amazing landscapes, fjords, mountains, and grasslands, each revealing quiet echoes of the war: helicopters, landmines, and trenches. Arriving at the farm, local farmers Sonia Felton and her son, Andy, make us feel at home right away. In such a desolate place, it’s a special type of kindness.
The wind is even stronger than we imagined, so our hosts propose we not camp outdoors. Weeks earlier, another couple had pitched their tent inside a shipping container. The winds uprooted the structure and flung it more than 100 yards. They suffered severe injuries and bone fractures, requiring urgent evacuation to Uruguay. Our hosts offered to let us sleep in a small cabin by the beach where Jane Cameron, a renowned archivist and historian, spent long periods by the sea. Cameron passed away a few years ago, but the cabin remains as she left it.
Before going to sleep, we check the sea. It is completely blown out, but that will bring waves. And if the wind swings direction and lowers its intensity, good surf is almost certain. The cabin has a broken door and we suffer a very cold night. Having slept poorly, we wake early. The wind is offshore and the swell has cleaned up in just a few hours.
Before leaving Cape Dolphin, we have some nice conversations with Sonia. “We need to be kind to each other,” she tells us. “Because we are all one, aren’t we? Man makes borders. There are no borders out there. If we didn’t have borders, there would not be so many problems.”
We hug, say goodbye, and drive back to the small city with her wise and simple words fresh in our minds.
The only way to reach the smallest, most remote islands is by sea. We travel to the port to evaluate the possibilities and, by pure chance, we see the sailboat upon which we explored Isla de los Estados a few years ago. The new captain of the boat is Ezequiel Sundblad, who immediately joins our adventure.
We disembark on Bleaker Island, but the weather is foul. The wind is a constant and uncontrollable variable. On the other side of the island, we find a pretty good pointbreak, but the waves are small and choked by kelp. We continue searching in a sea that becomes more and more unpredictable and dangerous. Between the wind, swell, and rocky shore, accessible harbors are difficult to locate.
We spot a slabbing wave with decent potential, and attempt to reach a small, unnamed island in the dinghy boat. The morning is cold and the wind is strong. Suddenly, the wind grows from 30 knots to nearly 70 knots. If we paddle out to the slab, we run the risk of not being able to paddle back. The wave is solid, but it needs to be surfed in safer conditions. We are in the middle of nowhere and the risk doesn’t feel worth it.
Over the next 12 days aboard the sailboat, we land on more than five islands and travel hundreds of miles. The search by boat has lasted longer than expected and we must return to port. But we decide to make one final attempt at the slab.
Once again, we load the rubber dinghy and make for the wave. In the soft-offshore wind, the left is a near perfect barrel. The right, with a big rock sticking out of the surface in the middle of the wave, remains too dangerous.
After 50 days of searching, we set sail back to Stanley. In two days, we will return home to Buenos Aires. On the dock, we call the Moffatt brothers from a local telephone. No answer.
The day before we fly home, the wave forecast is encouraging at the beach near the capital. One last session.
The winds blow offshore into a 6-foot swell and the sandbank is delivering fun barrels. After about 20 minutes in the water, two other surfers appear on the beach. They’re the first surfers we’ve seen on the entire trip. We know exactly who they are.
Brothers Jay and Sean Moffatt paddle out and join us in the lineup. We shake hands and, between sets, tell them of our explorations across their islands. They say they had seen us driving around.
That night we share dinner and drinks at the local pub, then head out to bars and have much laughter afterward.