Interview with the winner of the first ever World Surfing Championship (of 1965)

After a car ride with Mr. Juan Carlos Ferrer, I found out that Felipe Pomar was in Huanchaco for a short visit. Excited and nervous I asked ¨Isn’t he the winner of the World Surfing Championship in 1965?¨ Being surrounded by so many surfers and hearing names dropped, I couldn’t miss that name. That must be him! Surely enough Juan Carlos answered ¨Yes! Do you want to meet him?¨ By then, my heart was jumping to an uneven speed I couldn’t control. “Of course! I would love to meet him and interview him for The Huaraz Telegraph if he has time for me.” Juan Carlos made a phone call to his brother Carlos Ferrer, who was in charge of Felipe Pomar’s schedule during his visit here, and confirmed that a meeting could be scheduled for the next day, around noon if I could. I had made other arrangements, but of course, I just screamed ¨YES!¨

Saturday morning, I prepared for a possible meeting with the legend. I did not know if he would have time for me and how many questions I could ask so I prepared to ask a couple but quality questions. I prepared my bag: a camera, recorder, my questions, paper for his autographs because I wanted one for me and one for my friend Andres Touzet. I carried the bag everywhere until noon when I received a phone call from Juan Carlos: ¨Noon won’t work, but be prepared to meet up with him around 4pm.¨ The suspense grew bigger and when I received the second call at 5:07pm asking me to meet up with Felipe Pomar at Bracamonte, I could not stop jumping of excitement; I grabbed a friend to take photos and ran to the hotel. There, three men were standing together: Felipe Pomar, Juan Carlos Ferrer and a friend of theirs. Pomar looked fresh, healthy and handsome. A handshake, an introduction and his smile put me at ease. We were lead in to sit in the café of the hotel and Juan Carlos mentioned that we had as much time as we needed to interview Pomar. I started off by thanking him for taking time off of his busy schedule for me and telling him about me, my school Milagro Peru in Cerrito, Huanchaco, The Huaraz Telegraph and gave him a copy of the April edition. He thought that the newspaper looked great and promised to read it later.

So you are Peru’s and the world’s first surfing champion?

Correct! Of Peru and maybe of the world. There are some differences of opinion. Some people believe that the first championship was in 64 but there was no organisation and no rules that had been accepted. So the organization was formed in 1964 and the first contest under those international rules was held in 1965 and that’s the one I won.

How did it feel to be in that competition?

To be in the competition was exciting, but to win it was surprising!

Surprising, why?

Because I was competing against people I had looked up to and people who had been surfing a lot longer than I had, and I was happy to make it to the finals. Always thought to myself “I just want to make it to the finals.” Once I made it to there, I thought, “Now what?” You know? So it was a surprise to me because I wasn’t even thinking about winning.

I’ve heard and read that many of the prosurfers like Mike Doyle (who came fifth) said that you deserved to win and that you outshone everyone…

Thank you!

How did you prepare for the competition?

Interesting that you ask that… Do you remember how I told you that all I wanted to do is make it to the finals? Well, once I had made it there, I wondered what to do. So, I thought “Ok!” I remember telling myself: “Nobody has trained harder than you! Nobody is in better physical condition than you, so you deserve to win it more than anybody else. That was true! I wasn’t trying to fool myself. I had worked very hard. I had been surfing everyday for years. I was living in Hawaii, the waves there are very big andin those days there were no leashes, no lifeguards and no jet skis, so it was very scary. When the waves got very big, you knew that if you went out and you ran into trouble, nobody was going to come and help you. I almost gave up surfing because I didn’t want to die. I was just 19 but it made more sense to stick with it another year and to delay that decision for a later year; that way, I wouldn’t have any doubts about whether I made the right choice or not.

So what did you do during that year?

I stopped drinking, smoking, staying out late. I got serious about my training because I felt like my life depended on it. After a year and a half of that kind of training, they held the contest and the waves were very big, that’s what I like, what I was trained for, so I was very fortunate. If the waves had been small, I think there would have been a different outcome.

The day you won the championship the waves were very big then?

The biggest anybody remembered at that place. In 1965, Peru hosted a World Surfing Championship at Punta Roca, which is the unique and only frequented bigwaves spot in Peru. The waves had a deceiving look according to many of the surfers in the competition: they looked easy but once in them, they grew bigger. There were 54 men competing, including some of the world’s best bigwave riders, and amongst them was Felipe Pomar.

Do you think that the combination of being a Peruvian and having lived and surfed in Hawaii gave you an advantage in the competition?

It was an advantage, because after having lived for a year and a half in Hawaii, I had more experience in big waves than any of the Peruvians; I had more experience than any of the Californians. The only people who had the same type of experience were the Hawaiians. There were only three Hawaiians in the finals so in my mind I only had to worry about three people. If I could beat those three, I would be world champion!

Who were those three?

One of them was George Downing, considered the teacher of bigwaves surfing. The other was Paul Strauch, who was a fantastic surfer and the third one was Fred Hemmings who had won many contests in Hawaii and the championship in Peru the previous year, in 1964.

Were you planning on entering this championship? Did you surf to train yourself for the competition in Peru?

You probably know this, but a good surfer does not surf to train, you simply surf because you love to surf. I had been surfing; I was in top shape just because I wanted to survive. I came to Lima two weeks before the competition, maybe three weeks. I had never surfed those waves before I left Peru. I am from here but I used to surf in Kon Tiki, which is the first bigwave place, I belonged to a club named Club Waikiki, which was a smallwave place. So when the people wanted to surf big waves they went south to Kon Tiki. I had spent five years from 1958 surfing Kon Tiki and when they said that the competition was going to be held in Punta Rocas, I thought I needed to head there early to get to know the waves. Club Waikiki was founded in 1941 by Senor Carlos Dogny. Just like Felipe Pomar, he is also a Peruvian who had lived in Hawaii. Dogny brought surf culture to Peru in 1941 when he opened the club. It is located on the beach in Miraflores, only a couple of minutes away from the busy city of Lima.

Pomar joined the then small club when he was 13. To his eyes it was a club with interesting people who lived interesting lives. It was in the early 50s, Carlos Dogny was into yoga, he surfed, he travelled around the world and always had pretty, young girls around him. He had a lifestyle many young men, including Felipe Pomar, dreamt of having. He was also a great influence on young men, he did not smoke nor did he drink, and cared about his health. It was probably why Felipe Pomar fell in love with the culture of surf.

How did surfing catch your interest?

My mother signed me up for swimming at an academy when I was probably around 11 and so I became a good swimmer. I did competitions for two or three years but I thought they were boring because you only go back and forth for hours. Then I met a friend of my older sister’s who took me to Club Waikiki. All of a sudden, here was this sport that was fun and exciting, so different from swimming. So I fell in love with it very quick! Surfing has been the main thing in my life that keeps me happy and healthy.

If you didn’t surf, what would you do?

Maybe snowboarding or skiing! I have only tried skiing though, I like it, it has a nice feel to it.

How were you treated by the Peruvians when you won the competition, keeping in mind that you had left Peru to move to Hawaii?

Interesting question! I think jealousy exists everywhere but some people were happy for me, you have to just see the positive in it, though.

Do you notice any differences in the surfing culture from when you started and today?

Yes, of course! The surfers were 99% men but now, surfing is so much diversified with different classes and people. Surf boards now are small and light, so a lot of girls practice as well. The manoeuvers have changed too, people do flips and all sorts of things so it’s a different sport; but it’s still in the ocean and on the waves.

Have you changed as a surfer over time?

Interestingly enough I have changed just a little bit, I have tried the small boards, I have a good time but now since a lot of people surf I have reverted back to even longer boards than the ones I used to surf on before, and this enables me to surf different places. For example, most people normally surf close to the shore, I look way outside and instead of looking for a beach break, I look for the outside break and surf alone or with a couple of friends.

Have you ever had a near death experience?

He loved this question. He laughed and asked me if I had heard the story, which I hadn’t. So, curious, I sat even closer to listen.

It is amazing that you ask that question! Yes, I have had one experience, I was surfing alone in Lania Kea, Hawaii, around 1969. In the old days, you did not go inside the waves, no one did tunnels, you did not ride inside a wave, because on a long board you’d go in but you wouldn’t come out. Also the long boards were big and heavy, and if they hit you, you would have a different problem altogether. Anyway, I was surfing a big wave, I could see the roof of the wave passing me by and that it was about to smash into me, so I jumped off. The next thing I knew, I felt like I was somewhere else. I did not know where I was but it felt like I was in a theatre. I saw a light, the most beautiful light I have ever seen. It was moving in slow motion. As it moved towards me, there were these bubbles that were going up in the air and I saw the light go through the outside of the bubble and broke into a dozen different colours. The brightest I have seen in my life. At the same time, in the distance, I could see a body floating but I was mesmerized by this light. I was watching how the bubbles exploded into different colours, now multiplying into a hundred other colours that amazed me even more. At some point, I started wondering “Whose body is that?”  As I looked at the body it started moving, first slowly and then faster and came right up to me, backwards, his back to me so I couldn’t see his face. Then he turned and it was me! In that instant I had a feeling in my stomach: “I don’t understand what’s happening but I know it’s serious!” The next thing I knew, I was under the surface, trying to get to the top, swimming up, up, up, trying to sweep away heaps of water. I had no air! I said to myself “I have one more stroke” and just hoped for air.

I finally reached up and took a breath of air. I wondered what had happened and started feeling my body: I had a whole under my chin, so I figured out that I had hit it with my knee and that I probably knocked myself out. Other than a neardeath experience, I can’t explain what happened to me but if that’s what death is, then I welcome it! It was beautiful! I then drove to the hospital and asked the doctor to waterproof my stitches. He laughed at me and forbid me to get into the water and I said “Well, I’m going either way so you’d better waterproof it! So he did and I went back to surf the next day because I did not want the experience to scare me off and affect my surfing.

He showed us all his different stitches from his different surfing accidents. He once dislocated his shoulder, was often bruised here and there but never had another neardeath experience. He has surfed really close to sharks and remembered an incident quite recently where a shark took his wave. None of it scared him off from surfing, his interest for the sport grew stronger every day. He compared surfing to flying, only that the feeling of riding a wave gave him more of an adrenaline rush since you really feel the speed being so close to the water. That’s what makes him want to surf together with maintaining his health and enjoying a lovely day in the ocean. It is an adventurous and spiritual feeling. It makes life better. Food tastes better. You feel better. Surf is life.

Fun facts about Felipe Pomar:

He loves surfing most when it is sunny.His favourite time to surf is early morning because of the beautiful sunrises and because he has a whole day in front of him to look forward to. According to Felipe, Peru (including Huanchaco of course) has the most consistent waves in the world. This is extremely important if you love to surf. His favourite place in Huanchaco is close to the pier. He used to like cats when he was younger, but around four or five years ago he changed his mind when he got a dog. His favourite beach in the world is a secret The Huaraz Telegraph promised to keep, but we can tell you that it is in Indonesia and that he has a beach house there. His favourite colours are red because it symbolizes speed for him and also pink, the colour of his favourite board today. His favourite Peruvian dish is Ceviche and his drink, Chicha Morada. I stopped recording and had a long talk with Felipe, I also returned later on because we got into the subject health and some Peruvian delicacies. I brought him a glass of Emoliente, a special hot Peruvian health drink mixed with herbs and aloe vera, since he had said that he had never tried it before. He did not love it but he said, ¨I know it’s healthy, so I’m sure I will like it in time.¨ He is indeed a very interesting and inspiring man who I enjoyed talking to. I left with the biggest smile on my face and still smile at the very thought of the meeting.

R. Amad Al Sadi

3 Responses to “Interview with the winner of the first ever World Surfing Championship (of 1965)” Subscribe

  1. Rick June 29, 2013 at 09:48 #

    Great article. I have been surfing since 1965, and I remember reading about Felipe Pomar at a VERY early age.

    Thank you sister for the GREAT article!

  2. Virginia Espinosa February 8, 2015 at 09:48 #

    I was 13 years old when Felipe won the chanpionship. I wasn’t allowed to go to Punta Rocas and it was a source of deep disappointment, but I remember being very proud of Felipe’s achievements. If he is in Hawaii, I’ll try to see him this month.

    Love this article, it’s brought back lovely memories.

    Virginia Espinosa

  3. Ingmar July 23, 2015 at 09:48 #

    Just meeting Felipe is something big! Congratulations, I really enjoy your time talking to him.
    I am a peruvian living in the states for many years now.
    Si Dios quiere, I will visit Hawaii next year with my beautiful wife, Janyne.
    Thank you so much for the feeling.

    Ingmar Abrisqueta
    Washington DC.

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