By Madelyn Fairbanks
LIMA (Reuters Life!) - Even by many of its own inhabitants, Lima is not known to be the most charming city in Peru, with its heavy smog and traffic, but just a stone's throw away is a surfer's paradise -- Waikiki.
Miraflores, an upscale neighborhood south of Lima, boasts its own Waikiki beach, named by wealthy Peruvian sugarcane heir Carlos Dogny who came home from Hawaii in 1942 with a board given to him by surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku.
Dogny founded Club Waikiki, helping build a rich surf culture in Peru which held its first National Surfing Championship in 1955 and first international contest the following year despite the roots of surfing in Peru dating back thousands of years.
This time of year, local surfers flock to the waves from dusk till dawn, bobbing like penguins in their black wetsuits beneath the constant gray skies of winter.
Luis Galvez, a Peruvian who has been surfing since the age of five, said he couldn't imagine living without the ability to take to the ocean for a surf whenever he felt like it.
"My life would be completely different," he said, shaking water out of his hair after a midday surf on Punta Roquitas.
Galvez, 20, surfs everyday alongside dozens of others enjoying their daily exercise, using the rocky shore as their changing room to shimmy in and out of their wetsuits.
But traveling surfers still tend to overlook Peru and go elsewhere for the waves.
For although the roots of surfing date back to the country's pre-Inca civilizations, the sport was restricted for years to the wealthy due to the high cost of imported equipment and is still on the rise in terms of popularity.
SURFING THROUGH PERU'S HISTORY
Some claim that Peru actually gave birth to the sport of surfing, dating back thousands of years to a spot called Chan Chan by the village of Huanchaco on the northern coast of Peru.
Pre-Inca fishermen as far back as 3000 B.C. used to stand up and ride hollow reed boats called "caballitos de totora" (literally translated as little horses of reed) into shore which may have given the world its first surfboard.
But it was not until Dogny founded Club Waikiki that modern surfing caught on in Peru.
By 2003, however, Peru was still only home to 10 surf shops and about 10,000 surfers, according to the Encylopedia of Surfing.
This is despite numerous villages like Huanchaco along the 1,500 miles of Peru's coastline -- which is almost twice as long as the Pacific coast of California -- offering surfers every type of break imaginable.
Peru also boasts Pico Alto, one of the most famous big wave spots in the Americas, that measures up to 26 feet. The wave is so large that surfers need a jet-ski tow-in to get into it.
Chicama, north of Trujillo, is famous for having what many people believe is the longest left wave in the world, measuring a little over one mile, or up to four minutes of an uninterrupted ride.
Peru's avid surfers are just grateful to have world-class surfing on their doorstep -- without the crowds.
"You forget all your problems when you're out there," said David Serba, 23, shortboard in hand, just before taking an early morning surf in Lima. He was taught to surf by his father.
"When I'm fighting the waves, being turned by them, gliding over them, I feel like I'm part of nature. It relaxes you."