“For me, my trip across South America was the most amazing 6 weeks of my life, very eye opening. I’ve travelled through Asia , the middle East and the Pacific , but South America was something very special” – Troy Bilbrough
In Late November 2011, three friends from New Zealand set off to South America with loose plans and free spirits. Guy Parsons, Troy Bilbrough, and Alan Carnaby began their journey at Machu Picchu in Peru and headed south towards Santiago, Chile…on longboards. There six week adventure took them over the Andes mountains, through the Atacama desert, and in and out of small towns filled with wide eyed locals.
When did you start skating and what made you want to do a distance longboarding trip?
I’ve been longboarding for 3 years now. I was given my first board as a Christmas present when I was living in Surfers Paradise, Australia one summer. I worked as a salesman and skateboarding was an awesome way to get around, it turned traveling into an adventure. A week after I got the board I broke my arm, but it didn’t stop me and I’ve been skating nearly everyday since. Alan got his first board at University, and Guy is an amazing snowboarder, so longboarding fast down mountains is natural to him.
What made you choose Peru and Chile for your trip?
Visiting the ancient citidal of Machu Picchu has always been a childhood dream. It has so much history behind it and is a wonder of the world. In New Zealand we don’t have those historical sights as we are such a young country, so these ancient ruins fascinate me. Chile also intrigues me as it’s known as the land of fire and ice. It has the scorching deserts and the lush Patagonia region all in one thin strip of land. I love to skate too, so put it all together and it’s my dream holiday.
What kind of boards did you ride on the trip?
For our journey across South America we used three fantastic Subsonic decks: A Raven, GT and Racecar. Our longboards survived the massive Andes mountains, the worlds driest desert and the rocky costal roads with trucks flying by within inches of us.
The decks were all double dropped, so they had a low centre of gravity and were easy to push. The Racecar has a nice concave and is slightly wider than the Raven and GT. It’s more suited to free riding, but still was heaps of fun to ride for long distances.
The decks are still in great condition, they have definitely been to some places that the “everyday skateboard” doesn’t get to go. I snuck mine into the ancient city of Machu Picchu. It was hard work and involved me sprinting away from several security guards when they discovered that I had got the board in!
I also owe my life to my board as it saved me when I was attacked by a mob of wild dogs!
Attacked by wild dogs?
I think it was day 16 when I was attacked by the dogs. The morning had been perfect, we awoke to a beautiful sunset in the Atacama, had a breakfast of oats, milk and banana.
After skating 30kms we dined on some fresh goodness straight out of the sea and then got back on the road. I felt pumped and a gap widened between myself and the boys, it felt good to be out all alone. Kicking as fast as I could into the raging coastal breeze. I was passing through a small settlement and it was strangely quiet, out of the corner of my eye I saw a large sandstorm gathering in the distance.
I turned my head and was amazed to see twenty dogs of all shapes and sizes bolting my way. I whipped out my camera thinking it would make a great shot (it did). The problem was that they were still sprinting towards me. The dogs were rabid, eyes burning and frothing at the mouth. My life flashed before me, I made the split second decision to sprint as fast as I could away from them. I pushed on and dropped ten of the dogs, ten still remained and they were becoming more angry and their fangs were snapping at my heels.
In unison three of the dogs jumped on the wheels of my board and it skidded to a halt. The dogs were on me in an instant and I grabbed my board to fend them off. I smacked the largest dog in the jaw and he yelped backwards. In the same instant three other dogs latched onto my leg and proceeded to eat me. I swung my 8ply Subsonic around in desperation and hit two dogs for home runs. The dogs that were still standing looked nervously around and backed off as, I yelled loudly and swung my board around in anger, “My trip could be over, damn it!”
I was safe, but getting the vaccine was another adventure all together.
Adventure is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, especially amongst travelers. What’s your take on adventure travel?
To me, “adventure travel” is experiencing the world from a different perspective than the usual tourist. Getting off the beaten track, outside of your comfort zone. It’s living, feeling, breathing, amongst the culture of the country you are in.
It’s more than just about skateboarding across Peru or even riding a polar bear to the North Pole for that matter. It’s about the smiles from the locals when you stop to have a cup of tea with them in a village that doesn’t exist on a map, its about camping in the middle of the Atacama desert with the most spectacular starry sky you have ever seen in your lifetime twinkling above you, and it’s about how stoked you feel when you are lost in the mountains without food and water for a few days and then off on the horizon you see a few thatched huts.
When all these emotions come together, you get to feel the true sensation of adventure and it’s a feeling that will linger in your mind forever.
How were you received by the locals?
When we skated through small Peruvian towns, people would drop what they were doing and stare at us in a combination of shock and awe as we cruised past.
They didn’t see westerners very often, let alone westerners on skateboards. When we were sitting at roadside restaurants we would chat to the locals and explain what we were doing. They kept looking outside as if they were expecting a support vehicle to roll up. They couldn’t seem to understand why we were willingly skating up 8000ft high mountains in 30 degree (Celsius) heat; sometimes I was wondering the same thing.
Motorists would go crazy and toot their horns. Some had car alarm sounds as their horn, so all of the horns and alarms going off would create a beautiful melody as we waltzed along.
In Northern Chile the motorists would honk at us, but it would be the bad honk, a “get off the road you mad gringo” honk .
Every day we would meet a genuinely awesome local who would make our day. Skating through Iquique we met a Civil Engineer called Fabrisio. He told us to skate 10kms up the road and meet him at a restaurant on the left. We found the restaurant and Fabrisio shouted us a delicious three course meal and gave us some tips on the roads ahead.
Little things like that make your day. In Santiago we were adopted by a Chilean family. We were initially only going to stay a few days , but they were so loving and caring that we didn’t want to leave. We ended up staying with them for 10 days.
One of the highlights was sharing a New Years Feast with the family. We went to an apartment on the beach to celebrate and roasted a turkey.
Words cant describe how wonderful it felt to have a family who loved and cared for us after we had spent the past month
roughing it through the desert, not knowing where we were going to get our next meal from.
Madre was an amazing chef and during the days she would create mouthwatering meals of salmon, traditional Chilean food and roasts. It was a complete contrast to the biscuits we had been surviving on in the Atacama. Meeting the Monroys made our holiday something special. Although we were thousands of miles away from New Zealand,, we were as close to home as we would ever get.
What are some of your favorite/least favorite moments from the trip?
During the trip we experienced a real see-saw of emotions. Early on we had spent a few days skating ourselves into exhaustion through the Andes. We had run out of water and had to flag down a truck. The truckie had a rusty old coke bottle filled with water he used for the engine, it was slightly green and smelt funky, but at that moment in time it tasted like nectar of the gods.
We scraped ourselves together and deliriously pushed another 80km’s to the next town. We were over flooded with joy as we realized that we could buy water and ice cream and probably have some sort of shower; we couldn’t have been happier.
The next day we descended down a 40km long downhill run. We felt alive; it was the most exhilarating experience of my life!
However, things were about to change. We were in a small town where the locals didn’t want to talk to us, restaurants said they were open, but wouldn’t serve us and police wouldn’t let us camp anywhere.
We had 80km of chip seal to the next town, no shoulder to skate on, and trucks blasting along beside us so close that we would nearly be blown off our boards as we got sucked into their slipstreams. To complicate things further, we had just ran out of sunscreen. By 10am the sun was unbearable, we potentially had another 8 hours of skating in the sun so we started rolling around in the sand, as we knew that would provide some sort of sun protection.
Later in the day we were stoked to see a few trees off in the distance. We picked up our speed, excited about getting some shade, when we reached the trees we were gutted. They were the most gnarliest, prickly, spiky trees that provided the tiniest amount of shade.
Lying under the gnarly trees with thorns in our back and legs, we knew we had hit rock bottom, it was one of the lowest points in my life, things could only get better from there.
A good milestone for us was reaching the coast; Reaching the city of Arica and having the ocean breeze on our faces gave us a new lease of life. To make the situation even better we discovered a hostel that was run by a Kiwi named Ross, he made our day and was like a father to us. It was like a home away from home , kiwi hospitality , friendly faces and an all you can eat breakfast.
So, did you make it to Santiago?
When it comes to long distance skating, the route is always a work in progress, changing as you discover more information about the road ahead. After the first week in the Andes, it became apparent that we had to change our goal.
The uphill climbs were soul draining and the landscape was so sparse and desolate that there was no shade from the fierce UV rays of the Sun. As the conditions were more brutal than we expected we decided just to skate as far as we could until Christmas day.
We ended up skating 1500kms, from Arequipa to Caldera, not quite as far as we had initially planned, but thats how long distance skating works and that’s why we love it.
Why is sustainable travel important to you guys, how did you hook up with CarboNZero, and how much emissions did you end up offsetting?
Sustainability is very important to me. We have to look after the world we live in; it’s beautiful and we have to keep it that way. By doing little things we can lessen the impact of climate change on this Earth.
Small things like skating or walking to the shop instead of driving all add up. If everybody made their lifestyle a little more sustainable the world we be a cleaner, greener, better place!
Alan works in the Marketing department for CarboNZero, they ended up offsetting all of our emissions using credits from native New Zealand forest regeneration which is fantastic. It’s great to know that we helped to re-grow native forest in our home country.
Did you have any sponsors for your trip?
We are lucky enough to have many great sponsors: CarboNZero, Subsonic, Sporting Sails, Stoked Skateboards, Ultimate Boards, Sitka, Macpac, Muvi and Horleys.
Our sponsors could see how passionate we were about our trip and they decided to help us out, without them our journey wouldn’t have been as awesome!
What kind of gear did you bring along for the trip?
Having the best gear is paramount. We have to carry everything on our backs, so we can’t really take any spares. All our gear has to be lightweight and top quality. Clothing wise, merino or bamboo is the way to go. Natural fibers are more comfortable, dry quicker, don’t smell and are more sustainable.
We used Seismic Speed Vents on Caliber Trucks, I’ve been using them for a long time and I know I can trust them, they are fast, grippy and will roll over cracks in the road and small rocks.
Are there plans for any future longboarding trips?
I’m not going to lie; at one point in the trip when we had been skating uphill for hours and we reached a bend in the road only to see the hill rising higher into the skyline, I thought to myself “aww man, I’m never doing this again.” But once we reached the summit and had a drink I was ready to do it all over. I’ve got a few trips in the works. I can see myself skating at least one country a year for the next decade, I just love it!
For people out there wanting to do a similar trip, what was your budget for food, travel, accommodations, etc?
When we were starving in the desert we all craved KFC and steak, so when we got to the next city we went and bought buckets of chicken and a few burgers each. It came to about $40. Then we went back to the hostel and barbecued up another $50 of meat. Sometimes you will have the blow outs, so budget for them.
We camped for most of the journey. It’s a lot more fun than staying in hotels, and a lot cheaper. After spending a month camping in the desert a bed feels so luxury. I’m having the best sleeps of my life, I’ll tell you that for free!
Budget for a big night out or three. It’s a lot of fun going into the local disco-tech and dancing like its 1999. Also, budget for a hospital, I’ve ended up in hospital on both my journeys.
Keep a little cash just in case you get robbed. Just give them the cash, your life is priceless.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to go out into the world and explore?
Follow your dreams, the world is an amazing place! There are so many awesome people to meet and countless places all around the globe which will take your breath away, you just have to get out there and find them!
Troy Bilbrough – 22 year old, had skateboarded across 5 different countries this year and is known as “the Sweaty Gringo” wherever he roams .
Alan Carnaby- 22 Years old and works in the marketing department at CarboNZero and has a sweet moustache.
Guy Parsons, producer for the breakfast show at Classic Hits FM and is a B grade celebrity.
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