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The Last Reed Boat Fishers of Huanchaco

June 11, 2024

Lorenzo Ucañan is a reed boat fisher. He comes from Huanchaco, a fishing village on the northwestern coast of Peru. Following tradition, he builds his reed boat, known as a ‘caballito’, himself.

The Last Reed Boat Fishers of Huanchaco
The reed boats are said to be the forerunners of surfboards.Image: Brandmedia Film

But he can no longer feed his family, due to the sharp decline in fishing yields.

The Last Reed Boat Fishers of Huanchaco
The inhabitants of Huanchaco are looking for new sources of income.Image: Brandmedia Film

In Huanchaco, a fishing village on the northwestern coast of Peru, Lorenzo Ucañan walks to the reed beds. He’s a fisher who learned the traditional craft of reed boat building from his father. The fishers of Huanchaco have been working in reed boats since time immemorial. Known as ‘caballitos’ or ‘little horses’, they make light work of the waves. People say that surfing was invented here 3,000 years ago; that the young men of the Chimú culture were sent out to sea in the boats to test their sailing skills.

The Last Reed Boat Fishers of Huanchaco
Lorenzo harvests reeds to build a boat.Image: Brandmedia Film

Lorenzo builds a new boat every month. The craft could hardly be more sustainable: it’s made from natural materials, it doesn’t need any fuel, it doesn’t make any noise and when it’s no longer seaworthy (after about a month), it’s completely biodegradable. But in Huanchaco, more and more of the caballitos stand idle, an attractive addition to the beachscape. Fishing stocks and yields have seen rapid decline; the fishing profession is dying out.

The Last Reed Boat Fishers of Huanchaco
Surfers appreciate the fantastic waves.Image: Brandmedia Film

Out at sea, it’s tourists who ride the waves on brightly colored Hawaiian boards. The locality is changing into a surfing hotspot. Lorenzo’s sons are keen not to miss out and work as surfing instructors. The older fishers view the decline of their craft with melancholy. While they desperately try to at least save the traditional "Fisherman’s Day” in honor of Saint Peter, Lorenzo’s son Joel organizes a big surfing competition. He has no trouble finding sponsors, whereas the fishers struggle to generate any interest in their celebration. But they go through with it anyway, demonstrating the tenacity they learned from the sea.

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FRI 21.06.2024 – 01:15 UTC
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