Statues can serve as much more than just a structure of art. They often hold a deep meaning representative of the community in which they are placed and Las Manos de Zicatela, the statue at the northern end of Zicatela Beach, did just that.
But on Thursday it collapsed due to gradual damage caused by sea salt.
Zicatela attracts some of the best surfers from around the world and on any given morning you’ll see them preparing to enter the water. Many have their own ritual before immersing themselves, knowing the seriousness of what they’re about to embark upon. Hoping to catch a wave on the unforgiving pipeline is no light matter. With its notorious intensity, Zicatela has claimed the lives of many — surfers and swimmers alike.
Just before the globally recognized surf break, at the very start of Zicatela Beach, was the iconic statue of two hands reaching into the air. The statue’s meaning wasn’t exactly clear to any passerby or tourist at first glance. In fact, many residents are unaware of what the famous manos represented.
David Mata, a lifeguard at Zicatela, learned about the original meaning of the statue recently: “I didn’t know it was a sculpture dedicated to someone dying in the water, drowning, until a tourist asked me where the sculpture was. It was a relative of the person who died. They came to see the sculpture.”
While exact details are unclear, the story goes that over a decade ago, the lives of two Italian tourists were taken by the strong currents of Zicatela and friends and family constructed the statue in memory of them. However, over time, the statue began to serve as a memorial to many more than just those two tourists.
Mata also notes the statue’s role in providing visitors with a reminder of the risk of swimming or surfing at Zicatela: “It [gave] an awareness to people about the danger of this beach … I find it terrifying … the meaning is a little scary because of the danger, but it’s also important.”
For many years, the concrete hands that reached into the air were a monument to those who lost their lives to the colossal and often brutal Zicatela waves. They were representative of hands that have reached above the water’s surface in the last moments of life, as a final plea for help before being taken by the sea.
In addition to memorializing those who’ve died in these waters, Las Manitas also served as a meeting point for many, particularly young people who practice boogie boarding in La Playita, the small beach that was directly behind the statue.
But salt is unforgiving, as anyone who lives near the ocean knows well. The wear was becoming evident as pieces of metal jutted out in certain places and corners crumbled, little by little. Finally, the statue eroded so much that it could no longer remain standing.
The concrete rubble that remained on Thursday was promptly cleaned up. Now, there is just an empty base of concrete on top of the rocks, the sight of which feels hauntingly empty to those who have grown accustomed to seeing Las Manos.
Sol de Granda, another Zicatela lifeguard, acknowledged the strangeness of the statue’s absence. “Now, it’s weird not seeing it there, like something is missing. It was a part of that beach.”
Las Manos de Zicatela held much more significance than simply a curious place to have your vacation picture taken. Seemingly out of place to those who weren’t aware of the deep meaning of the hands, those who did understand its importance are now lamenting its loss.
El Sol de Puerto