Remember when the days were getting longer, not shorter, the air was getting warmer, not colder, and summer was starting to show its face, rather than winter coming on with a vengeance? You know, when Bermuda high pressure settles in and turns our once-active ocean into a lake?
For a surfer to avoid this, the only thing you can do is escape for a while. So I turned off my cell phone and fled south of the border last summer with my friend Ryan Stuck in search of adventures, pointbreaks, and stand-up tubes.
After a day of turbulent flights in small aircraft and being detained in customs, it felt like we would never reach our destination. A two-hour bus ride, a few military stops later, and we were finally in paradise — Puerto Escondido. I couldn’t believe how much this small town had changed since my last trip there two years prior. More businesses sprouted up and the road on the main drag had turned from dirt to stone. There was even a Super Che, which is pretty much the Mexican Costco.
The waves, on the other hand, didn’t change one bit. They were as powerful and unforgiving as ever. Going to sleep that first night was difficult. I’m not sure if it was my anticipation of the rising south swell starting to build or the whitewater that easily could have been mistaken as thunder rolling on in.
Our typical day started out in the dark. Early bird gets the worm — or, in this case, the barrel. It was time to get a coffee fix in and stretch out to warm up before the morning surf. It wasn’t uncommon to see people already sitting in the lineup before it was light out. The mornings would be glassy and perfect until around 10:00 when the onshore wind would kick in.
After that it was time to feast and talk story with all of your friends about the waves you just caught. The sun would rise to the middle of the sky and force everyone to nap. It would be too hot to do anything. Thinking too hard could cause sweating. In the afternoon there was a chance for the wind to calm down for an evening glass-off but that didn’t happen often this trip. I guess that wind was mad at something?
There wasn’t much downtime in between swells — once the first ended another was almost hitting. The second south swell was rumored to be bigger than the first and the winds were not going to cooperate with us. Everybody in town was venturing somewhere else to surf so Ryan and I decided to do the same.
We teamed up with a couple of friends that were in town and got a tour guide to take us to some southern points for a couple days. We were trying to go to any spot but the right that was made so famous during the 2006 Rip Curl Pro Search. It doesn’t take much to get there so we knew it would be a circus this swell. Preparations were made and we left that night with four-wheel drive, food, water, and expertise. What could go wrong?
I love car rides on surf trips. There’s always so much bonding going on, everyone telling stories and learning new stuff about each other. This time I got a little too much information from our tour guide about his recent drug addiction. When an unexpected military check came up he was scrambling to hide the stash in his pocket. As men pointed their AK-47s at the car he told us, "Play it cool guys, I’ll get us out of this."
We got lucky. They didn’t strip our car, and eventually let us go. During that half hour of questioning and dirty looks I was thinking, “I am going to be too popular in Mexican jail, this can’t be happening.” That night was spent looking for somewhere to sleep. Lodging was supposed to be taken care of but our guides did not mention that there was a holiday and everywhere was booked. We eventually found somewhere with vacancy and passed out for our 4:00 a.m. wake-up to find some waves.
I slept most of the car ride the next morning. When my eyes did open we were on a winding mountain road and I was gazing at tons of headlands with waves peeling down the beach. We arrived in a small, desolate town that looked like something out of a Clint Eastwood western movie. There was a stand selling tattoos and beers. What a combo.
We walked out of the car to get a closer look at the waves and within minutes a caravan of locals gave us a warm welcome — screaming at us in Spanish telling us to leave their spot. Our tour guides tried to diffuse the situation but it ended in us leaving with our tails between our legs. Then the truth came out. The tour guides had never been this far south. We began looking for some other spots and kept getting lost and more lost. Time was ticking away and before we knew it 11:00 had hit and we hadn’t even gotten in the water.
We drove along the beach and stumbled upon a headland that looked mushy but might have a few fun sections. Once we paddled out the tide turned and it started going off. After getting barrels all week it was nice to change it up to do some turns and airs. The wave was endless; my legs were on fire before I made it to the inside sections. We surfed until we couldn’t move our arms and ate some sandy burritos and drank some Gatorades. Our tour guides were drunk already and we were out of water just in time for the mid-day heat.
We made our way back into the town to get some supplies and ventured toward the wave that was made famous in the opening scene of Billabong’s Trilogy movie. What a surprise. We could see it in the distance but we couldn’t get to it. We were running out of time so we paddled out at this long jetty with a right that was draining down the beach. There was nobody out except a few fishermen getting their dinner out past the breakers. The wave was very deceiving. It was twice the size once we made it out to the lineup. If you didn’t kick out before the inside section you or your board would have paid the price.
After that session I passed out in the back of the car and woke up as we were turning into the small town where the World Tour contest was held — the last place we wanted to be. We knew the crowd was going to be hectic and the swell was massive for that spot. Trying to argue with our tour guides to take us somewhere else was pointless so we set up shop at a couple of bungalows in town. That night our local host welcomed us into his home for dinner, fresh-caught fish from right off the point. The food was delicious and the beers were freezing cold, quite a relief after a full day out in the sun. The hospitality was amazing. We felt like we were part of the family.
Our tour guides decided to get a little too saucy that night, so the next morning we found ourselves in a panic when they overslept until mid-morning. After the sleeping beauties woke up it was time to continue our quest for long rippable rights. We got lost again in the jungle. At this point none of us were shocked. Two hours later we found the weakest point in Mexico that day. I was freaking out. I knew somewhere was pumping while we looked at a couple hundred-yard-long rights that looked perfect for beginners’ surf lessons.
Before we knew what happened it was the afternoon already. There was one last chance to surf that day and it was at the most hyped point in Mexico. “Stormy” easily described the conditions so we decided to wait it out and see if the wind gave us a break this time. It did, and everything finally came together. It was well-groomed, way overhead, and offshore. Former World Tour surfer Bobby Martinez paddled out and left all of us speechless with his backhand attack. Growing up seeing guys like that in the movies and magazines your whole life and then seeing them in perfect conditions with your own eyes is such a treat.
Everyone was hooting each other into waves and having the best time of the trip. Nothing could wipe the big smiles off our faces, not even our tour guides trying to call us in to leave. You could do anything on the wave — barrels, turns, whatever your little heart desired. It was a playground and recess was in session.