Puerto Escondido, Mexico: Surfing From The Heart
By Ingrid Hart
An electric thunder storm rages over the Pacific Ocean. The torrential rain brings relief from the relentless heat. The people of Puerto Escondido have been waiting all week for the weather to break. Lightening strikes, and I count one, two, three and then hear the thunder roar, raising the hair on the back of my neck and making my skin tingle. I sit outside under the protection of a Mexican palapa, an umbrella made of palm leaves. I feel alive, full of sensuous pleasure from the storm’s vitality and energy. A belligerent American screams at the top of his lungs, “how do you like that one?”
I am in the seaside town of Puerto Escondido, Mexico, about 200 miles southeast of Acapulco, on the advice of my older brother Raybow, a veteran surfer of 30 years. “You have to check it out,” said my brother, “they call it the Mexican Pipeline.” Although I am not a surfer, it is a sport I like watching. Having just finished a week-long writers retreat in the state’s capital of Oaxaca, a circuitous eight-hour bus ride away, I felt ready for less introspection and more activity. “Porto” as the locals call it, was set to deliver.
The town is divided into two distinct areas separated by a highway. Established in 1928 as a shipping port to transfer coffee beans, the town got its name “Hidden Port” from a sheltered half-moon cove. Picture a quaint fishing village where everything is within walking distance. There is a sandy beach with warm water the color of an emerald, small mom-and-pop restaurants, and low-rise accommodations.
The popularity of surfing in the 60’s helped establish a permanent surf colony and a new section of town along Playa Zicatela’s infamous sand bar. The Mexican Pipeline or “MexPipe” is home to the bone-crushing, heart-thumping surf spot. The consistent beach break of waves allows surfers to enjoy their sport about 300 days a year.
I made my way down Calle del Morro, a cobblestone street that parallels Playa Zicatela, home of the MexPipe. There is a youthful, energetic feel to the street. Shirtless young men in swim trunks drank beer in open-air restaurants watching sun-kissed young women in bikini tops and short skirts walk by sipping bottles of Mexican mineral water. The Puerto Escondido vibration I felt was the innocence of 60’s surf movie Endless Summer, the laid-back cool of Bob Marley, and the hard-core adrenaline of the X-Games.
I had lunch at Juquilita, one of the many palapa-covered restaurants along the beach, ordered fish tacos with lime, black beans, rice, and drank a pina-colada. I paid less than four dollars for the meal. The Puerto Escondido bargain prices still surprise me.
I visited Central Surf Shop, the gathering place and nucleus of the surf community that is co-owned by the charming Angel Salinas. He is the surf patriarch and “famed masked surfer.”
To broaden the recognition of Puerto in the world, Angel surfs with a mask in the lucha libre or free fighting Mexican wrestling tradition. His antics have been published in over 35 surfing magazines from all over the world and filmed for a segment of the Discovery Channel's Lonely Planet television series. Today, Angel and his two brothers David and Renee own three surf shops and manufacture their own clothing line.
Perhaps the most important contribution Angel and Team make to the Puerto community is sponsoring the annual Central Surf Tube Riding Contest Longboard Invitational, now in its eighth year. The focus of this event is controlled tube riding with no points given for aerial maneuvers or aerobatic hijinks. “This contest means a lot to us,” Angel told us, “we get coverage from television and magazines. It’s good for the economy.” According to Angel, this year’s contest doesn’t have much support in the way of sponsors, except for some assistance from the local tourism office, so the $10,000 purse will come from the Central Surf Shop. Angel touches his chest with his hand and said, “this year we have to do the contest from the heart.”
I walked to the MexPipe and stood on the beach watching surfers ride consistent waves. The hypnotic poetry in motion of the undulating sea put me in a trance. I am not alone in my rapture. People from all over the world come to experience the powerful Puerto surf. Some watch, others ride. What does surfing the perfect Puerto wave feel like? An Australian named Chris explained surfing to me in layperson’s term. “The offshore breeze straightens the surf and makes a triangle to form a peak,” said Chris. “Then you take off on a board into a deep, hollow barrel of a tube and emerge through the back. It feels pretty damn good. Surfing has the most adrenaline of any sport. That’s why I surf.”
On my last night in Puerto I had dinner at the open air restaurant of the swanky Hotel Santa Fe, overlooking the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean. I ate a vegetarian tamale wrapped in a banana leaf and drank a Margarita. I reflected on my Puerto adventures and flashed back on iguanas baking in the sun; surfboards and taxicabs; mermaids and turtles; and smiling fishermen. Looking out over the setting sun, I saw a man beating his chest and lovers walking hand in hand. Night falls soon, and we all wanted a final look at the sea.
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