Shannon spots the waves. “Right there,” she says pointing, then hands the binoculars to me.
The surf peels down a palm-lined point beneath dusty brown hills as the first big south swell of the season fills in. We jump up and down with excitement, then continue south to find the nearest protected anchorage where we can safely leave the boat. Around sunset, I steer into a small bay behind a breakwall, while Shannon pulls down the sails. It’s been a long, hot passage with several complications.
As the sun rises the following morning, we shovel oatmeal into our mouths and stuff our dry bags with sunscreen and a change of clothes. We opt to leave the dinghy on deck and paddle our surfboards ashore, and soon we emerge from the sea through bathers and beachgoers.
We huff and puff uphill to reach the main road, and just when we do, a Doritos delivery truck pulls over. A middle-aged, mustached driver sticks out his head and asks, ” iA donde vas?” (Where are you going?)
“Al norte” (North), I reply. We are determined to get to the point we spotted yesterday.
“Vamos” (Let’s go), he says. “Me llamo Armando.” (My name is Armando.)
Armando places our boards in the back among boxes of chips and I’m reminded of the warm, generous hearts of the Mexican people. I’m grateful to my mom for her insistence that we all study Spanish as kids on the voyage through Mexico. After a brief stop at the local gas station, our jolly escort goes out of his way to drive us down the long dirt road to our destination. Armando pulls out a laminated photo of his children as we bounce past a small strip of palapas and stilted bungalows. He stops just a skip away from the reeling, overhead lefts.
5 Best Surfing Destinations In Mexico Photo Gallery
“Gracias, Armando!” we call as he pulls away. Surfers perched at a restaurant nearby crane their necks, curious to see who’s getting out of the truck. We walk toward them, a little nervous.
A smiling expat leaps to his feet to introduce himself. “Hi girls. I’m Pablo!” he says enthusiastically. “Where’d you come from?”
“We’re anchored down the way,” I reply. We sailed in yesterday.”
“Oh! We saw you sail by. Lovely boat. Bienvenidos! (Welcome!)” He grins and fidgets like a kid. He’s nothing like most of the grumpy expats I’ve met on surf trips. I’d like to talk to him more. But it’s hard to focus on the conversation while I’m being hypnotized by the waves funneling down the point.
“Do you know where we can safely leave our bags while we go for a surf?” I ask.
He leads us around the back of his friend’s house nearby and even gives us some surf pointers. “Walk to the top of the point and hop in the current at the river mouth. Once you’re out there pick a lineup on land because the current is moving fast. Most of the guys will drift too deep and if you pay attention you’ll have all the sets for yourselves,” he encourages. “Go have fun!” I hang on his every word, feeling lucky we’d found a new compadre.
Shannon and I spend the morning gorging ourselves in the surf. Like mosquitoes in a room full of lightly clothed gringos, we just can’t help ourselves. Several hours later, we both wash in with limp arms and wide smiles. Pablo orders up frozen banana-mango licuados (smoothies), and we lie in the sand in the shade of the restaurant’s palapa. He first came to this area in 1979 at twenty-three years old, chasing empty waves. When his travel buddy went home, Pablo stayed, fell in love with wild Mexico, and “learned how to be a Mexican.”
I’ve hardly sucked down my tantalizing drink before the empty waves rolling across the inside sandbar catch my attention. I begin to twitch and squirm on my pile of sand, attempting to convince myself that I need shade and rest. But when another set washes across the bar with no one on it, I run for my board, rub on more sunscreen, and sprint back up the point.
I’m mad with joy and creativity so in love with surfing, the warmth, the freedom of my new life, and the victory of each small improvement in my surfing skill. Shannon takes photos from the beach. I practice my backside foot placement, bottom turn to off-the-lip, cutties, and grab-rail drops.
After the second session, Shannon and I walk the beach to check out the impressive Michoacan beach scene. We have arrived at the height of Semana Santa Mexico’s equivalent of spring break. The little town’s usual occupancy has quadrupled. Three and four generations of families share food, sun, and laughs. Platters teeter with mountains of fresh fruit, guitars are strummed, and cervezas passed. It’s difficult to distinguish one group from the next; it appears customary to stop under anyone’s shade and have a snack. The sense offamilia spreads well beyond the borders of the beach blankets.
After some bodysurfing and a mini siesta, we’re back at the restaurant, smiling through each mouth-watering bite of enchiladas con mole washed down with refreshing jugo de sand^a (watermelon juice). The horizon bleeds out into a thick layer of red-orange. Since Mark flew home more than a month ago, we’ve hosted a couple other fun crewmates, but I’d caught bronchitis, sprained my thumb, and 300 miles of coast were plagued by red tide and swarms of jellyfish impeding us from using the reverse osmosis watermaker and making it complicated to swim and bathe. A lightless Mexican Navy ship nearly ran us down and Swell got stuck on a sandbar while navigating through a river mouth. Yesterday, Shannon’s personal EPIRB safety device fell overboard, and as I attempted to turn around and get it, I wrapped our fishing lines around the prop. So we are appreciating the new tide of good fortune today.
“Well, Snaggs,” I say, “we better start walking back before it’s too dark to catch a ride.” She earned her nickname because she caught on to everything so quickly, and because she was also prone to catching herself on things.
“Look,” Pablo chuckles. “Here come lapolitia (the police) on their evening rounds. I’ll ask them to drop you girls off on their way south. They’re friends of mine. You can leave your boards here with me if you’d like for tomorrow?”
Snaggs and I ride off in la polirta’s truckbed. Officer Luis clutches his machine gun beside us as the little town on the point disappears into the darkness. As we accelerate down the main road, the cool wind whips our hair and soothes our sunburns.
They deliver us to the jetty near Swell, where we hop out, giving copious thanks. We clamber out onto the large rocks, strip down to our swimsuits, seal our dry bags, then leap into the black abyss on a rising surge. Some teenage boys fishing off the rocks look on in disbelief.
Swell’s anchor light sways in the distance. We swim slowly through the blackness dragging our dry bags, giddy from our dreamy day. As we approach the middle of the bay, we try not to think about what might be lurking below and instead focus on the surreal glittering lights all around us: The sky is packed with winking stars, the lights of the pueblo sparkle across the surface of the bay, and glowing flecks of phosphorescence trail our movements through the dark sea. Swell’s white hull finally appears from the shadows and we haul our iridescent-dappled bodies up the side, then hit our bunks as quickly as possible, looking forward to doing it all again manana.
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