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June 23, 2011

Surfing Outback Mexico

Serge Dedina Column on the Imperial Beach Patch
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Surfing Outback Mexico

Part II of surfing adventures south of the border in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

By Serge Dedina for the Imperial Beach Patch.

The Chontal woman balancing a basket on her head patiently waited for Daren to make a decision about which fork in the road to take. Both more than likely passed to the beach, but only one would take us to the point we were searching for.

Finally after a couple of minutes, he asked her in his broken Spanish, “Where is the beach.”

“That way,” she said pointing to the right, still balancing the basket on her head. So we swung right and drove through dry sandy wash bordered by pigpens and a few tied up horses.

After a few minutes we caught sight of the point and were rewarded with every surfer’s dream — perfect 3-5 foot waves peeling for hundreds of years and not another surfer in sight.

We surfed for hours.

The water was crystal clear, which allowed my youngest son Daniel to spot a sea turtle.

“I was paddling out,” he said. “And something popped its head out of the water. At first I was scared but when I realized it was a sea turtle, I thought it was super cool.”

Later that afternoon we stopped by a local beachfront palapa for a dinner of shrimp and perch fresh out the water.

The local Chontales, one of Oaxaca’s smallest and most traditional indigenous groups, built the palapa in the hopes of attracting tourists to sample the seafood they harvest from a nearby lagoon.

“We want to protect our lands,” a community member told me while we ate fried shrimp and mojarra (perch). “Our goal is to also create Mexico’s number one sea turtle nesting beach.”

Olive Ridley sea turtles nest on the point we surfed and the beach fronting the palapa.

Despite the very real issues in Mexico related to drug war violence, Oaxaca, our base for two weeks, is considered one of Mexico’s safest states (along with Baja California Sur).

Luckily Oaxaca has escaped the violence and is like a trip back into old school Mexico, when travelers could visit remote areas with few worries and receive lots of friendly smiles and saludos from locals.

One day on our way back from the beach, we stopped and gave a ride to a campesino walking from his milpa or cornfield back into town.

“There isn’t much work here,” he said. “Everyone is returning from el norte. There is not that much work there either.”

On our last day at the beach, a swell hit. The sets at the point were 6-8 feet and non-stop.

Daren, Josh, Daniel, Israel and I paddled out after dawn and scored dredging sand bottom barrels reeling off the point.

Halfway through our session, storm clouds appeared over the Pacific and it started pouring with rain. Nervous about the prospect of lightning, we paddled in and huddled next to a cliff on the beach. Luckily the lightning was far off over the ocean.

After 40 minutes, the rain stopped and thousands of large-winged termite like insects appeared on the beach landing on our bodies. They were followed by hundreds of tiny terns that flitted above us like bats feeding on the insects.

Finally, after a few rolls of thunder, the storm clouds moved south and the sun came out and the insects and birds disappeared.

We paddled out again and caught more overhead waves, including a memorable barrel for me.

It was a great end to what we all said was our best surf trip ever. How can you beat perfect waves, crystal clear water, friendly locals and lots of wildlife?

Hasta pronto Oaxaca. We hope to visit you again soon.

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.