Getting to the Waves.

Lessons from a surf trip to Mex.

Mike Harrelson
Sep 18, 2013 · 4 min read

Have you noticed how time – arguably one of our most precious commodities – isn't waiting for us to get our shit together? Excuses proliferate on why we put things off that matter to us: visiting a wizened, old family member before they head to the country, volunteering for a worthy cause we say we believe in, going back to school to learn something fresh, taking that ambitious trip we've talked about for years. Time – as the erudite saying goes – waits for no one.

Jack Tackle, a quasi-famous mountaineer who’s ascended thousands of obscure routes and peaks you've never heard of, said it best. “Buy the fucking plane ticket.” While that may sound unnecessarily gruff & 60-grit (a part of Jack’s climber-guy façade), it’s important to note he’s actually a soft hearted explorer who’s come around to the sage realization that going (vs. staying) is all-important. Staying begets sameness, perceived safety, known quantities. Going affords unknowns, disruption, potential turbulence, exposure.

Having just returned from a few transformative weeks in the dank, narco/cartel bowels of Mexico, I reflect on Jack’s advice. Air travel ain’t so sexy as it used to be and flying with surfboards is a crapshoot where they (the airlines) rob us with absurd fees as we pray for the safe, unmangled arrival of our treasured boards. Upon arrival, six headless bodies have apparently been dumped on the Zócalo (that very morning) across from the Commercial grocery store where we buy provisions for our holiday. Young, bulletproof vest clad military lads – faces covered with black masks to hide their and their families’ identifies – clutch loaded AK weapons close to their chests. It’s so good to be on vacation.

Hunkered in a friend’s open air, beachfront hacienda – Casa Relámpago (the house of lightening) – the ground shakes as large swells drum the sandbars out front. This will be our soundtrack for the next 14-days. Don't flush your TP, don't rinse your toothbrush in the sink, do soak your fruits & veggies in a Clorox-like bath before consumption. We start to establish new routines.

It’s important for us to keep our G.I. tracts happy, as there will be plenty of belly churn from nominal hazards awaiting us along the way. An hour-long, white-knuckle drive lies between our basecamp and preferred surf spot. Federale roadblocks, convoys with machine gun turrets, narcotraficantes in black, late-model, privacy-packaged Suburbans, and 18-wheelers driving fast with loose steering on the extra narrow, two-lane roller coaster of pavement. That’s all before we turn off Highway 200.

Onto the jungly, dirt-mud-rock-monster puddle segment of our drive that will lead us to the fabled, left point playa, we will our Chevy rental sedan to achieve higher ground clearance. Are we more likely to flood the engine and passenger area in one of the interminable, pond-sized puddles, or will we spill our mechanical juices – oil, coolant, what-have-you – when we bottom out the chassis for the umpteenth time? Teeth grinding ever so much with the recurrent sound of metal being hammered by sharp stones, we crawl towards an opening in the lime-green canopy where we spot the distant Pacific.

Long, roping lines wrap around the rivermouth point and then peel & peel & peel. Only one guy in the water… a kneeboarder from Chicago who – as we learn later – is a violin surgeon (he specializes in repairing Stradivarius violins, and only Stradivarius). How’s that for a niche? File that under super random and part of why I live to travel.

With a long period, south swell in the water, plus two hurricanes and a tropical depression affecting our surf, the waves are big but a bit disorganized. Nevertheless, we charge cautiously across the cobble-bottomed inside, trying to avoid sharp objects or stepping on stingrays (both of which befall my surf/travel amigo over the course of our trip). From there we begin the long, duck-dive intensive paddle that will lead us through the impact zone.

The days, the waves, the hammock time and the tortilla/avocado concoctions begin to blur. Time slows down and nothing ever dries. Swaddled in my perma-damp sheet, a rusty fan blasting humid breeze on my head, I’m awakened by violent thunder and a river pouring off our terracotta roof. The midnight sky goes boom and lights up the Casa Relámpago. Bug-eyed, I ponder whether tomorrow’s puddles will be bigger & deeper… the road muddier, more rutted and off camber. I’m thankful we’ve chosen not to put off this trip.


    Mike Harrelson

    Written by

    : Seeking low-budg surf trips, backcountry pow, steep rivers, mysto singletrack. Will dig for nuggets, hence feral...son.

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