Surfing the Supermoon in Cabo

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Let’s dawn patrol tomorrow morning,” I told my son Daniel, 15, as we watched sets pound Zippers and The Rock as the sun set behind us and the supermoon rose over the ocean.

We were in San Jose del Cabo at the southern tip of Baja California to attend a wedding during the same weekend as the Los Cabos Open of Surf. The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) contest meant lineups throughout southern Baja were full of talented surfers.

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Since surfers party hard in Cabo, most aren’t awake at the crack of dawn. So dawn patrolling was our only way to escape the aggressive crowds.

The next day Daniel and I slipped into the ocean at 5:30 in the morning. We could see sets hitting the reefs. With the supermoon illuminating the lineup, I spotted many rocks sticking out of the water I wish I hadn’t been able to see.

Unfortunately we didn’t realize that the super high tide the night before was followed by a very low tide the following morning. As we navigated the boils and rocks in the lineup, our dawn patrol was looking more and more like a bad idea.

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After we reached the outside Daniel quickly caught a head-high wave. He kicked out at the last minute to avoid an inside exposed rock.

“It’s pretty sketchy out here,” said Daniel, who wasn’t happy about being woken up so early.

“But think of all the street cred you’ll have by being able to tell everyone about your low-tide nighttime session at the Rock in overhead waves,” I replied.

Matt Banting in action.

Matt Banting in action.

Daniel wasn’t convinced.

After we both caught a few set waves he said, “It is way too shallow out here. Let’s paddle down to Zippers.”

Zippers, once a Trestles-like wave that is still the epicenter of the Cabo surf scene, has been vastly reduced in scope due to the loss of sand from its once large beach.

Garrett Parkes somewhere in southern Baja.

Garrett Parkes somewhere in southern Baja.

Adjacent development projects with their intrusive seawalls and what many surfers believe is the loss of sand from the San Jose Estuary due to the presence of a marina there, has turned what was the Queen of the Cabo Coast into a hit or miss wave at best.

As we paddled south the sun began to emerge in the eastern sky along with dreaded southeasterly winds. After catching a few bumpy rights and saying hello to shark researcher and La Jolla surfer David “Dovi’ Kacev and his friends (also there for the wedding), we paddled in.

That's me--my sons are coaching me on how to get more vertical--at this point I'm a work in progress.

That’s me–my sons are coaching me on how to get more vertical–at this point I’m a work in progress.

Daniel returned to our condo and promptly fell asleep.

Later that morning the wind died and The Rock fired. And pretty much everyone stayed away due to wind and the fact that they had apparently partied until dawn.

So Daniel and I paddled out and caught tons of waves with almost no crowd. We finally scored in San Jose.

Up until the wedding, we had spent a few days out on the East Cape, sampling a variety of no-name spots that are rarely surfed but offered up clean, fun waves.

Siesta time for burros in Baja.

Siesta time for burros in Baja.

At one spot we spent the afternoon sharing waves with Garrett Parkes and Matt Banting, two Australian pros in town for the Cabo Open.

“We’ve never even surfed out here on the East Cape before,” said Garrett.

For two hours Daniel shared rippable 2-4’ rights with traveling Aussie pros who gave Daniel a clinic in modern surfing. What more could a grom ask for?

Daniel was elated.

“Those guys really know how to ride these waves,” he said.

Indeed they did.

Daniel

Daniel

Adventure Mexico

The mud hole looked like a lake. I wasn’t about to risk losing a rental car by driving through it in order to surf point waves with no crowd.

I figured it was better to walk barefoot through the black, smelly water that harbored snakes, horse poop, clouds of mosquitoes, squishy stinky mud, sharp sticks and then traipse through a mile of dank marsh to find waves, then risk getting stuck in the pit.

The lake we decided not to drive through.

While Daren Johnson and I evaluated our chances of driving through the water feature created by Hurricane Carlotta, our sons Josh, 15, and Israel, 16, ran through a trail in the mangrove forest and crossed the dunes to check if there were any waves at the point that was a couple of miles away.

About 15 minutes later they returned. Both were out of breath, sweating and clearly not having a good time.

“The surf is flat,” said Israel. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

“If we go somewhere else it is going to take us hours to find waves,” said Daren. “Let’s surf here.”

So we parked the car on the only dry spot we could find, loaded our backpacks with food, water and sunscreen, took off our shoes and hiked barefoot through the swamp, mangroves, dunes, and finally what seemed like an endless beach.

As we neared the point I could see set waves breaking off the rocks.

Half an hour later we had settled into the lineup and caught dreamy rights with just a couple of other surfers in the lineup.

I caught a couple of waves that were as good as any I’ve ever surfed—looping barrels that I raced my 6’6” Novak quad down the line on to stay in position.

On my recent trip to Mexico, I spent a lot of time walking through the rainforest, swatting mosquitoes, being attacked by no-see-ums, and hoping that I’d come around the bend to find perfect waves.

During one foray into the forest to find a point the locals assured us had good surf, we found a local guide to navigate the rocky and hilly trail.

The sun was scorching and the humidity was overpowering. Pedro, our guide was barefoot and wore a thick long-sleeve rugby shirt.

“I crossed the desert in Arizona during the summer on my to Washington,” he said when I asked him if he was hot. “So this is pretty easy.”

Israel and Josh scrambled to keep up as Pedro ran up hills through the forest. With my long legs I was able to hang on.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at a giant jumble of rocks.

“The waves are down there, “ said Pedro pointing to the point. “Just climb down the cliff.”

I wasn’t too interested in risking injury sliding down the rocky precipice to find a few waves.

“We’ll paddle around the point Pedro, ” I said pointing to a small beach to the right of the point that was a safer entryway into the surf.

While we caught waves, Pedro patiently threw out his fishing line from atop the boulders.

On our return Pedro ran through the forest. I barely kept up. Josh and Israel fell behind.

We arrived back at the tiny village an hour later exhausted but were elated to find the beachbreak looking fun.

A couple of local kids were snagging the 3-4’ offshore A-frames.

Josh and Israel paddled out while I made arrangements for a local family to cook us up some freshly caught fish.

Out in the water the locals were stoked to see us. Very few traveling surfers visit the isolated village that depends mostly on government subsidies for growing a smattering of crops and protecting the leatherback sea turtles that nest there.

Out in the lineup I gave some wax to a grom.

“Thanks,” he said. “We don’t usually surf with wax on our boards.”

After catching a few waves, Esteban, the proprietor of the beach shack, waved us in.

Grilled fish, beans, rice and cocoanuts were waiting.

Just another adventure in Mexico.

 

Surfing Hurricane Carlotta

Hurricane Carlotta was located off the west co...

Hurricane Carlotta was located off the west coast of Mexico near 15.6N 105.1W with maximum sustained winds estimated at 130 knots, gusts to 160 knots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the morning of June 13, three of my WiLDCOAST colleagues and I set out in search of waves on the southern coast of Oaxaca.

Our planned conservation activities for the day had been cancelled due to the rainfall and wind forecast due to the presence of Hurricane Carlotta off of the coast.

Burrito in Puerto.

Unfortunately the wind was sideshore and the surf was blown out. This wasn’t a case where the Hurricane was creating great waves.

However, we made the most of the 2-4’ point waves. After all, the water was 82 degrees, and every once in a while a fun wave would line up.

After a few hours, a couple of surfers from Cancun showed up. They were staying in adobe and thatch huts a couple of miles down the beach.

“You guys know about the storm coming,” I asked them.

“What storm,” they replied.

Burrito barrel riding in Puerto.

“There’s a hurricane coming,” I said. “You might want to seek higher ground.”

On the way back to Huatulco, we stopped in at Barra de la Cruz, famous for its world-class right point. My son Israel, 16, spent the week there with local surfer Pablo Narvaez and his family.

“Israel’s at the beach surfing,” said Pablo when we arrived at his two-story bamboo and wood house. “The surf is small anyway.”

A few minutes later Pablo and I arrived at the beach facing the point and were shocked to see 6-8’ shorebreak on the inside with 10-12’ waves hitting the point. The wind was howling.

“I surfed earlier,” said Israel who had spent the week living on stalks of bananas picked from the local huerta and grilled fish. “And then it started getting really gnarly.”

We chatted with Pablo for a bit. “In 1997, Hurricane Paulina really hit us hard,” he said.

I hoped Carlotta wouldn’t be so bad.

When we returned to Huatulco I was happy to find my good friend Daren Johnson and his son Josh waiting for us at the friendly Hotel Mision de los Arcos. They had been staying at some rustic huts at a spot further south.

That afternoon the National Hurricane Center had upgraded Carlotta to a Category 2 hurricane. Winds were expected to reach up to 120 miles per hour.

Later that evening, Israel and I gathered at a café on the Huatulco plaza with Daren, Josh and my WiLDCOAST colleagues Eduardo Najera, Ben McCue, and Zach Plopper along with a Swiss surfer-engineer who we had met earlier in the week while surfing.

The wind started howling and the rain started pouring. An electrical post exploded across the street.

After a round of tlayudas, we hit up the local ice-cream shop for paletas and headed back to our hotel to wait out the storm.

“Since I have experienced a big hurricane in the past (Wilma, category 5, biggest hurricane in Cancún history) I wasn’t that worried. However, I forgot about the mountains and rivers that were behind us,” said Eduardo.

The following morning the rain and the wind had stopped. We decided to check the surf. Cleanup crews were removing fallen trees from the roads. But overall in Huatulco, the damage seemed minimal.

“Despite hours of build up and uncertainty Carlotta whipped through overnight fortunately not wreaking too much havoc in the Huatulco-Salina Cruz region,” said Zach.

At the point from the day before we were surprised to see that the tremendous storm surf had dissipated. However, the waves resulted in local beaches losing up to six feet of sand, making it difficult for sea turtles to nest at some areas.

Further north it was a different story.

“The hurricane was really intense. My buddies and I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Anthony “Burrito” Zambrano, of Imperial Beach who had been in Puerto Escondido.

“The rain started around 6 o clock then it started getting really windy. The windows were whistling, the lights went out and our room got flooded with water, like 2 inches deep. We heard things getting blown around. The shingles from a bunch of houses and hotels got blown right off their roofs.”

“Over 30,000 homes where affected from Puerto Escondido to Puerto Angel. Mazunte and the surrounding area was a mess,” said Dr. Carlos Rodriguez, a veterinarian with the Mexican Sea Turtle Center in Mazunte.

“Roads where closed so nobody could leave their towns. In places like Mazunte, the community has really pulled together. But in other communities like La Escobilla, Vainilla, Barra del Potrero, Santa Elena and their surroundings aren’t as lucky. Families lost their roofs, food, clothes and didn’t have electricity for 10 days so there was no way to communicate.”

On July 8th, Mazunte will hold a concert to raise money for the reconstruction effort.

“It has been a tough two weeks but the communities are very positive they can pull through this mess,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “But there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Diane Castenada of WiLDCOAST has organized a fundraising effort to support those in need. Go here to donate.

Mexico’s election: Citizens seek to succeed despite government

Here’s my op-ed from the San Diego Union-Tribune from Sunday’s paper on June 24th (web-published June 23rd)

The campaign poster on a wall in Tijuana of Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, referred to as “Bombon,” or Eye Candy, for his preppie good looks, displayed the candidate grimacing while awkwardly hugging a much shorter, darker, Indian-looking woman. The odd ad might be the only kink in Peña Nieto’s seamless campaign about nothing that is designed to earn the trust of Mexican voters who have forgotten the economic disasters and semi-authoritarian rule the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) imposed upon Mexico for more than 70 years.

Enrique Peña Nieto, político mexicano.

The specter of the return of the PRI to Los Pinos, Mexico’s White House, is the reason that the polls show leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is called AMLO for short, closing in on Peña Nieto, who until recently had a commanding lead (Josefina Vázquez Mota, the National Action Party (PAN) candidate is given little chance of winning). The victory of either Peña Nieto or AMLO on July 1 would mean a new but uncertain chapter in Mexico’s evolving transition to democracy. Both front-runners represent Mexico’s semi-authoritarian past in which the state plays a key role in the economy, press, culture and everyday life with little or no oversight and accountability.

El Lic. Andrés Manuel López Obrador en confere...

Although the 12-year rule of Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón, who governed under the mantle of  the PAN, was a victory for the expansion of electoral democracy and the rise of a more robust civil society, it failed to create a political culture of transparency. Calderón’s war on narco kingpins has been a tragedy and a failure.

In my own frequent forays into the bustling cities and forgotten corners of rural Mexico to promote coastal conservation, the bedlam of the narco-war and absence of government is a sharp contrast to the entrepreneurial people I encounter and work with who are carving out a new Mexico that represents the emergence of an authentic civil society. This has resulted in a new optimism and sense of purpose that is propelling Mexicans forward to identify and solve their problems without asking permission of the once-omnipotent government.

Last spring while in Acapulco to host the Blue Ocean Film Festival, more than 30 people were murdered prior to and during my stay. As a result I assumed that our free film screenings would be sparsely attended. So I was surprised to find the restored art-deco cinema in the city’s seaside plaza packed with working-class families and beach lovers. Parents and their children sat rapt at the beautiful films and eagerly joined an open forum afterward about solving problems of beach pollution and coastal access.

In the Chontal indigenous village of Barra de la Cruz in Oaxaca, I met with residents fending off proposals to turn their coastline into a walled-off fortress in which they would be unwelcome guests. “We aren’t interested in development,” Pablo Narvaez, a fiery and articulate community leader told me. “We are only interested in receiving training to help us run our eco-businesses. If we have strong businesses, we’ll have a strong community.”

In Tijuana, the city’s new beacon of hope is chef and surfer Javier Plascencia, the proprietor of the elegant yet unpretentious Mision 19. While eating lunch with Javier recently, I was struck by his quiet and determined focus to create something new in the face the dark forces that should have caused him to flee his hometown. Javier’s pride in Tijuana and his driven creativity is changing the face and fate of this once embattled but now secure border city and inspiring a renaissance in music, art, architecture and gastronomy in Baja California and throughout Mexico.

It is the boundless enthusiasm and passion for life that I encounter in Mexico that will sustain our southern neighbor beyond the inadequacies of the current slate of presidential candidates. That is why so many Mexicans, although outraged at what they perceive to be the media-engineered campaign of Peña Nieto or the old-school paternalism of AMLO, are buoyed by their fierce desire for normalcy and the realization that “papá gobierno” is now an absent parent that always seems to let them down and lead them astray. Their future depends on staking out their independence from the government that has little connection to the ordinary citizens who make Mexico a marvel of contradictions, chaos and energy.

More from the Blue Tour in Mexico

Just a few odds and ends from my recent trip to the Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca to give talks and show the Blue Ocean Film Festival.

Areceli Oregon, the Mayor of Barra de Potos at our press conference opposing the placement of a FONATUR cruise ship terminal on top of the village and mangrove lagoon.

This is Julio, a sea turtle conservationist giving a talk to kids in Barra de Potosi about why it is important to conserve sea turtles and not eat their eggs.

This is in Zihuatanejo. Fishermen are mad about being displaced there. It is a lovely city--that has not kept pace in terms of managing its rapid growth.

I gave a talk in Saladita at Lourdes's Bungalows. From left to right: Irwin of Azulita, Kristy Murphy of Siren Surf Adventures, Lourdes, Pato of Azulita, me, Cat of Siren Surf Adventures, and Natalia of Costasalvaje.

We had over 200 people attend our event in Puerto Escondido.A great crowd.

That's me addressing the kids in Barra de la Cruz, a village in Oaxaca.

Maybe the most surreal moment of the trip to Zihuatanejo was going to visit Dr. Enrique Rodriguez, wildlife and animal rights activist and not realizing until I walked into his small office on the second floor of building just off the malecon that he was a small animal vet. He was of course in the middle of spaying a cat (which he does for free)
He offered to let me watch the operation, but I really didn't want to.
Just another surreal magical moment in Mexico.
Always expect the unexpected.

The Coastal Wonders of Oaxaca

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Mazunte is a small fishing village about an hour north of Huatulco in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Its white sand beaches and tranquil waters obscure its deadly past.

“Up until 19990, when Mexico banned the legal sea turtle fishery,” said Manuel Rodriguez Gomez, the congenial Director of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center, “More than 2,000 sea turtles were killed each day in Mazunte.”

Today, Manuel and his team of biologists, manage a beautiful sea turtle aquarium and museum, as well as conserve some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches.

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“It is amazing to me that a little more than twenty years ago fishing communities in Oaxaca that made their living from killing sea turtles are the ones who are now investing their efforts in protecting these amazing animals,” said Manuel.

I traveled to this unique corner of Mexico to hold an ocean film festival and meet some of the leaders who have made the sea turtle recovery and other coastal conservation success stories possible.

I brought along my surfboard in the hopes of catching waves at Puerto Escondido and Barra de la Cruz.

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Mazunte was a stop on my way north from Huatulco to Puerto Escondido where WiLDCOAST, the conservation organization I run, was holding the first night of the film festival tour.

Known as the “Mexican Pipeline” Puerto Escondido is a balmy pleasant town that reminded me of Rosarito Beach back in the 1970s.

The beach at Zicatela, where south swells funnel into shallow waters to create arguably one of the world’s heaviest beach breaks, is lined with palapas, restaurants, surf shops and hotels.

During south swell season some of the world’s best surfers such as Greg and Rusty Long descend on Puerto to catch dredging barrels with elevator drops.

During our event in the town’s main plaza just north of Zicatela, about 250 people, enjoyed our ocean films and learning more about preserving sea turtles.

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Sergio Flores of WiLDCOAST and Manuel Rodriguez of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center.

“We need to take care of our beaches,” said longtime Puerto surfer Roger Ramirez at the event who runs the the Oasis Surf Academy along with his lovely Uruguayan wife Sol.

The surfers of Puerto are fighting efforts to develop nearby Punta Colorada, a world-class bodyboarding beach.

The next morning, I wandered down to Zicatela. The wind was offshore but the surf was 1-2’ and closed out. I still enjoyed surfing the warm water micro-barrels.

“It needs to be a bit bigger,” said Jason, a surfer from San Diego who knows Puerto well. “But there is swell on the way. So maybe we’ll get lucky. “

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The following day I found myself at a remote beach south of Huatulco surfing dredging barrels at a right-hand point with a few local surfers and my WiLDCOAST colleague Ben McCue.

The first south of the season had arrived.

Later that afternoon we drove into the village of Barra de la Cruz, about 45 minutes south of Huatulco for the final leg of our film festival.

“You have time for a surf,” said Pablo Narvaez, a leader in this indigenous village that is host to one of the world’s most perfect waves and a critical beach for the recovery for endangered leatherback sea turtles.

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That's me surfing Barra.

“But the sand isn’t right yet,” said Pablo. “We’ll need a few more swells to drag the sand from the beach out onto the point.”

At the beach, Ben and I threw on our trunks and jumped into the water to  share a few head high point waves with an eclectic group of local surfers and visitors from Brazil and Ireland.

About an hour later, we caught up with Pablo and the town’s leaders as we screened films for about 200 local children and their parents.

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Pablo pointing making a point with me and Ben McCue in Barra de la Cruz.

“We aren’t interested in development,” said Pablo. “We went through all that after the 2006 Rip Curl Search Pro we hosted. People made offers to buy our beach. We’re beyond that though.”

The community of Barra de la Cruz is run in the old ways. The beach has been left undeveloped. Residents volunteer their time to staff a small surfside palapa restaurant.

Surfers pay a twenty-peso entrance fee to use the beach and clean bathrooms with showers. Revenues from surfing tourism are reinvested back into the community.

“We are not interested in money,” said Pablo. “We are only interested in receiving training to help us run our eco-businesses. Money only brings us problems. But if we have strong businesses, we’ll have a strong community.”

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The coast beyond Barra.

During my dawn patrol the next day the surf was even bigger. The right point I surfed the previous morning was firing.

I snagged a few hollow rights for a quick session before my return flight home inspired by the beauty of coastal Oaxaca and the determination of its people.

Thanks to the Ayuntamiento de Puerto Escondido, Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga, Parque Nacional Huatulco, and the community of Barra de la Cruz for their hospitality.

Into the Mangroves

Jose Antonio Oregon, lifelong fishermen guided us into the pango, a wooden handmade pirogue covered with a coat of fiberglass and resin.

“A panga won’t work,” he said. “The lagoon is too shallow. This gets us around better.”

I was in the Laguna de Potosi, located just south of the Zihuatanejo airport on the Costa Grande of the Mexican state of Guerrero.

The 1,200-mangrove lagoon sits behind nesting beaches for endangered leatherback sea turtles. Humpback whales can be found in the sea outside the lagoon. During south swell season surfers visit Barra to surf lined up point lefts.

Jose Antonio gently pushed the pango out into the lagoon.

“There’s a kingfisher,” he said pointing to the small bird with a large oversize beak that was flitting and darting across a lagoon channel into the mangroves.

My companions, Sergio Flores and Natalia Parra, the WiLDCOAST Southern Mexico Coordinators, know this coast well. They have spent the last seven years working here in an effort to preserve sea turtle nesting beaches and to reduce the illegal trade in sea turtle meat and eggs.

I was in Barra de Potosi to support the village’s effort to halt the proposal by Mexico’s National Fund for Tourism (FONATUR) from placing a cruise ship terminal on top of the lagoon and the 900-person ramshackle pueblito.

Sergio, Natalia and I were also Barra to launch the first stop of the second year of Blue Ocean Film Festival tour of Mexco to screen ocean documentaries free of charge to Mexico’s fishing communities and coastal residents.

“I don’t see how they can build the project without destroying the lagoon and our village,” said Jose Antonio pointing to the colorful fishermen’s palapas that line the nearby surf beach and the lagoon entrance.

This small and friendly village of brightly colored fishermen’s home’s, sandy streets replete with handmade terrayas (throw nets) and numerous shrines to the Virgen de Guadalupe, is the latest casualty in FONATUR’s efforts to create new mega-resorts on top of some of the loveliest and most pristine coastal villages, coral reefs, and mangrove lagoons in Mexico.

Every weekend and especially during Semana Santa, Mexican families flock to the surfside palapas to pass the day eating sumptuous ceviche de abulon, empanadas de pescado, and grilled fish, freshly harvested from the nearby lagoon and sea.

Aracelia Oregon, the mayor of Barra and Sergio Flores of Wildcoast.

“Barra has some of the best seafood in Mexico,” said Sergio. “And it is a nostalgia trip for so many of Guerrero’s families who come her to relive the old ways, spend time with their families and reconnect with the fishing folk they have known for generations.”

The pango glided through a narrow channel lined with green mangroves that are home to more than 200 bird species. We spotted blue herons, flocks of cormorants, night herons, and scores of kingfishers.

“Those guys are fishing for corvina and lisa (mullet),” said Jose Antonio pointing to a pango manned by two fishermen in broad billed straw sombreros about a hundred yards out. The pescadores pushed their pango through the lagoon with a palanca or modified pole and paddle.

These are Mexico’s original stand-up-paddlers.

One of the fishermen balanced precariously in the pango and launched his terraya. Later we observed them silently perched next to the mangrove hand lining for snook and pargo.

At a break in the mangroves, Jose Antonio guided the pango on to a small mud bank. We disembarked to inspect the community’s salt making operations.

The salt makers use plastic sheets to hold lagoon water that is pumped into holding basins accelerates the process. Piles of artisanal salt lined the sides of the saltpans. “We collect the salt and then sell it,” said Jose Antonio.

Upon our return to the village, we greeted Jose Antonio’s sister, Areceli, the local mayor under the palapa restaurant her family owns. Her mother Linda, was already preparing thick pancake style tortillas de maiz, a pot of beans on the traditional adobe wood fire stove, and freshly caught snapper.

I walked into the kitchen to snap a photo of Linda’s kitchen. “Have another tortilla with beans,” she said while plopping beans into a freshly made tortilla.

“We already lost the right to have our palapa here,” said Areceli. “And now FONATUR says that it has the right to grant our fishermen access to the sea. If they build their project, we’ll lose everything.”

While we talk, Linda places a plate of grilled fish prepared butterfly style in front of me. I gingerly forkful of fish in my favor and close my eyes while savoring its sweet freshness.

Later that evening more than a hundred of the town’s residents gather for the film festival. Chairs line a sandy tree-lined street. We displayed the documentaries on the wall of an elementary school. Children squealed with delight and received prizes when they answered questions about sea turtles and other ocean trivia.

“It would be a shame to lose this,” said Areceli, who will soon travel to Mexico City to discuss the fate of her village and home with Mexico’s media, elected officials and government agencies.

I hope for the sake of the people of Barra and the wildlife they protect, that Araceli and her family and friends will be able to defend their mangrove lagoon, their community and their way of life.

Thanks to Eugen of Villas Tuparaiso, Adriana Luna Parra of Casa de la Luna, the Oregon family, Irwin and Pato of Azulita, Siren Surf Adventures, Lainie and Mike, and Lourdes for their hospitality.

Surf, Art and Soul in Sayulita

The beach at Sayulita--the surf is similar to Cardiff Reef. Mellow reef and rivermouth cobble semi-point.

I arrived at the Puerto Vallarta airport after a short flight from San Diego and was immediately whisked away by Darrin Polischuk, a filmmaker who I had first met when he lived in northern Baja.

“The surf should be fun,” said Darrin.

I traveled to the Riviera Nayarit, the name for the coast north of Puerto Vallarta, to give a talk in Sayulita, a coastal village known for its artsy surf vibe and boutique and gallery lined streets.

“When we first arrived here a few years ago we knew it was the place for us,” said Darrin, who lives in Sayulita with his wife Paulina and two children. “And we’ve been here ever since.”

Half an hour after my arrival Darrin and I were surfing 2-4’ rights and lefts with a few friendly locals somewhere on the way out to Punta de Mita, a theme green headland that forms the northern terminus of Bahia de Banderas.

The waves were similar to Church’s at San Onofre.

The tropical foliage and white sand beach reminded me of Kauai and southeastern coast of Australia.

After about an hour and half, we returned to the truck and headed north to Sayulita on a small highway that meandered through the rainforest.

Upon our arrival, Darrin dropped me off at the brightly colored Petit Hotel Hafa, owned by Christophe and Marina Mignot.

Just a couple of blocks from the beach, the Hafa has free Wi-Fi and simple but clean and tastefully decorated rooms.

“Marina, the kids and I came to Sayulita after traveling many years on a sailboat and living in Portugal,” said Christophe, who is French. “We were looking for an easy living place with surf sun and culture. The family loves it!”

Marina, who is from Mallorca, has installed a little boutique on the ground floor of the hotel with surf and nature inspired art and jewelry.

The following morning, I walked around the corner from the hotel to the Café El Espresso Sayulita.

After sipping a double espresso with just the right amount of foam, I strolled down to the beach to check the surf.

Nearby, local fishermen were readying their pangas for a day of fishing.

Down the beach, the operators of surfboard rental companies were setting up their boards and umbrellas.

With a mellow cobblestone reef point in town, Sayulita is the perfect destination for beginning surfers or surfing families.

I first visited Sayulita a decade ago with my wife Emily and our two budding surfer sons.

Israel my oldest son had just learned to surf. “I got my first barrel in Sayulita,” he remembered. We spent the entire weekend surfing and playing in the waves.

The town really hasn’t changed that much since then. There are just more boutiques, galleries, hotels and great places to eat.

It was too windy to surf, so I walked over to meet Kevin Roberts of Punta Sayulita who grew up in Coronado and is developing an Indonesian/Hawaiian style residential village just south of town.

Kevin was the host for my lecture that evening and is one of the organizers of the 3rd Annual Punta Sayulita Longboard & Stand- Up Paddle Classic that will be held on March 9 – 11.

“Over the past two years, the Punta Sayulita Classic has developed into one of the premier surfing and stand-up paddle events in North America,” said Kevin.

“The event has one of the deepest international fields competing head-to-head in longboard and stand-up paddle (“SUP”) surfing contests as well as in an array of exciting offshore SUP distance races.”

Later that day Darrin picked me up to search for surf.

Once again the wind didn’t cooperate.

Just a few miles north of Sayulita, we turned into San Francisco (the locals call it San Pancho), an earthy coastal village that has become a new-age destination.

Huichol women in brightly colored dresses sold jewelry on the tiny malecon. Beautiful murals depicting the town’s agricultural and indigenous legacy surrounded them.

We visited the Entre Amigos Community Center, a brightly painted brick building in the middle of town.

Photo by Globalista

Local children were reading in the public library and working on art projects.

“We focus on classes, lectures, art, community projects and education,” said Nicole Swedlow, Executive Director of Entre Amigos. “The center was community designed, is community driven and has become a gathering space and a place of tremendous positive energy.”

Photo by Globalista

After my evening talk on conserving Baja’s coastline and showing the documentary, The Baja Wave Document, at Punta Sayulita, I sat down to dinner at a restaurant on the town’s colorful plaza with Paul Van Fleck, a photographer.

Paul is a longtime friend from Coronado who had previously lived in Imperial Beach and Todos Santos in Baja.

He keeps a small studio in Sayulita and as well as a place in Puerto Vallarta. “I love surfing here,” said Paul.

Prior to catching my flight the following day, Darrin drove me to another surf spot on the road out to Punta de Mita.

After a short walk through a tropical forest, we emerged on to the beach to find  waist-high surf and glassy conditions.

Darrin and I shared wave with a few tourists on longboards and sea turtles swimming around the reef.

It was a good omen and a great way to end my short time surfing and exploring in and around the magical coastline of Sayulita.

Sayulita is host to a major SUP and Longboard contest.

My hotel the Petit Hafa, was a nice simple "boutique" hotel. I love staying in places like this. Much more comfortable and easy to hang out in compared to a big resort hotel.

Surfing is a big business here with tons of locally owned surf schools.

The Punta Sayulita office and casita where I gave my talk. Couldn't think of a nicer place to give a talk.

Preparing for my talk.

Answering questions--a great group showed up.

Kevin Roberts at left of Punta Sayulita hosted me. He grew up in Coronado. That's Paul Van Fleck of Nado-IB-Baja-Sayulita just next to Kevin (heading poking out), Robert "Chuy" Madrigal a longtime tourism and surfing consultant in Mexico, and Darrin Polischuk is to the right of me. Darrin is a longtime friend from Baja who has helped out Wildcoast for years now.

The cafe around the corner from my hotel and on the main plaza--excellent espresso and good simple, healthy food. My kind of place.

Lots of galleries and boutiques in town.

This surf shop has what are arguably the coolest surf t-shirt designs of any shop in Mexico.

The coast south of Sayulita looking to Punta Mita. This is a beautiful coast and biogeographically the southern end of the Sea of Cortez. The surf is pretty gentle along here with reefs and white sand beaches in some locations.

The Mexico Shark Fishing Moratorium Fiasco

Great white shark. Photo by Terry Goss, copyri...

White shark near Mexico's Isla Guadalupe.

In the early 1990s I spent a lot of time around shark fishermen and observing the slaughter of sharks in Baja California Sur. At that time, fishermen had moved over from  the Sea of Cortez where shark populations had collapsed, to focus on an intensive long-line and gill net fishery along the Pacific, concentrating on the offshore fishing grounds of Magdalena Bay, San Ignacio Lagoon, the Vizcaino Peninsula and finally the area north of Guerrero Negro (Los Cirios Coast). At that time rays were also fished intensively due to to the collapse of other fisheries.

Shark dump near La Bocana in BCS, Mexico.

Most of the shark meat and ray meat (used to make machaca) were considered second or third-class fish, which meant a lower price. For sharks obviously it was the trade in fins that drove fishermen to go out 20-60 miles from shore to set long-lines or gill nets. At that time I had not realized that this type of fishing activity was being carried out all over the world and was causing the collapse of shark populations.

I had not also realized the extent to which the obsession with shark fin soup in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China was driving the extinction of the ocean’s most feared, beautiful and interesting animals.

Shark fin soup

Shark fin soup.

WiLDCOAST has been working with Defenders of Wildlife-Mexico and Iemanya Oceanica to curtail the excessive shark fishery in Mexico and to educate the general public through media campaigns of the impact the shark fishery was having on Mexico’s ocean health.

When sharks unfortunately attacked and killed two surfers a few years ago just north of Zihuatanejo (and attacked another surfer who survived) we carried out a successful effort to stop a government sanctioned revenge shark slaughter.

We also worked with organizations like WildAid, Oceana, NRDC, Ocean Conservancy and Heal the Bay to advocate for the ban on the sale of shark fins in California. Our wrestling superhero El Hijo del Santo has been a tireless advocate for sharks and reached more than 30 million people through appearances on news and talk shows on the Telemundo networks to call for the California ban on shark fins.

Hammerhead in the La Bocana shark dump. In some areas, schools of hammerheads are caught in gill nets that also annually drown thousands of loggerhead sea turtles.

Since then we have attempted to work to have Mexico include endangered hammerheads on the CITES list. That effort was squashed by the Mexican government.

So last week, conservationists were surprised and happy to learn that Mexico had proposed a moratorium on fishing all species of sharks and rays. And from this story that appeared on the New York Times blog it seemed very clear that the moratorium would be real:

Mexico announced here plans yesterday to ban shark and stingray fishing starting next year, creating what would be the largest initiative by one nation to protect shark species.

The temporary moratorium is part of a burgeoning global movement against the trade of shark fins used as an ingredient in an Asian delicacy. Mexican authorities said they were inspired by the “shark sanctuary” declared two years ago by Pacific nation of Palau.

“Mexico wishes to share with the international community our intention to declare next year a moratorium on shark and stingray fishing,” said Yanerit Morgan, Mexico’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations on the side of a General Assembly meeting yesterday.

Joined by leaders of a small-island nations and other Latin American states, Morgan said the fishing ban would encompass Mexico’s territorial seas and expansive exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

The goal, she said, was to protect “pregnant female specimen and newborns of the main shark and stingray species.”

Morgan at the Mexican U.N. mission said her country’s decision to establish a moratorium is strictly a domestic initiative and not part of a regional North American or Latin American conservation effort.

“Our decision is a national policy,” Morgan said. “We hope that others can join us.”

Seemed pretty clear. Except it wasn’t. According to my inside sources in the Mexican government there was no plan to have a moratorium. The statement at the U.N. was a “mistake.” One source informed me that here was another proposal for a 3-month moratorium that they were confused about. Another source informed me that the proposal was actually real, but was only a foil in an attempt to pressure Mexican fishery officials (rabidly anti-conservation) to actually enact the 3-month moratorium.

Both sources assured me that a statement from the Mexican government clarifying the situation would be forthcoming.

It has been more than a week and no statement has been issued clarifying anything. Leading shark conservationists in the U.S. I spoke with continue to believe that Mexico is serious about conserving shark populations and the moratorium.

And this morning the New York Times, in an editorial, “A Growing Movement to Save Sharks”, lauded Mexico for its shark  and ray conservation initiative:

Last month, Mexico announced that it would ban shark and stingray fishing beginning next year. This would affect Mexico’s exclusive fishing zones in the Pacific Ocean and in the Gulf of Mexico. Several island nations — Micronesia, the Maldives, Palau, and the Marshall Islands — have already created shark sanctuaries. There is hope that Honduras and Colombia will follow suit, perhaps creating a protective corridor reaching to the Galapagos Islands.

So is the shark moratorium truth of fiction?

These types of policy “wars” in Mexico over proposals used to be carried out domestically in the state-run media. Different newspapers would publish policy proposals by competing factions in a government agency (the Mexican government under the PRI essentially bankrolled the press).

You would always know an article was a political message because it would appear without a byline with a very forceful and badly written statement about a very obscure policy. Another newspaper would carry the same type of article from a competing faction of technocrats calling for a different obscure policy.

Then the issue would vanish from the public spotlight.

What is unfortunate is that in the past, Mexico used to pass far-reaching conservation initiatives because it was worth the positive international media exposure it received–and then those plans would be implemented (to some degree).

Now let’s hope that the Calderon administration is not cynical enough to have carried out a policy war internationally and use the international press to argue over competing proposals–one of which-the year-long moratorium–the government never intended to ever happen.

That would be a shame for sharks and for ocean health.

Salina Cruz (Oaxaca) Surf Companies Protest Surfing Magazine Article

According to this post on ESPN by surf scribe Kimball Taylor, Salina Cruz surf companies are angry about a funny article about surfing in Oaxaca.

In an email dated September 22, Cesar Ramirez — a local surfer and a cornerstone of the surf tour business in Salina Cruz — asked flatly, “What was the guy who wrote the article thinking?”

The email went on to explain the delicate relationship forged by local surfers, businesses, tour guides, and the foreign surfers they hosted. It posited the rhetorical question of why the name of Salina Cruz hadn’t been spilled in such dramatic fashion before then. “Maybe for respect or friendship,” Ramirez answered. “All was good until today. Somebody with no balls to write his [own] name wrote the s—-iest article a surfer can write … Did it without respect and in the lowest form of professional ethics.”

The interesting aspect of this email, however, was that it carried weight:

“I hearby advise everyone that there has been a meeting between the local surfers in Salina Cruz including all the surf camps and as a result to this disgusting article … as of now, for 2 years foreign photographers and videographers are not welcome in Salina Cruz, doesn’t matter what surf team or what magazine they work for.”

Of the enforcement tools listed, the first was a legal one: an inspection of a photographer’s Mexican work visa — something few, if any, surf photographers obtain. The second tool was a bit more mercurial, depending on, “if we are in a good mood.”

Here is my comment on the ESPN site:

It is unfortunate that surf operators in Salina Cruz chose to proclaim a “fatwa” against international media coverage of surfing in southern Oaxaca. The irony of course is that it is the surf companies themselves that promote Salina Cruz as a destination through their websites that even include maps and site information.

Mexican tourism and surfing companies can’t have it both ways–they can’t complain about the unfair media coverage of violence in Mexico that has literally killed tourism and then threaten the only journalists and media companies who are promoting Mexico as a positive and beautiful place to visit.

I find it regrettable that these local operators would actually threaten physical violence against journalists which is a federal crime in Mexico. Few other countries direct as much violence against journalists as Mexico. This surfing “fatwa” is really a product of the unfortunate history of authoritarian rule and political culture in Mexico that has resulted in the deaths of many reporters.

The key issue in southern Oaxaca to remember, is that an indigenous community such as Barra de la Cruz has developed a very interesting and so-far positive tourism management plan that benefits the community rather than outside surf companies.

Other Chontal communities along the coast are following suit. It is important that visiting surfers respect the real locals on this coast–the historically marginalized and poverty stricken Chontal communities who view small-scale surfing tourism as a way to promote sustainable and community development and keep out Huatulco-style mega-projects.

What is lamentable is that local surf companies don’t see the real threat here–from Mexican agencies such as FONATUR that is continuing its ongoing campaign of destroying Mexico’s pristine coast to build mega-resorts that no one will come to.

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