My New Book, Surfing the Border

I will launch the tour for my new book, Surfing the Border, on Saturday January 24th in Coronado and Imperial Beach. I will be speaking and signing books at the Coronado Library Winn Room from 2-3pm and then from 5-6:30 pm I’ll be at the Pier South Resort in Imperial Beach. Should be a blast!!

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WILDCOAST IMPACT 2014

One of the great pleasures of being the Executive Director of WILDCOAST is being able to evaluate our impact each year. And this year was a tremendous year of success. Here are some of our results.

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Surfers Unite to Save Waves: The Global Wave Conference 3

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On the first ever Global Wave Wednesday, a report on how surfers from ten countries came together May 5-8, 2013, in Rosarito Beach at the Third Annual Global Wave Conference to talk about strategies to preserve waves and beaches.

 “We are more than a wave,” Pablo Narvaez of Barra de la Cruz told me last week while we ate lunch at the Rosarito Beach Hotel.

 Barra de la Cruz, considered one of the world’s best waves by Surfer Magazine, is an indigenous coastal village in Mexico where surfing is the main source of tourist revenues. “We have sea turtles, a mangrove lagoon and a beautiful village filled with culture,” said Pablo.

Pablo was among the surf conservationists from 19 organizations representing ten countries who came together in Rosarito Beach at the world’s largest gathering dedicated to global wave protection in Rosarito Beach for the for the 3rd Global Wave Conference to discuss experiences and strategies to protect coastal ecosystems and resources.

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Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO and Carlos Luna of Rosarito Beach.

“Over the last decade the surf conservation movement has blossomed but until recently the world’s surf protection groups have been working in isolation,” said Surfrider Foundation Environmental Director Dr. Chad Nelsen. “The Global Wave Conference is designed to change that and promote exchange of knowledge and programs, information sharing and collaboration, with the larger goal to establish a unified front for global wave protection.”

 The conference represents a growing understanding that the world’s coastlines, and more specifically its surf spots, are important economical, ecological, cultural and recreational resources that must be protected.

 “The GWC was a really productive and amazing conference. From local fisherman in Baja, to non-profit leaders in the UK, to representatives from the UNDP in Costa Rica; The true strength of the conference was to create new and innovative partnerships among all surf users,” said Save the Waves Executive Director Nik Strong-Cvetich.

Nik Strong-Cvetich of Save the Waves, Gustavo Danemann of Pronatura-Noroeste, and from WILDCOAST Sofia Gomez, Fay Crevoshay and Eduardo Najera.

Nik Strong-Cvetich of Save the Waves, Gustavo Danemann of Pronatura-Noroeste, and from WILDCOAST Sofia Gomez, Fay Crevoshay and Eduardo Najera.

In Rosarito Beach, a number of the attendees represented communities throughout Mexico and Latin America who are striving to conserve their waves, beaches, and way of life through surfing tourism and conservation.

Local conference participants discussed strategies to protect coastal access and surf spots.  According to Dr. Eduardo Najera, Director of COSTASALVAJE, “Surfing provides a unique way to get in contact with nature and can increase people’s awareness about coastal conservation and sustainable use of the coastline.”

 Fernando Marvan from Surf Ens presented on the recently established Bahia Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve. Carlos Luna of Rosarito Beach and Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO discussed youth surfing in the region and the future of the sport in Baja California.

 “Waves are natural resources, it is up to us to protect them. As ocean lovers we need to spread the love and also educate young surfers about our environment,” said Alfredo who organizes youth surfing contests and lessons in both the U.S. and Mexico. “They are the next generation that will take care of our coasts.”

Participants who spoke on issues along the U.S.-Mexico borde and in Baja.

Participants who spoke on issues along the U.S.-Mexico borde and in Baja.

 Artemio Murillo and Jaime Villavicencio travelled all of the way from the fishing village of Bahia Asuncion in Baja California Sur to present on how surfing has been a catalyst for coastal stewardship. Jaime helps fix up old surfboards in his remote village to make sure that local kids have access to surfing.

 One of the most moving presentations was by Pablo Narvaez who discussed how his tiny Oaxaca community of 800 people is effectively managing their coastal resources and offered a model that can be replicated in many areas around the world. “We charge a fee to use our beach services. Those monies in turn fund community projects and medical care for every member of our village,” said Pablo.

 Presentations were also given by Surfers Against Sewage from the UK, Save the Waves, Salvem o Surf from Portugal, Surfrider Europe, Surfers Environmental Alliance, the Canary Island Surfing Federation, Desarrollo y Gestion Costera from Peru and Oso and Golfito Initiative from Costa Rica.

 “Every wave is unique. Every beach is important for the community,” said Carlo Grigoletto, Executive Director, Desarrollo y Gestión Costera (DGCOSTERA) of Peru.

Will Henry and Nik from Save the Waves with Pablo Narvaez from Barra de la Cruz, Mexico.

Will Henry and Nik from Save the Waves with Pablo Narvaez from Barra de la Cruz, Mexico.

 For Brad Former of the Gold Coast Surf Council in Australia, “There’s no reason why all major surf cities internationally can’t adopt a Surf Management Plan to extend beyond National and World Surfing Reserves models.”

 The conference concluded with a field trip to Ensenada to show some of the exceptional efforts being carried out by local community groups and NGOs and the location of what will be Mexico’s first World Surfing Reserve in Bahia Todos Santos. The reserve that will be launched sometime in the fall, will include San Miguel, Tres Emes, Salsipuedes and Todos Santos Island.

Here I am presenting on wave conservation in Mexico.

Here I am presenting on wave conservation in Mexico.

 “The conference also delivered the first ever united global action for wave protection through Global Wave Wednesday. A great template for working together.” Hugo Tagholm, Director, Surfers Against Sewage.

 As an act of solidarity the groups attending the Global Wave Conference agreed to support Surfers Against Sewage’s Protect Our Wave campaign, which is designed to increase legal protection for surfing in the UK.

 “It was great to see the commitment, tenacity and innovative approaches surfers are using to protect the waves they love all over the planet,” said Surfrider Foundation Executive Director Jim Moriarty.

 

Some of the group on a field trip to visit the Bahia de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve.

Some of the group on a field trip to visit the Bahia de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve.

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.

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.

The Road to Barra

The road seemed endless. After ascending the highway along the 7,000-foot elevation pine-covered peaks that separates the valley of Oaxaca in south central Mexico from the Pacific Ocean, I expected a long but easy descent.

I was wrong.

Although we only had about 130 miles to reach the coastal resort town of Huatulco, we had another four hours of the windiest, curviest, scariest two-lane highway imaginable.

Members of Oaxaca’s diverse indigenous communities hiked along the highway that was lined with villages precariously perched among the pines along the steep cliffs.

Women in traditional garb balanced their heavy loads on their heads. Others carried machetes on their way home from work.

The drive was made worse by the simple fact that Darren Johnson and I had spent the previous night on a red-eye flight from Tijuana to Oaxaca. Joey Fallon dropped me and Darren’s families off at the Tijuana airport at 10 in the evening.

Israel and Daniel waiting to go through immigration at the TJ airport.

Our flight departed Tijuana at 2 a.m. and arrived in Oaxaca, considered one of Mexico’s most traditional and beautiful capital cities, at 8 a.m. After picking up our small rental cars, we made our way southwest to the Pacific.

Josh, 14, was the first to vomit. Darren notified us via walkie-talkie that he had to stop. After a stretch, I found a slight turnoff on the wrong side of the highway next to a tree-covered deep ravine and halted. Darren followed.

As soon as my sons Israel and Daniel exited our Chevy, Israel projectile vomited.

Everyone gets sick on the Oaxaca to Huatulco highway.

Three hours later, after descending from the pine trees into thick coastal rainforest, we found Huatulco. After purchasing supplies and groceries, we finally reached our destination for the next two weeks, a brightly covered beach house tucked away on a remote cove protected by rocky headlands on each side.

The point down the beach.

The surf was sideshore and about 4-5 feet. Daren, Josh and my two sons claimed the thumping beachbreak peaks in the middle of the cove. I walked down and made a stab at the hollow peaks breaking off the point.

We were all reminded of how the crunching power of the surf in southern Mexico.

The waves pitched quickly and unforgivably.

The next morning the boys woke at dawn to patrol the point, and eventually joined a group of groms from the nearby village.

Israel practiced his Spanish. The local groms were pleased to share hoots when someone inevitably scored a barrel.

When the wind turned offshore in the afternoon the surf picked up considerably and the boys enjoyed another round of hollow zippers.

The next morning it was even bigger. The boys were the first ones out, and I could see them pull into a few choice barrels as I walked down the beach.

The sets were overhead and powerful. I cautiously dropped in on a few shoulders.

The boys charged.

“Josh got a stand up barrel,” Israel yelled.

Darren, a goofy-foot, paddled out. Fit and trim at 45, Darren still surfs like a teenager.

As a set approached, I scrambled to get outside. I caught the biggest wave, managed to make the late drop, raced down the line, straightened out in the soup, then got hammered in the whitewater.

We all came in. It was time to hit Barra.

The groms at Barra.

Barra de la Cruz is considered one of the best places in the world for waves. A sand bottom point that winds down the beach in perfect cylinders, Barra is the subject of countless surf films and has even served as the location of a Rip Curl Pro Search surf contest.

These barrels have become a magnet for surfers worldwide.

A set at Barra.

After a short drive, I parked the car and the boys jumped out to check the surf.

The waves were perfect and the lineup was crowded. The boys grabbed their gear and raced down the beach eager to sample a few of the waves they day-dreamed about for years.

The long drive down the never-ending highway was worth it.

Me on a fun one.

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