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.

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Fighting Mega Projects in Guerrero

When we arrived in Zihuatanejo a few weeks,  we learned about plans by FONATUR, Mexico’s tourism development agency to build a new mega-tourism project on top of the Barra de Potosi mangrove wetland and coastal area. Here is the video of our press conference denouncing the project.

Surfing Guerrero

In between what were very long days in the Mexican state of Guerrero last week during my Wild Sea/Blue on Tour trip, Ben McCue and I managed to snag a few waves along what is a very undersurfed region of Mexico. Thanks to Pato, Cat, Lainie, Mike and Kristy for being such great surf hosts. And to Ben for being such a great conservation and surfing colleague.

 

We scored 3-5' fun waves at Playa Bonfil just south of Acapulco. This was our last morning and the only morning we surfed there (the day before was probably better but we had to leave our hotel very early for a TV interview). Acapulco is the largest coastal city in Mexico and allegedly has a large surfing population of surfers and only one other guy was out. Mainland beachbreaks have a special quality--hollow, crisp with lots of power--that you just don't find anywhere else. Photo: Ben McCue.

 

Ben and I pulled into the first available parking/beach access at Playa Bonfil. We parked in front a palapa that was also a sea turtle conservation camp and found these two WILDCOAST stickers pegged to their sign (the Santo sticker is ours).

Saladita. When it is bigger this is a fun wave for me. When it is smaller it is a Malibu style longboard wave or the perfect place for a fish or a mini-Simmons. This besides 1st point at Scorpion Bay and San Blas is about the best beginners wave on the Mexico coast

Pato, an activist from Michoacan now working in Saladita on agricultural and communty development ripping it up at a rivermouth we surfed one day. Pato is a super dedicated surfer/activist and a great guy to surf with. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Pato gets another one. Pato and I surfed this spot with just a few people out. Reminded me of the Sloughs shorebreak when it is good. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Me on my 6'6" Novak quad--this board worked great everywhere. Cobblestone rivermouth breaks are my favorite type of wave--they are so playful and versatile. Lefts and rights. My first mainland Mexico trip was back in 1982 at a rivermouth break further north up the coast. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Kristy Murphy of Siren Surf Adventures on a 5'10" Novak mini-Simmon's hybrid. Kristy is a former Women's Lonbboarding World Champion and she rips. She spends most of the winter in this area. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Here's Ben McCue working on his power snaps. Ben grew up in Santa Cruz and was like a little kid in a candy store on these left points. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Pato head a really nice power style, typical among Mexican surfers used to surfing good waves by themselves (his style reminded me of Ismael Arce of Punta Abreojos). The surf was about 3-5' with some 6' sets that came through later in the day. Photo: Cat Slatinskly.

Kristy setting up for a big cutback. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Ben going right. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

When we left, the surf was picking up and the lineup was almost empty. Classic mainland! Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Wild Sea on Tour in Guerrero, Mexico

Last week, I toured the southern Mexico state of Guerrero as part of the Blue Ocean Film Festival “Blue on Tour” and my Wild Sea book tour. Ben McCue accompanied me and Sergio Flores and Natalia Parra of WiLDCOAST. Natalia and Sergio are our Southern Mexico Pacific coordinators. We gave talks, press conferences and showed ocean related films in Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Troncones and Saladita.

On our second to last day we met activists attempting to stop the Mexican Tourism Agency, FONATUR, from building a new mega-resort and cruise ship terminal at Barra de Potosi, a stunningly beautiful mangrove lagoon, beach and headland where leatherback sea turtles nest and humpbacks can be found offshore. Of course the local fishing community of 600 residents at Barra are adamantly opposed to the project and have barely been consulted about it, even thought FONATUR received a concession to build there.

A special thanks to Sergio and Natalia, Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures, Fortaleza Lounge and Theater of Acapulco, Lourdes of Lourdes Bungalows in Saladita, the Instituto Tecnologico de la Costa Grande, Pato, Roberto of Roberto’s Bistro, and Mike and Lainie Johnstone.

 

Ben McCue in Acapulco talking to an estimated crowd of over 200. Our presentation went over very well.

WiLDCOAST'S Natalia Parra talks to the Acapulco press about the plight of sea turtles in Guerrero.

A local restaurant owner talks to the crowd about the importance of coastal protection.

At Saladita I was lucky to meet Alan Weisbecker, author of "In Search of Captain Zero."

Lourdes, who hosted our presentation at Saladita for the Mexican and American communities there. Lourdes is a surfer and a pioneer in Mexico in surfing tourism.

My talk at Saladita. More than 60 people were in attendance. I couldn't think of a nicer place to give a talk--on a beachfront palapa, watching the sun set over a "reverse Malibu" point break.

Ben, Lourdes, Cat Slatinskly, me, Pato, and Kritsty Murphy. Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures from my hometown of Imperial Beach organized the events in Saladita and Troncones and hosted us there. Pato is a local activist.

Before the event in Troncones at Roberto's Bistro, Roberto arranged the release of olive ridley sea turtles. He manages a sea turtle nesting beach camp there too.

Children releasing sea turtles.

Roberto and his local sea turtle conservation team. These kids were so passionate about saving sea turtles and protecting the environment.

Ben and me with activists from Barra de Potosi who are opposed to the proposal by FONATUR to build a new mega-resort there.

My Wild Sea and BlueOcean Film Festival Tour of Mexico

I’ll be in Acapulco, Zihuatenejo, Troncones and Saladita this week in Guerrero, Mexico to host the Blue on Tour: Blue Ocean Film Festival in Mexico and talk about my book Wild Sea. I hope to be tweeting and blogging all week about our adventures (depending on web access).
Ocean Film Festival presented by WiLDCOAST, La Fortaleza Lounge and Guardianes del Mar.
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Book presentation of “WiLD SEA: ECO WARS AND SURF STORIES FROM THE COAST OF THE CALIFORNIAS” by Serge Dedina, co-founder of WiLDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE.

Where: La Fortaleza Lounge, Acapulco’s Zocalo, in front of the Cathedral.

When: Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Additional Mexico tour dates:

MARCH 16: Zihuatenejo, TBD

MARCH 17: Saladita, Lourdes Bungalows @ 7pm

MARCH 19: Troncones, Roberto’s Bistro, @ 7pm

A-Frames and Ice Cream Headaches

My Imperial Beach Patch column of March 9th.

Like most of you I haven’t been able to keep track of the the non-stop weekend rain storms followed by Santa Ana conditions with good clean surf.

IB in the winter. Photo: Rob Hurlbut, Theworldisraw.com

“After such a great January and first half of February, the rest of 2011 thus far wasn’t quite so epic,” said Wildcoaster, IB surfer, and Matuse team member Zach Plopper. “Nonetheless, on Tuesday, the south side of the pier finally lit up providing tube time and ice-cream headaches all around.”

I dawn patrolled with the groms on Tuesday morning at 5:50. Alex Yepis soon followed. I scored a few hollow rights and a cool barrel. Dave Thomas was of course ripping. I caught a wave in at about 7:30. It was cold and I was cold. Later I watched Zach and Kyle Knox rip it up when the tide got higher and the offshore wind cleaned it up.

By the way check out Zach’s cool new video with Matuse family members Chris Del Moro and Luke Rife ripping it up in North County.

Despite the odd conditions, IB locals are keeping fit and preparing for the OAKLEY Surf Shop Team Challenge on Friday March 11th at Seaside Reef in Solana Beach.

“I have been training for the Challenge,” said Sean Malabanan. “I will represent The SurfHut and surf with Sean Fowler, Matt Field, Keith McCloskey who will represent our hometown shop.”

On Tuesday Sean and Matt Field were getting familiar with Seaside.  Friday’s event is the Southwest Regional Qualifier, winning team to compete at H.B. for $10,000 purse.

“Wish us luck,” said Sean.

Luckily a few surfers are traveling and meeting up with their IB bretheren around the globe. “Mercedes and I had a wonderful time on the North Shore last month visiting IBer’s Kim and Lynn Dodds at their Sunset Beach home,” recounted Jeff. “They are the most incredible hosts. The surfing highlight of our trip was a go-out at Leftovers with Terry Gillard Kim, A.J. Hubbard, Javier Mata, and Kristyan Stjerne. We spent another week on Kauai at Abram and Jenine’s coffee farm in Kona, helping out with coffee production from picking to roasting. I caught some classic overhead waves at Lymans, a great left in Kailua.”

Terry Gillard, Kim Dodds and Jeff Knox on the North Shore. Photo: Jeff Knox

When you stop by Katy’s Café ask Katy about her epic trip to surf the secret spots of Guerrero, Mexico with Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures.

“I had one of the best days  in my life surfing a left until I couldn’t surf anymore,” said Katy. “I saw whales, watched sea turtles swim under me, and even saw a shark. The wildlife was abundant, and the water was about 90 degrees in the shallows.”

Ben McCue and I will be hosted by Cat Slatinsky and Kristy Murphy next week as we tour the coast of Guerrero with the WiLDCOAST team that is based out of Acapulco. Lots of swell is on the way and according to Cat, “The surf is firing right now.”

I can’t wait to surf and hang out with two of my favorite and most stoked and positive IB locals. Cat and Kristy never seem to tire of doing good things and connecting people to look on the bright side of life.

I’ll be at Coronado’s Bay Books on Thursday March 10th from 6:30-8:00 PM talking about my book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias. Hope to see you there.

And thanks to all the IB locals and good friends who lent their support at my mother’s wonderful and laughter filled memorial service at the Dempsey Center last Sunday.

See you in the water.

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