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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Wild Sea Excerpt: Waterman-Tales of the Tijuana Sloughs

This is an excerpt from my new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

A small day at the Sloughs. Photo: Bill Gove

Beginning in the 1940s, when north swells closed out the coast, surfers from all over Southern California made the journey to a remote and desolate beach within spitting distance of the Mexican border. Before the Malibu, San Onofre, and Windansea gangs began to surf Makaha and the North Shore, they experienced the thrill and fear of big waves at the Tijuana Sloughs, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial Beach.

Surfers interested in riding big waves would get a phone call late at night: “Surf’s up.” The next day, they would show up at the county lifeguard station at the end of Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach. Dempsey Holder, a tall and wiry lifeguard raised in the plains of West Texas, and the acknowledged “Dean of the Sloughs,” would greet them with a big smile. For Dempsey, the phone calls meant the difference between surfing alone and surfing in the company of the greatest watermen on the coast.

Dempsey's Sloughmobile Photo: John Elwell

Boards were quickly loaded into Dempsey’s Sloughmobile, a stripped down ’27 Chevy prototype dune buggy that contained a rack for boards and a seat for Dempsey. Everyone else hung on for dear life as they made their way through the sand dunes and nervously eyed the whitewater that hid winter waves that never closed out. The bigger the swell, the farther out it broke. Surfers not uncommonly found themselves wondering what the hell they were doing a mile from shore, scanning the horizon for the next set, praying they wouldn’t be caught inside, lose their boards, and have to swim in.

If you liked big waves and were a real waterman, you would paddle out with Dempsey. No one held it against you if you stayed on shore. Some guys surfed big waves, others didn’t. It was that simple.

Bill Hadji: When the winter storms came in, well, people know what it was like down there. The first thing they talked about was, “Let’s go down to the Sloughs.”

Mickey Muñoz: It’s some of the biggest waves on the coast. The outside surf break is pretty awesome.

Peter Cole:   The Sloughs had the biggest waves of any place in Southern California. It doesn’t have the jack-up of a place like Todos Santos or the North Shore, but it’s comparable to the outer reef breaks in Hawaii. It’s really an impressive wave.

Richard Abrams:   Way outside where eelgrass and kelp won’t grow, its just big boulders. It’s all in one pattern and it focuses the wave. The whole thing is just bending around and hitting cobbles that are way the hell out there. When you get inside, there are smaller cobbles with some bigger cobble, and some eelgrass. That whole river valley contributed to that break. All those cobbles

Dempsey Holder in Imperial Beach. Photo courtesy John Elwell.

Dempsey Holder:   I had told the guys up north about the surf down here. They were asking about it. One day I stopped at Dana Point on my way back from L.A. with a load of balsa wood to make surfboards. It was the biggest surf they had here in six years. They wanted me to compare it, and I told them, “Well, the backside of the waves were bigger than that, bigger than the frontsides.”

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