What a difference a year makes. This is the second time that I have been down to mainland Mexico for a surf trip, and this year was sooo much better due to one thing… swell! During the 9 days we were there, we scored 7 days of fairly consistent southern ground swell with a couple of days of lull in-between that were still surfable. Much better than last year’s severe case of doldrums.

On Saturday the 10th of May, I flew down to Puerto Vallarta with three friends with surfboards in tow heading for our home base of Sayulita. Alaska Airlines was kind enough to charge us $50 each way for the privilege of letting their baggage handlers try their best to ding our boards. Fortunately, they did not succeed. When taking more than one board, I really like my RipCurl coffin that I picked up at Wise Surfboards a while back since it can hold three surfboards up to 7’4” and comes with wheels that really saves your back. On top of that, the thing turns into a roof rack with two built-in straps to cinch it down to whatever dental car you happen to pick up. Since I had extra room around the edges of the bag, I just threw all of my clothes, fins, snorkel (snorkeling gear unused for the second straight year... why did I bring them?) and wetsuits into the coffin so I wouldn’t have too much carry-on luggage. Ahh... scratch that -- no wetties required since we're surfing in BOARDSHORTS. I did carry-on some boardshorts, a leash and other essential stuff just incase my coffin got lost during the flight (the attendant at the oversized-luggage security check where you leave your boardbags at SFO seemed pretty lackadaisical about actually checking the bags in so they could get on the plane).

Puerto Norcondido (Sorry Pathetica Fans) - Via Alaska Air Cam

I only took one board for the trip, but also took a friend of mine’s board who would be showing up later in the week. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of taking my old 6’6” shortboard instead of my newer 6’4”. The 6’6” was my first “real” shortboard and hence is a little longer, fatter (2.5” vs. 2.25”) and wider (19.125” vs. 18.625”) than my everyday 6’4”. I hadn’t ridden the 6’6” since I picked up the 6’4”, so I just kind of assumed that it would work out fine. Well, I was wrong. Turns out that you really can feel the difference between the two boards with the 6’6” feeling relatively sluggish compared to the 6’4”. On just about every wave, I was wishing I had brought the 6’4”. Kook lesson learned: Bring your best board(s).

Board Coffin
Holds Jimmy Hoffa or up to three 7'4" boards, has wheels and turns into a roofrack for the dental, but doesn't slice, dice or make julian fries... kewlness

Upon arriving in Fabulous Puerto Vallarta, we rented a couple of cars (fully insured to obtain maximum cruising velocity on sketchy Mexican dirt roads), stopped by the market to stock up on essential supplies like... tequila and beer and drove over the hill to the sleepy fishing village of Sayulita. I think the Mexicans drive the most like the French of any country that I have visited: Speed high, obtain maximum escape velocity pronto, driving "rules" like staying on your side of the road... optional, pass anywhere there are two lanes regardless of oncoming traffic and never really getting excited about the chaos -- it's not personal... it's just driving. Very refreshing after you get used to it.

Sayulita Mexico
No surf at the point, just where the cove pulls inland

Actually Sayulita is not exactly sleepy anymore since a recent New York Times travel article and Lonely Planet review has increased exponentially the number of gringos visiting the town. Let's just say that I spotted plenty of Cali license plates, Oregon, Texas and even I think Michigan... many more than last year. Better get on it soon... I predict eminent Starbucksification. After we made it into town, we picked up the keys to the Oh My God Pad that we would be calling home for the next nine days and eight fabulous nights, rallied over and unpacked the tequila and brews and started at it.

Sayulita Villa Crash Pad
Soooooo Phat

Phat Villa Gardens
Piscina for your enjoyment... walking bridge, a nice touch

Phat Front Lawn Sunset View
So extra double wide

Sayulita’s clam to fame, besides the beautiful cove in which it lies, is its river mouth reef break that is probably the most consistent break in the area. Not that the break is epic, but it is ride-able on most days being wide open to north and west swells and even shadowed south swells that wrap around the point at the end of town. It’s mostly a right with a big section instead of a peak and then a medium-long shoulder. I’ve never seen it break on anything but wrapping south swells or wind swell, so the biggest I have ever seen it is shoulder-ish high. On "bigger" days, there is a left to the north of the river mouth, but it totally sucked every time I saw it, but it might get good with a different swell angle. Rumor has it that the Sayulita break was going off at 25’ during last year’s hurricane that landed just a little north of Sayulita. However, that is only what I overhead in the lineup one day, so who knows how big it really got. At any rate Hawaiians would have said it was flat. Being more open to north and west swells, this break is probably better in the winter when north and west swells are more common as it gets some of that NorCal NW lovin'.

Sayulita Mackage
Just about as big as it got

Sayulita Left
Mushy, sectioned and small (waist high at max), sorry goofies

What the consistency of the Sayulita break has produced is a large number of local and ex-pat rippers that put on a show from about 10:00 am until sunset on shortboards and longboards. Front row seating under a nice and shady palm-frond lined umbrellas 100 pesos per day two deck chairs included muchos gracias. These rippas are among the best surfers I have ever seen. For example, “blue shorts guy” takes off on a shoulder-high set wave deep in on a long board, walks to the nose instantaneously, hangs 5, hangs 10, drop-knee cutback, back to the nose, drop-knee cutback, to the nose, turns backwards hanging heals, turns forward again on the nose, crouches, slides out the tail, 360 degree spin of the board, back to the nose, walks onto the beach. Same guy on a shortboard is taking off super, super deep, making unreal sections, floating floaters, nailing aerials (multiple in one ride), etc., etc. Just amazing stuff.

Unfortunately, in addition to the in-town rippas, there are at least twice as many total beginners in the lineup. Needless to say, most of these folks haven’t been informed on the niceties of surfing etiquette, so unless you are screaming and yelling down the line (and even if you are), you’re pretty much guaranteed to get some softopdropinage. Oh, and the locals have the wave so dialed and sit so deep, the best you are going to get is leftovers (unless you rip, but then why would you be surfing in Sayulita when it's 10x bigger just south in Puerto Escondido).

And if that isn’t bad enough, a couple of surf schools run classes in Sayulita that last a week long each. Something like 30+ people head down for these classes – at least judging from the number of people that we saw having their group photo taken. The BIG advantage of this is that the schools are female-only. Very nice. Very nice.

Sayulita Rippa
Shrapling on knee-high bumpy mush burgers

Typical Late-Spring Sayulita
Small, crowded and sunny.... water skiing anyone?

That said, the majority of the people that came down with me were women (lucky me!) beginner to intermediate longboarders, so they had a great time on the not-very-challenging wave in Sayulita. Oh, and they got GIVEN many, many waves. It pays big to be female in Sayulita. All the time, the local crew would yell at them, “Go, go, go” or "vaya, vaya, vaya" on waves that the rippas clearly had position on. When I tried to explain that this would never happen to a guy, my friends just didn’t understand. Next time I’m wearing a wig. Does this happen in NorCal too?? Don't know about you, but folks offer up waves to me at the Hook all the time... especially when it's big -- so NOT!

Given the lack of quality surf in town, the crowds and high drop-in potential, I think I might have surfed for maybe two hours in Sayulita the entire time. The most memorable time was the night we arrived in town. Checked into El Gordo Villa, downed a Ballena (see below), couldn't find my wettie so I threw on my boardshorts, waxed the board (warm water wax thank you), jammed down to the break, ran into the shore pound, paddled out and realized I was a little buzzed from the grande brewski. Kind of interesting slurfing a little drunk. Wouldn't recommend it, but definitely interesting. For slurfage the rest of the time the coast along the southernly-exposed Punta Mita was our friend.

On one day, we rented a “fishing” boat – that’s what they call them, but they really seem to be tourist taxis – and surfed at a fairly inaccessible (by land at least) reef/beach break. The swell was pretty good that day breaking on an outer reef at maybe just a bit over head high. Right off the bat, I clicked into a set wave, but it petered out pretty fast. About five minutes after that, the wind started picking up, so I knew our time before Victory At Sea conditions was limited. The break seemed to have two peaks, and I was sitting on the left one. The next set that came through was bigger than the first, so I was too far inside to get any of it. However, my friend got two on the head on her longboard, so she went back to the boat. I moved out a bit and watched nothing hit my peak, while everything was hitting the right peak. After about 10 minutes of this, I paddled over to the right peak, but it was just a sea of boils, and it was low tide, and I had heard that there was a rock on the inside somewhere near this peak. Kind of freaked me out being that I was now the only one out, and I was in Mexico. Fortunately or unfortunately, the wind came up and turned the sea to junk, so it was back to the boat.

Punta Mita "Fishing' Boat
Note the skilled crew of fisherpeoples

Salvation for the rest of the week came the next day when my shortboarding bro showed up in town and we again hit it down to the Punta Mita coast. My friend happened to know someone who had taught surfing in the area at one of the local hotels, so we scored the full four-eleven on the breaks and how to access some of them without a boat. Turns out that the boat guys will give you sooo much disinformation just to get you to rent their boat… what a surprise. Hey, it's really cool to dive off a boat and paddle into a break that you haven't seen the front of, so boating is dope.

From Wednesday to Sunday we surfed at a reef break that acted more like a beach break. The swell would peak up seemingly all over the place and lay down a bit section so it was easy to be out of position or worse, too deep and inside. In addition, there was a pretty good current running that pushed you deeper and inside. Until you figured that out you were getting some Maytag action. The right was far better than the left, but every now and again, the left would light up. Once we had spent our first day there getting sucked in too deep and inside and getting lots of sets on the head or not making sections, we had the place dialed. This worked out great, since unless you had the eccentricities of the break figured out, you were just not going to get very many waves. This is one darn good reason why you surf at beaches… everything else is easy.

Jungle Trail
Seek and you shall find

Wednesday we got clean chest- to shoulder-high conditions as the second south swell of the trip was building. This was the day that we paid our dues figuring out the break, and the day that I got pretty frustrated. After working the short left for a while (gotta work the backside, since in Cruz you rarely get the chance), I moved over to the right and spent the rest of the day dropping into whitewater sections I just couldn’t get around. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make right more than halfway the whole day. Finally, towards the end of the session, I got it that the current was pushing us around and got a pretty good feel for how the sets were shifting around and where they would break and what was makeable. Noted that in the memory bank and got out. Of course, someone like Slater would have looked at it for 10 minutes from the shore and figured it all out.

Thursday and Friday we scored head-high waves with maybe some sets pushing a few feet overhead. I got some of the best waves that I’ve ever had with probably the best wave I have ever surfed right off the bat on Thursday. The waves would wall up all the way down the break with most being pretty fast. So with my lame surfing skills it was basically a pump-fest down the line with an occasional cutback to get you back in the curl. One of the local rippas made the most of every wave with lots of off-the-lip sprayage, hard cutbacks and floaters. Conditions on Thursday and Friday morning were pretty good with a little bit of bump from the wind which was not really a problem.

Friday afternoon for our second session the wind had really picked up and conditions looked pretty marginal, but we were on a mission to surf. Clicked into a smaller set wave immediately a
s I paddled out, but then things really fell apart. On perhaps the biggest wave of the trip, I got into position just right, and as the wave jacked up it smoothed out the serious chop, and made the drop no problema nice-and-smooth like, stood up and got so excited seeing it wall up all the way to the beach. "Money," I said. Well, I tried to set a hard bottom turn which worked out great for my board but not for me. I don’t know what happened, but the next thing I knew, I was going one way – down into the pit – while my board was headed up the face like it was supposed to. Ahhh… the joys of being a kook. I had nightmares of kooking the best wave of the day for the rest of the session. After an over-the-falls incident, being bounced out of two waves by the chop and getting hammered on the inside (on one duck dive, I ended up holding onto my board upside down waiting for it to surface... waiting... waiting... green... light... air... it's all good) I was audi.

Saturday morning was good too with mostly shoulder-high sets with an occasional head-high set. The crowds definitely show on the weekends with 11 people in the water as we paddled out. Since the break was so shifty this really wasn’t a problem. However, about an hour into the session, the crowd must have at least doubled with drop-ins happening all over the place. Serious crowds are not my scene
, so I just about bailed on the whole session when I noticed the beach to the east was offering up some semi-serious mostly-closeout “peaks” with the occasional shoulder thrown in to fool ya. Not super appetizing normally, but it was soo glassy – “super glass” – that I got all excited like a grom and ran down the beach to paddle out. I gotta say that surfing that semi-closeout shoulder-high stuff was just about the most fun I had the entire trip. I must have caught 30 gillion waves in about an hour and was just getting worked pulling into everything I could. At one point midway into it, I almost got out since I was really taking a beating. However, it was just too much fun, so I stuck with it. One of the other joys of being a kook is that you can surf stuff like that and still have a great time.

Reef Action ("Crowded" with three out)
This was taken on Sunday... by far the smallest day out there

Sunday we hit it super early before out flight left and got a little more than an hour in. Conditions were chest to shoulder high on the sets and super glassy again until late in the session when the wind started picking up. Since we had a water camera, I spent about 15 minutes trying to get a decent shot of my friend with disappointing results. Man, trying to take a picture balancing on a board while a wave is headed right at you is NOT easy. I got lots of pictures of the water, waves and sky but none of my friend. After we got out, hit mach five on the dirt road back to Sayulita, hurriedly packed and jetted off to the airport not looking forward to clammy wetsuits and wind swell that awaited us back at home.

FOOD NOTE (Since it was sooo darn goodness)
Wow! I was suffering Mexican food withdrawal for about a week after I got back. Well honestly, I still suffering it. Since my shortboarding friend is fluent in Spanish and quite adventurous when it comes to eating, we’d try to hit all the really authentic places by driving or walking around in the local's side of each town we visited. For one memorable lunch, we had BBQed chicken fresh off the grill with tortillas, roasted onions and roasted jalapeños and rice with some homemade hot sauce. On my goodness was it good. All of this was something like $5 for the two of us. Serious scarfage.

For lunch in-between sessions one day, we stopped at a Torta (Mexican sandwich) shop for an awesome roasted-pork sandwich. It was soo good and each one of them was a buck. We also hit lots of taco stands which treated us most kindly. Another favorite of the groups was pescados enteros (whole fish) BBQed in hot sauce or cilantro sauce. Snapper was usually the fish that was served and was always fresh since the area is loaded with fishermen.

Pescados Enteros
A menu fave

Pescados Enteros
2X do-it-yourself kit

Sayulita just happens to be loaded with lots of quality eateries. Most of them serve up traditional Mexican dishes with lots of seafood on the menus. If you get a chance, make sure to try one of the seafood cocktails which is basically super-fresh shrimp, scallions and other shellfish in a big glass of tangy red sauce. Simple and yummy. In addition to Mexican food, Sayulita also has, surprisingly, a new and pretty good Chinese restaurant and an Argentinean restaurant that we didn’t get a chance to try. I missed out on the night most of the group got Italian, but everyone who went said it was just great.

Mexican Food...
Is best with lots of this

Plenty of this (ballena = whale = Mex 40oz)

In summary, it’s pretty hard to go wrong food-wise since we didn’t really ever ask around, but simply just tried everything out.