Where’s Lizzy: Episode 4

posted by / News / April 26, 2006

The first solid south swell has just spent over a week flushing the Michoacan coastline with waves. It just so happened that Swell was floating within striking distance of a spot I’d been eyeing on the charts for the last two months. The swell is gone now, its energy translated into memories. My body bears the only tangible evidence of its occurrence. I have a leash tan on my ankle and my arms feel like steel. My eyes are bloodshot from the salt and sun and my skin is the color of caramel…

The first solid south swell has just spent over a week flushing the Michoacan coastline with waves. It just so happened that Swell was floating within striking distance of a spot I’d been eyeing on the charts for the last two months. The swell is gone now, its energy translated into memories. My body bears the only tangible evidence of its occurrence. I have a leash tan on my ankle and my arms feel like steel. My eyes are bloodshot from the salt and sun and my skin is the color of caramel…

Before departing the Mexican Taliban’s paradise, we hitched a ride north and found some thick beachbreak peaks funneling into a lush rivermouth. Despite sharing a cozy early ‘90s {{{Honda Civic}}} with three chain smokers and a deafening music dance mix that matched the car’s era, we both enjoyed looking over the ledge of a few chunky Mainland Mex lips that day. The swell was picking up, though, and we were a bit tired of the perpetual log rolling contest aboard Swell. So the next morning we continued south, looking for somewhere to anchor with more protection. We found refuge behind a little point with a breakwater just 30 miles down the coast. The swell was still making its way in, but the beach here was flatter, so the backwash (log-rolling) effect was less dramatic. The next morning we forged our way to the wave I’d been seeking. As the taxi bumped down into the dusty little town, I caught my first glimpses of the glassy lefts between the stilted, palm-topped cabinas — it was bigger than I’d expected.

The first session reminded me all too much of a backwards version of my favorite wave at home on its bigger days of the year — but where were all the people? My 4/3 and booties? I had never surfed a left this long…and after a few waves that sent me into an uncontrollable, almost crazed giggle, I was convinced that I needed to thoroughly saturate myself here. My backside surfing was in need of some oiling, and this was undoubtedly the place to get it lubed. By the end of the first day, we’d met most of the local surfers either in the water or hanging at the little restaurant with the best view of the point. This establishment, I can’t {{{recall}}} it having a name, became our daily hangout. It was almost like the bleachers at a high school football game — both for its strategic view, and its limitless perpetuation of blather and chitchat amongst the mix of surfers that mingled there on either end of their session.

The tiny town attracted the usual sundry of surfers seeking their next “fix”. Unlike the speechless surf line-ups of the States, my experiences in this sort of less-known surf destination have generally been warm and welcoming. Usually the locals are tired of talking to each other and the other travelers are lonely. Following brief conversation and a shared surf session, it is possible to gain instant initiation. Such was the case here at least, and by the end of the first day I’d say we were “in”. Had it been remade into an episode of the “Brady Bunch”, I surely would have found myself smiling down at Shannon from the top left square during the intro. In the other squares were the common overland surf traveler, the “shoulda been here 20 years ago” guy, and the truly local Mexican surfer.

The first can come from as far a place as Holland (Klas) or as close as Seal Beach (Todd) and be a mega-ripper or a funboard shoulder-hopper. You can generally judge how long they’ve been away from home by the shagginess of their hair. The “shoulda been here 20 years ago” guy is easily spotted by his extreme tan and his constant spewing of stories about how you blew it by not being born sooner. The waves were always better, the water was warmer, there was never anyone out, and a mermaid pulled them back out into the line-up…yeah, sure buddy, you’re just mad because a girl can paddle faster then you now. In absolute contrast to this character, there was Flaco, filling the “Mexican local” square. With his explosive backhand dominance in the line-up, he just smiled and let his surfing do the talking. And then there was Pablo, in a square of his own. He was an experienced blue water sailor and long-time lover of the sea. Shannon deemed him a true American-Mexican, after having lived south of the border for over thirty years. With a character nearly as jubilant and fiery as mine, his whole body shook when he spoke. His laugh was loud and unconstrained; his eyes were bright and youthful-a spirit never crushed by the world to the north, the world of 8 to 5. He nearly exploded with questions and advice when hearing of my plans ahead and was quick to shoo us under his helpful and positive wing.

Our time here took on three major themes: The burgeoning festivities of Semana Santa made up the first. The second, I will call ‘innovative transportation’. The third was obviously and most importantly, the surf. Thus, as the week progressed, we entered into the height of Semana Santa or Mexican ‘Spring Break’ and the little town nearly quadrupled its usual crowd. Large families pitched their tents wherever they could find space-high or low, sand or dirt, here or there. It didn’t seem to matter much. They happily indulged in piles of fresh fruit and basked in the sun. Unlike many American campers, brining a car-full of olive green gadgets to replicate nearly everything they have at home, it seemed that these campers were concerned less with their appliances than the fun and family around them. It was hard to distinguish one family from another. Everyone walked through everyone’s campsites, it was customary to stop under someone else’s shade, and people offered each other food, smiles, and songs. A general feeling of joy oozed through the chaos like mud between your toes. By midweek, the town felt the burden of its new population. Trash piles overflowed, the restaurants ran out of food, and the water happened to run out right as Shannon and I rubbed a perfumed dollop of shampoo into our hair — it had been at lest five days since we’d showered.

One evening at a gorgeous vacation home setback on the river, we accepted a gracious invitation to dinner with fellow Californian surfers hosted by the Arche family of Mexico City. As I walked through the door (late) I jabbered on about how the local restaurant was out of everything except spaghetti. “I just don’t really like spaghetti,” I declared boldly and proceeded to rattle on and on about how noodles “just seemed like worthless food”. We sat down, twenty minutes later, around the long, dark wood table and a huge bowl full of shrimp spaghetti. Beatriz, the charismatic and talented “captain of the kitchen” (although I must credit the coconut in the salad to her youngest son), just gave me a humored smirk asked me to pass my plate. I ate every delicious scrap and made sure to ask for seconds after silently removing my foot from my mouth.


Our days consisted of four transportation needs, having decided not to launch the dinghy from Swell to shore in the morning and then from this town to the surf spot, followed by the reverse at the end of the day. I wasn’t inclined to depend on others for help, but this was the simplest way to surf all day and not worry too much about the dinghy being taken over the falls by a southern-hemi set. The results threw some spice into either ends of the day.

Most mornings we were able to flag down a fisherman heading in from his early catch and make it to the beach dry, but when there were no pangas in sight, we’d stuff the dry bags with the day’s necessities and paddle or swim the {{{200}}} yards to shore, and then emerge like swamp-thing onto the beach, making our way through an obstacle-course of oddly-clad swimmers of all shapes and sizes. Our most creative moment on this leg of the daily journey was on the back of a rented jet ski with an inexperienced Semana Santa-er. We’d had no luck hailing a panga and felt the need to conserve our energy for the surf, so we waved to a guy with a blindingly neon-yellow, wide-brimmed hat and small purple shorts circling the bay. After happily agreeing to deliver us to shore he came ramming into Swell in an attempt to get us aboard, leaving a souvenir purple streak across her white hull. I admit I was a bit jealous that Shannon got to wrap her arms around him on the way in.

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