TUBE CAR­TEL

DEEP IN­SIDE MEX­ICO'S MOST LU­CRA­TIVE TRADE

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Pro surfers are al­ways seek­ing lo­cales that lend them­selves to dreamy im­agery and mes­meris­ing clips. A few years ago Bali re-emerged as the prover­bial Hol­ly­wood of surf­ing, with free-surfers and sin­glet-wear­ers alike get­ting them­selves in a tizz over a few new rights. More re­cently the stretch of Mex­i­can coast around Salina Cruz has be­come the hot spot for spon­sored wave slid­ers to lay down their tracks. It's not dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why. When the swell is up there are enough hol­low, sand-bot­tom points to make Coolan­gatta seem wave-starved and when it's small, miles and miles of iso­lated coast be­come a beach-break Nir­vana.

Matt Bant­ing, Kanoa Igarashi and Marc La­co­mare re­cently jour­neyed to Salina Cruz on some­thing of a whim and scored the kind of beach­break waves many of us fall asleep dream­ing about.

Matt had been hang­ing at Hunt­ing­ton, suf­fer­ing through one-foot slop in freez­ing con­di­tions, when he had a bril­liant idea – "Maybe Mex­ico might be a lot more fun?" On the way down at Puerto Es­con­dido he pulled into vo­ra­cious pits and par­tied. It was time to leave how­ever when two lo­cals stared dag­gers at Matt and a mate for frater­nising with a cou­ple of the lo­cal senori­tas at a bar. "We did the back­ward shuf­fle straight out the door," re­flects Matt with a chuckle.

From Porto, Matt headed to Salina Cruz where he dropped 200 green­backs a night for dorm-style, surf camp digs and a chef with a thing for spicy food. Kanoa and Marc chimed in and they spent a few days in beach­break heaven. Matt called it a su­per-hol­low shorey with cor­ners on it, while La­co­mare said it was ex­actly like La Graviere in France, right down to the grains of sand. While the points can get crowded with the lo­cals, the Brazil­ians and the ex­pat cow­boys from the US, you can claim a sec­tion of beach to yourself with noth­ing but the odd mescal-fu­elled lo­cal in sight for miles.

For­tu­nately Marc speaks Span­ish and acted as the in­ter­preter for the trio. A lit­tle lo­cal jar­gon comes in handy with fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions and sketchy sit­u­a­tions, how­ever Marc couldn't ne­go­ti­ate a way out of the $800 fee for ev­ery filmer or pho­tog­ra­pher as­so­ci­ated with a shoot. Nor were his lin­guis­tic skills of any real use when their car was bogged on the beach. "The sand gets re­ally soft in parts," ex­plained Matt. "The wa­ter was wash­ing up over the wheels. We thought the car was go­ing to be be to­talled."

Mirac­u­lously they got the car out of the quick­sand but not be­fore the typ­i­cally laid­back Mex­i­can guide started flip­ping out about his sink­ing ve­hi­cle.

When quizzed about the in­flu­ence of the no­to­ri­ous Mex­i­can drug scene and whether or not he ever felt his safety was in jeop­ardy, Matty was rather mat­ter of fact. "If you keep to yourself and don't look for trou­ble it's al­right, but it feels like it can turn pretty bad quick."

One en­counter in par­tic­u­lar made it ap­par­ent that few businesses op­er­ate with­out the con­sent of the pow­er­ful drug car­tels. Matt ex­plains how one lo­cal's en­tre­pre­neur­ial ini­tia­tives were rapidly squashed by the car­tel goons.

"One of our lo­cal mates told us how he was kid­napped and made to sign ev­ery­thing he owned over to the car­tels … he was try­ing to set up his own surf camp and he had the es­tate ready plus three or four ve­hi­cles to ferry surfers around. One day a team of cars started fol­low­ing him and be­fore he knew it he was do­ing 180km/h through the city try­ing to get away. Even­tu­ally they blocked him off and sur­rounded him like some sort of movie scene. They kid­napped him and held him for a cou­ple of days un­til he signed ev­ery­thing over … all his as­sets and all his cars. He was pretty shat­tered. We ended up just giv­ing him a board. Now he works for one of his mates as a driver, so in­stead of own­ing his own busi­ness he's just work­ing for some­one else."

But while the ruth­less car­tels may be able to con­trol the sup­ply and de­mand of co­caine to the western world, they can't ma­nip­u­late the waves, which crash against their shores in all the shapes and sizes that make surfers' minds bend. As the en­dor­phin­sat­u­rated im­ages from the next few pages demon­strate, you def­i­nitely don't need to be buried nose-deep in march­ing pow­der to find a high in Mex­ico.

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