DEEP INSIDE MEXICO'S MOST LUCRATIVE TRADE
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.