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G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chasing the Big South Summer Swell of 2011

August 31 - September 9, 2011
Big, well advertised swell + Labor Day in Santa Cruz = Mega macking hewmungous crowd scene. I didn't wanna be here even though I knew it was gonna go off. So for the first time in my life, I chased a known quantity down to a relatively unknown quantity.

I'd been to Punta de Mita before, in March when M and I spent a couple weeks in Sayulita. I saw and surfed El Anclote when it was small, and when it was 4-5 feet and nearly perfect. I knew it was holding some good waves and with the swell of the decade bearing down on a coastline 1500 miles closer to the swell's origin, how could I go wrong? Here's how, the weather. No matter how much I tracked the weather, there are no guarantees of good weather in central Mexico in the Summer. What the...I'm goin' anyway.

In short order I booked a pre-holiday flight to PV on Alaska, secured a one bedroom condo across from the break and locked in a ride to and from SFO five days before departure. It all went down like clockwork. Swell, check. Condo, check. Weather, check. Weather? While sitting in SFO waiting to board I logged on to the National Hurricane Center to make one final check. On Tuesday there was a 10% chance that a tropical depression would form 125 miles south of my destination. On the morning of my departure though, the NHC had upped the percentage to 60%, and the storm tracked right over my surf spots. Nooooooooo! A quick call to my condo landlord. Should I cancel the trip? No way he says, it'll track out to sea and you'll get swell from it. Cool. (It didn't, but I still got a lot of good waves.)
No one goes to Mexico in the Summer. It's too hot, too humid, too wet, to which I say...too perfect. I spent nine days at Punta and it rained hard once, in the middle of the night. The rest of the time it wasn't an issue. Except for the few days when the downgraded tropical cyclone cruised over my location, showing itself to be dark and brooding, spitting out streams of lighting in the miles away distance, it was warm and sunny with broken billowy cloud cover. Add 87 degree water, paddling and SUP surfing two to three times a day and you have Eden. (Adam and Eve didn't wear wetsuits, and neither did I.)

The big south hit right on time. Within 15 minutes of my arrival at the El Anclote Condos Wednesday evening, I was in the water surfing the first of the 4-6 foot long interval swell waves. Waits in between sets were long and sets were populated with seven to nine waves on average. Smaller sets in between offered up waves in the 2-4 foot range. A good ride was about 300 yards long. The weather had not yet interfered with the conditions. The swell pumped for three days but conditions from the slow moving tropical disturbance chopped up the sea surface Thursday night and Friday morning. Still surfable, but not as good as Wednesday evening/Thursday morning. Friday night and Saturday morning the wind blew it all out. Saturday evening it was surfable again, but choppy. By then the swell was dieing out.

There was always something to surf at El Anclote, but on small days, the key is to rent a panga and do morning sessions at one of the several nearby breaks. Horacio at the Hotel des Artistes del Mar hooked me up with boats, drivers and other surfers who were fun to surf with and helped defray the cost of the panga rental. I didn't rent a car for this trip and when I do this again (which I will) I'd opt to save money on a car by sharing rental costs for a boat. But that's me. I was by myself and on the economy plan. A fellow traveler or two can help with costs.

In the off season this normally bustling tourist town is vacant of people. The travellers that are there are friendly and social. I found this to also be true of all the Mexicans I met. Coincidences abounded. I met Frank and Michelle the second day, both SUP surfers. They are the owners of Adventures By The Sea in Monterey. We're neighbors in Cali. Through them at dinner one night, I met Federico who turned out to be good friends with Horacio at the Hotel. Federico has a very cool travel blog with lots of good tips. Horiaco's boss' name is Greg. Via another coincidence I discovered that Greg and I went to college together in San Diego many, many years ago. It is in fact a very small world.

I stayed at Tom and Joanie Ogg's condo in El Anclote Condos. Tom has created a comprehensive and fully informative website which I devoured when planning my trip. If you're looking for a comfortable and very secure place to stay, the perfect surfer's lair, you will do yourself a favor by checking them out.

I ate a few meals out, mostly dinner, and when I did, the portions were so large I always ended up taking home the next nights dinner. A tienda was a couple blocks up the street so for basic breakfast food, fruit and snacks I shopped there. It was one of the only places where the vendors didn't speak English which foreced me to abuse them with my Spanish. Although too polite to say anything, I'm sure my utterances are hilarious to the native speaker. No matter, I actually enjoy trying to communicate. And again, everyone is so friendly I always came away feeling good.

After nine days I really didn't want to come home. The set-up was just too perfect. I like surfing in boardshorts and I found no need for a rash guard or my little goofy sun hat before about 10AM or after 5PM. I'm a dawn patroller so I surfed or paddled every morning early. Evenings can be tricky and I found that the majority of evenings were windy. It only glassed off a couple evenings so morning surfs were essential for guaranteed good conditions. Several days and one evening in particular, the wind went silent and the sea surface calmed into wrinkle free sheet glass. After the big south subsided water clarity went off the chart. They say there's no snorkeling but La Bahia was perfect for it. I had plenty to look at from my stand up perch while surfing the smaller 2-4 ft. waves at the cove.

I'm already thinking about my next trip in 2012. Now I've got the airport, the taxis, the ATM's (for pesos, you get the best rates), all the hassle travel stuff wired. Travel days are always kind of a grind so it makes it easier if you have a plan based on reality.

For this trip I was able to stuff everything I needed into a carry-on backpack, so the only item I had to check was my board. ($75 each way. I wouldn't leave home without it.) Again, Joe's custom board bag protected my L41 SimmyD in bulletproof style. I avoided all the niggling terrorist induced TSA requirements re toiletries, first aid stuff, etc. by filling a small valise with the items and securing the valise in the board bag. Hassle free. Yes!

For my own record I've included a daily record which I kept on my tablet PC. Thank goodness for that and a good and reliable internet connection at the Ogg's condo. Unless you want to pay through the nose for cell phone service turn off data roaming. Also, lot's of American internet services don't work in Mexico. Kindle didn't work for me so if you're going to bring e-books, download 'em first in a format that will run on your machine without the internet. All the surf forecasting websites work so that's not an issue. I found that for this trip, no matter how much the swell dropped off there were fun surfable waves either north or south if El Anclote was flat.

Depart WEDNESDAY August 31, plane almost two hours late. Almost
canceled, NHC storm, Tom talked me down. Taxi to EA, $50 (600 PESOS),
$10 finders fee, $16 tip. Nice condo, unpacked, finned up,in water in
15 minutes. One hour session until dark. 2-4 and 4-6 ft sets, inconsistent. Water
temp 87F. Cut foot. Chaise lounge good bed.

THURSDAY Sep 1- Up early. In water at first light. Two hour session,
4-6 ft on best sets, fairly consistent, at 0900 it died and got much
smaller in the high tide. Ate at El Coral, huevos, not very good. 100
pesos included tip. Knocked around, explored the grounds talked with the Mexicans,
went shopping at El Cuarte and the OXXO. Mango across from tiendas $1.
Ate tortas bought from street vendor Flavio. $2.50 each. Evening session in bumpy, crumbly onshores. Still 4-6 on the best sets with some rides going 300 yards. Frank and Michele from Monterey.

FRIDAY Sep 2-Dawn patrol in slightly better but still onshore wind
conditions. Surf a bit smaller. Went for a stroll, checked out EA, not
much going on. Almost got glassy around noon, but then deteriorated
Into 20-30 MPH onshore winds. Whitecaps, unsurfable. May not even
clean up overnight. Had fantastic grilled huachinango at El coral for dinner. 200 pesos
included two beers and the tip.

SATURDAY Sep 3-Dawn patrol onshore from S/SW. Unsurfable and small...blown
flat. Surfline the only site to get the wind forecast right. Next
surfable moment may not be until Sunday evening. Onshore all day but it died down enough for a choppy, bumpy one-hour evening session. If nothing else, good balance exercise.

SUNDAY Sep 4-Dawn patrol. Surfline forecast continuing onshore but I grabbed my
board and checked it anyway. The onshores had backed down
substantially, but it was still onshore. Surfed a one hour session in
2 ft semi-junk in a sea that is still unsettled from almost three days
of stormy onshore winds. Best thing about this morning was a fine
sunrise and then real early morning sun. After surfing I paddled down
to the Marina and back. Love the weather, even the humidity and the
water temp is heavenly. The surf alone would have been worth the trip, but
tropical disturbance Eight E took it's toll on about half of the big south swell.

Surfed again with Frank and Michelle around 11AM. The day had
blossomed into this gorgeous tropical postcard from El Anclote. An
hour and a half session in 2-3 ft waves that occasionally put up a
bowly wall across the middle section. Lots of rides all the way into
the beach. Had beers after and a pool swim at their fancy digs (4 Seasons) on the
beach across from the break.

Surfed a third session in the balmy and warm offshore evening breezes.
The surf has become very small, but every now and again a fun
pulse. After, a long ride to Nuevo Vallarta for a very late dinner with
Kurt, Federico, Liza, Frank and Michelle.

MONDAY Sep 5-Slept in for surfing, but up early to document and enjoy
a magnificent sunrise. Surf is small, but the weather is making up for
the lack of waves.

Surfed a mid-morning session in small EA's with a couple quick bowl
sessions. Hooked up with Horacio and arranged an afternoon session to
Bahia by panga. Surfed the Cove for three hours in windy 2-4 ft peaks
in crystal clear water over a boulder and rock strew bottom. Wore my
booties just in case. It was the most challenging sea surface
conditions I've ever experienced. I musta fallen off 20 times just
trying to stand. After the Cove we opted for some quieter water around
the point at El Faro. Small clean right handlers over sharp rocks in
shallow water. Really glad I had the booties now.

Surfed for about 3.5 hours, everyone tired at the end. Finished off
with beers and good conversation with Horacio, Frank and Michelle,
Federico and Enyaqui (my new local friends), Leela from Houston and
Daniel our boat Captain/surfer on the rooftop bar at the Hotel des
Artistes courtesy of Horacio. In bed by 930.

TUESDAY Sep 6-Up early and down to the beach for the sunrise with my
cuppa. The dogs like me now after a barky beginning. Met up with
Horatio and sketched out another panga propelled session to the cove
after he gets off work around 4. The swells are fading so even if its
windy we need to jump on it.

WEDNESDAY Sep 7 Mid morning session in small EA's with Frank and
Michelle. Windy and bumpy afternoon session at La Launcha.

THURSDAY Sep 8 La Bahia two hour session with Kelly. Super fun 2-4 ft. glassy peelers with three separate peaks to choose from. No such thing as a crowd. Fish dinner at El Coral.

FRIDAY Sep 9 Early session to La Bahia with Joaquin. Gotta go home day.

I've got a video in the works, but it's gonna take me a while to get it edited. As soon as I'm done I'll post it.

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