Has Puerto Escondido Had Its Best Start To The Season Ever?
We asked a longtime local for his thoughts on Zicatela’s unparalleled commencement.
With hazy green hues, locally owned restaurants, and 30 peso beers, Puerto Escondido still carries much of the mystical allure it was built around — despite mainstream references to it as a “boho chic gem” or thereabouts.
Plus, no matter how many acai bowls are sold to over-enthused German backpackers, the wave machine keeps sending tantalizing crystal thumpers toward the neatly formed shorepound.
The beginning of this season has been especially good.
“From my own experience, I’m calling that the best May ever,” longtime local photographer Edwin Morales tells me. “I’ve never seen that many swells stacked up. There’s always one or two swells each month, but there were so many that we were all ready for a break. The surfers were charging and us photographers and filmmakers were standing in the sun — we’re all tired. You know how it is, it’s taxing on the body when the waves are pumping that much.”
Edwin has been shooting photos in Puerto Escondido since the ‘90s, building a career alongside Coco Nogales, Oscar Moncada, and traveling pros.
“Nobody thought the season was going to start like that. That was incredible, one of a kind. I might be too young to say best ever but, since I’ve been shooting, I think it has been.”
As the only beach near Mexico City that was open during the Coronavirus lockdowns, Puerto Escondido’s tourism has blossomed in the past couple of years. “It became famous,” Morales tells me. “And, nobody has had any problems. It’s safe. There’s a million girls here, and they’re out every night, there’s no crime — unless you get deep into drugs. The tourism is what drives our economy, and not even the bad people want to hurt the community.”
In an effort to better understand and portray his humble hometown, I asked him what his recommendations for traveling to Puerto would be.
“For me, surf travel is the same everywhere,” he mused. “As long as you show respect to the local community, you’ll get around easily. There are many AirBNBs that are run by local surfers here, like the homestays at Teahupo’o. When you stay with the local people there will be no problems at all. My recommendation is just to interact with the locals. The people who come every year and make friends are the ones who interact, instead of trying to hide and not be noticeable. When you try to hide, you stand out. You don’t want to be the only whiteboy here who doesn’t want to talk to anybody,” he laughs.
“I remember how it was back in the 90’s, it used to be gnarly. Nobody wanted to come here, it was wild. But, the new generation of locals here has a very different perspective on life, because most of them are traveling. Nobody traveled back in the day, everybody was just stuck here in Puerto. People are starting to understand. You feel safer traveling when you welcome everybody to your home.”
Success is a treacherous labyrinth, and though the Puerto Escondido economy has prospered in recent years, anyone who’s been to Zicatela recently can see that the frustrating crowds have increased as well.
“It’s crowded in town but, when it’s big, everybody is friendly with good vibes — it’s really positive,” Edwin says. “Overall the energy is incredible when there’s big waves. The problem comes when it’s small and everybody wants to get some, you know. It just gets overcrowded, that’s when it can be a little more stressful.
“Puerto isn’t easy, and there could be 100 people in the water, but only the people who understand the wave, the mechanics, who know where to sit, are getting the waves.”
Though the Zicatela lineup is often overflowing with traveling pros and underground big-board samurai, Edwin reminds me that it’s always the locals who stand out when it’s on.
“Jafet Ramos has a special connection every day, like Oscar Moncada used to have,” he says. “As for big wave riders, Marcial Monreal, Roger Ramirez Jr, and Quetzal Estrada are all really pushing the limits of big wave surfing in Puerto. Cesar Petroni is always charging and his brother Tehuen is a very talented surfer as well.”
As for visitors, the names you’d expect are there, plus a few you might not.
“During the swells, Greg Long is always finding the best ones. Kurt Rist from the east coast gets good waves, he’s lived here and understands how it all works. Kalama Stratton is a gnarly young gun. In May, Nathan Florence put on a show charging with a small board — that was unique. Crazy to see him eating shit and not even caring. And of course, Bianca Valenti is the only female who is out there sending it every time.”
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