I kicked and clawed to catch a tiny two-footer, right as another piercing bolt of lighting split the sky in two.
It wasn't as though we didn't see the storm approaching, but the allure of five-foot perfection without a soul in sight can make a surfer do some weird things.
Spot guide: Baja
Our elation however, was short lived as we made an adrenaline-fuelled scramble for the shoreline, dashed up the beach and sought safety beneath the veranda of an empty hotel.
I reached shelter and turned to see another dark shape at the water’s edge. I initially thought it was my travel buddie, Kevin Schulz, but realised that this man’s surfboard was far too short to be his.
In stark contrast to my helter-skelter bolt up the beach, he walked calmly, and as he drew closer, I could make out the signature, old and yellowed 'skimboard' tucked under arm. It was Tom Curren.
Kevin, along with Peter Devries, had joined lensmen Marcus Paladino and Nate Laverty and I to wander the Oaxacan depths in search of its fabled leg- burning points and sand-churning tubes. In our journey’s infancy, we had pulled up to a fairly well frequented spot, and found ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with Tom Curren and Taylor Knox – a pair of natural foot luminaries looking for the same hollow treasures as us.
We had exchanged pleasantries and subtle surf reports from nearby waves before parting ways. “Man, imagine how sick it would be to get barrelled with Tom and Taylor at one of these waves!” Peter said, as we made out trudge towards the top of the point, in the midday heat.
I didn’t need to utter a word to Pete to let him know I shared the sentiment. Between them, Curren and Knox have been benchmark-setters for both style and power for the better part of 40-years. On a picturesque righthand point, it was hard to think of two surfers on earth better equipped to draw mesmerising lines.
At a mere five-and-a-half feet, it was surprising that such a small human could cast such an intimidating shadow. Martin stood about as wide as he did tall, and introduced himself in a thick Mexi-English accent.
“Guys, my friends and I are gonna go and surf the other side, we don't wanna see you over there, ok?” Martin’s tone was definitive and in no way invited objection. He’d also recently made it clear that the two waves that lay before us were off-limits to surfers travelling without hired local guides, and if we showed up without one again, there would be trouble coming our way.
After the intimidation routine, he wandered off beyond the headland and out of sight, accompanied by his two clients, a friendly American pair.
“How psyched is he going to be when he comes back and sees your camera set up on the beach?” I beamed at Nate, well aware we were all going to be in this together should things turn prickly.
We took our time getting changed, savouring the fact that even though we were treading on eggshells, at least we wouldn't be sharing the lineup with anyone else. It was a weird vibe though and not one you want on the first day of the mission.
When we were planning this trip, I'd decided that two weeks straight of steep, bowling rights would provide the ideal chance for me to try a hundred of Josh Kerr's famous Kerrupt flips – a double grab alley-oop that is semi cool or completely kooked, depending on who you talk to, until I could stick one.
I had landed miniature versions in the past, but none to be proud of. An hour or so and a couple of Kerrupt attempts after our brush with macho Martin, I managed to put one down.
I finished off the wave, playing it cool. I took a quick glance towards Nate on shore, to make sure his lens had been pointing in my direction at the right moment.
It wasn't the biggest or the best Kerrupt by any stretch, but it was definitely my best one ever, so when I saw Nate in the midst of a heated debate with the enraged, fire-hydrant of a man, my elation evaporated
It wasn't the biggest or the best Kerrupt by any stretch, but it was definitely my best one ever, so when I saw Nate in the midst of a heated debate with the enraged, fire-hydrant of a man, my elation evaporated.
Alerting Pete to the scenario unfolding on the sand, we spun and watched as he and Martin exchanged heated words for a few minutes.
Eventually, Martin trudged back to the parking lot, and Nate’s camera remained perched on his tripod. “Hmm, guess it’s all good,” said Pete, shrugging as he turned his attention back to an approaching set.
From there, the conditions improved, and what began as a more playful and high performance session ultimately yielded some throaty, double-up tubes. Barrels have a way of blanking out bad surfing memories and I had almost forgotten all about my Kerrupt flip that Nate had missed some hours ago.
Hey, we're Canadian!
“I’m going to break your camera and throw it in the ocean! You guys have no respect!” We had all returned to the parking lot, where Nate was vividly describing the altercation that we’d seen from out back.
“He just kept yelling the same thing basically, over and over,” Nate explained. “Then he stormed off and I thought we were good, only for him to return ten minutes later armed with a big stick and coming at me. I didn’t really know what to do, but I wanted to look intimidating too, so I took off my sunglasses, and started walking away from my camera and straight towards him.”
Nate was becoming animated now, grinning at the wildness of it all as he spoke. “You fucking Americans!” Martin had halted his charge, but continued his verbal assault. “Hey we’re Canadian!”
Nate’s retort has proven to be a foolproof conflict resolver of ours over the years of surf travel, and this time was no different. “Oh no way, my ex is from Kelowna (a city in the interior of British Columbia, home to an abundance of questionable tattoos, blocky white sunglasses, and lift-kits of multiple varieties).
Martin’s anger subsided, and suddenly Nate was his amigo. He was a bit late to the party as far as earning respect goes, but if the sudden truce meant a problem free week of waves for us, then we could at least tolerate it.
Back beneath the hotel balcony, we sat and watched wave after wave spin against a volatile sky, broken periodically with forks of lightning. “Anyone need a beer?” Unsurprisingly, Kevin had already made for the van and the lukewarm six-pack of Modelos he’d stashed below the seat.
Now joined by Tom Curren and Taylor Knox, he passed a beer to each of us and sat back, glancing upon the lineup, looking pretty pleased with himself. However, even with the aid of the ales and all-star company, watching these waves rather than riding them was a hard pill to swallow.
We’d come too far to play spectators to Mexican glory, but still weren’t game to risk being victims of heaven's wrath.
There is always a distinct fatigue that follows those days in which adrenaline runs close to redline, and I woke the next morning, the final one of our trip, still in that come down mindset.
Thankfully coffee is the cure for melancholia, and caffeine, coupled with the promise of an encore show at Lightning Point, was enough to overcome the funk.
We hopped in the van and its speakers cut through the darkened silence, blaring yet another of Nate’s favourite unsolved mysteries podcasts, which had become ritualistic listening in our winding, pre-dawn drives.
We persevered, despite a few wrong turns, and finally were rewarded with the kind of conditions that had drawn us here in the first place.
As we pulled up to our spot on that final morning, sets marched down the sandbar, shrouded in misty dawn light.
It was hard to determine exactly how good it was in that moment, but we began waxing boards and frantically adding fins.
“Oh my god!” Kevin shrieked as we watched an immaculate wave break. Soon we were scrambling towards the take off zone, desperately fighting off a set that tried to pin us against the rocks.
I was hardly out the back before watching both Peter and Kevin airdrop over ferocious looking little ledges and disappear from view.
What ensued was a blissful few hours of tubes, shared with only a handful of other friendly travellers. And right around the time that our arms became noodles and the physical end seemed imminent, I looked up to see Tom Curren stroking into a bomb.
We soon retreated, instinctively to the shade of that same balcony, and watched two of surfing’s greats weave a magical tapestry on the perfect Mexican walls.
Just as I thought to myself that there couldn't possibly be a more fitting end to our southern sojourn, I heard Kevin’s voice as he emerged from the van with yet another lukewarm sixer. “Anyone want a beer?”