How to Dodge Crowds and Wildcats in Southern Mexico

Matt Rott

by on

Updated 13d ago

“In that house…there is a tiger.” This is not the type of thing that you expect to hear in southern Mexico. But then again, you also don't expect to surf empty, draining sand points all by yourself in Oaxaca. Draining sand points, yes—but not empty ones. Those days are long gone, thanks in no small part to the Rip Curl Search contest back in 2006. Or so I thought.

The scene that has sprung up around Oaxaca’s fabled points is thriving. There are nine surf camps in Salina Cruz these days, which means at least a hundred visiting surfers at any given time (in addition to all of the locals).

Easy to see why those surf camps have popped up in recent years.

Easy to see why those surf camps have popped up in recent years.

© 2018 - Rick Avena

Surf tourism has gotten so big that AwayCo recently added the region to its lineup of board depots, and word on the street is that business is booming. The three big-name points in the area can get crowded to the point of saturation, with upwards of 50 people in the water when the tides and wind align.

Fortunately, there are a lot more than three points in Oaxaca. A quick look at Google Earth reveals at least 20 spots with obvious potential, and rumour has it there are close to 50 quality setups within 50 miles—if you know where to look. And that’s where local knowledge comes in. Because despite the region’s popularity, it is still possible to score perfect waves to yourself—you just need someone who knows where the secrets are hidden. Someone like Uriel Camacho.

Getting up early doors is all part of the journey.

Getting up early doors is all part of the journey.

© 2018 - Rick Avena

Uri’s family has been hosting surf tours from practically the beginning. For the past decade, he’s been helping run Oaxaca Soul Surf, but a couple years back Uri decided to build his own place—an extension of the family business that he named Luna Coral Soul Surf after his two daughters.

When a guy names his business after his kids, you sort of expect family-style service and accommodations, and with Uri that’s exactly what you get. His place is basically an oversized apartment—meals are a communal affair, groups are limited to around half a dozen guests, and when it’s time to surf, Uri is the most frothed out of all, making sure the crew is awake and in the Suburban by 5:00am.

The homey vibes were in full effect as we cruised down dusty back roads, hyping, laughing, and talking endless shit. When Uri stopped the car in front of a solitary house and told us there was a tiger inside, we assumed he was messing with us, but one look at his face and I realised he was telling the truth.

I could see from his eyes that he was conflicted by this stop, and as the boys piled out to peek through the chain-link door at a foreign predator that has somehow become Mexican property, Uri talked to me quietly about it. It was an oddity, to be sure, and one that would undoubtedly pique the interest of visiting surfers. But Uri made it clear to me that he doesn’t like this—the fact that the tiger is living in captivity, far from its natural habitat—and that he doesn’t make a habit of telling his guests it’s there.

It was around that time I decided I liked the guy.

Zach Keenan.

Zach Keenan.

© 2018 - Rick Avena

An hour later, when we pulled up to the morning’s surf zone, I decided I REALLY liked him. After two days of fun but crowded waves at the popular breaks located near to Salina Cruz, we’d made it clear that we were very much okay with bigger drives and longer days if it meant heavier waves with less people. Apparently that was all Uri needed to hear, because over the next week we surfed 12 different spots—all of them hollow, and most of them completely empty, aside from the occasional jaguarundi (an indigenous cat that looked a lot happier in the wild than the tiger did in captivity). This was the Oaxaca I’d been dreaming of for the past 15-years—the one I’d almost given up on, writing the zone off as blown up and overexposed, the product of way too much hype.

Mexico, home to a few flawless right hand drainers.

Mexico, home to a few flawless right hand drainers.

© 2018 - Rick Avena

The reality is that there are waves in the area that do suffer from that hype—that are small, perfect, easily accessible and user-friendly, and therefore a sand-bottomed shit show of butt-wigglers living out their Mexican fantasies.

But with local knowledge—the kind that knows where the tigers are hidden, and that isn’t happy about the fact—finding spots that remain free and untamed is only a matter of driving a little bit farther and looking over the next headland.

Your author, MSW's Matt Rott, finely slotted.

Your author, MSW's Matt Rott, finely slotted.

© 2018 - Rick Avena


Matt Rott

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