Puerto Escondido, The Mexican Pipeline. Everyone's heard of the place and many have given it a try. But how much of the Escondido legend is true and how much is myth? The truth is that Puerto can match its reputation, if you are willing put in the time it takes to know the place.
First off, the waves. The surf is seasonal, varying from small to medium in size during the dry season (November to April), and from small to big during the rainy season (beginning in early May). The change of seasons is dramatic, occurring within the space of a week and bringing with it an equally sudden increase in wave size. We encounter our first myth: With the change of seasons--and wave size--wave quality diminishes. Somehow this myth has remained a feature of Puerto's lore when in fact, the quality of Escondido's surf actually increases immediately after the rainy season begins. An added feature during this time of year is that the evening session is often accompanied by strong offshore winds which can result in world class conditions
You can surf Puerto Escondido at four locations: Zicatela Beach, The Point, Kiddie break, and another spot I won't tell you about. Zicatela--the infamous Beach Break (see Murray Redd's photos) is why people go to Escondido. Myth number two. Surfers often describe the Beach Break as a closeout with an occasional peeler thrown in to keep you hanging on. But experience proves this untrue. The wave is fast and unforgiving, but much more makeable than commonly believed. It takes time to learn the in's and out's of the place; however, few surfers want to hang around for the amount of time it takes to get the place wired.
The most commonly surfed section of Zicatela Beach is the break closest to town, which is primarily a right-hander. This section is photogenic (see Chris' photos), powerful and possibly the fastest wave in the area. It also provides the deepest tubes, both makeable and otherwise. The wave sucks off the shallowest section of the bar, at times leaving you perfectly slotted in and comfortable, a foot or two below sea level. The crowd here can be fiercely competitive, though, so be ready to commit yourself and watch for drop-in's.
The other end of the beach break is known as the Far Bar, and arguably offers some of the heaviest surfing in Puerto. The water here is deeper. The wave breaks further from shore, but a rip usually flows past the wave near the shoulder. This rip can make the swim to shore very difficult on truly big days, and will occasionally shift into the peak, causing the wave to jack more than usual. Though the Far Bar--usually a left--can get crowded, it is usually less ridden. The worst injuries that I've seen--which include skull fractures, terrible lacerations and one death--have all occurred at this section of the beach.
The Point is another of the Escondido myths. Vastly underrated, at size the Point can produce an incredibly long, fast and challenging ride. A left, the Point is usually a fun, small wave, and when its a few feet overhead or smaller is great for those who aren't in the mood to put it all on the line. When the point is small it breaks from an inside section to a beachbreak that is occasionally makable. When the outside sections of the point begin to break you should give it a try. If the waves are not breaking too close to the rocks it can hold up at sizes greater than double overhead, and though hollow, it is still a hotdog wave. I would not recommend getting caught inside, however.
One final note: if you are unfortunate enough to get hurt or sick, leave for the States. Medicine in this region is still in the 1920's, and you should be aware that the doctors may not have the resources to save you if your injury is serious. A jet-length airstrip is nearby, and air ambulances to the U.S. exist. You should know how to get in touch with them if you or someone else needs to be evacuated. A recent concern is the spread of malaria. Malaria is permanent and serious, so you should talk to a doctor before you go.
Article contributed by:
Christian D. Lyman
Puerto Escondido is one of the top 10 surfing locations globally. International competitions are held in August and November.
More surfing photos from California Landscape Photography.