By Tom Ekman •
“Are those handboards you’re using? Cool! Did you make those yourself?”
So goes a comment I heard regularly at the various breaks of W. Guerrero, Mex. over the last 6 weeks. Everywhere I go, I have to appreciate the fact that bodysurfers get respect. Any boardsurfer who sees you trimming along on a wave knows it’s all about soul (ahem…or, “Sole”).
It’s been an adjustment going from long, consistent reefs on O`ahu to thumping, desolate (and sharky) beachbreaks. But my first wave at La Barrita, I realized why the whomp! is so compelling.
6- to 8-foot faces, glassy and light blue, these waves were sucking so hard off the sandbar that as I looked over the shoulder paddling out, it looked like the water on the inside was 5 feet lower. If that was a reef on O’ahu, you’d have to have a death wish to drop in.
But this was just sand, dammit! And my first bodysurfing session on a sandbar ever, no less. I hadn’t seen a single surfer in my first 2 days in Guerrero. The beach was a wilderness – not a soul for miles in either direction. [If a wave barrels and no one’s getting shacked, does it make a whomp?] I was totally alone…and it was go time.
First wave, the lip threw so heavy and thick, the face of the wave simply stalled out as it heaved so much water over the top. And I was suddenly inside a beautiful blue room, and the illusion that I might make it out was crushed a split-second later as I was unceremoniously gas-chambered, and then force-fed sand by an 800 lb. marine gorilla jamming his foot into the small of my back.
But along with the precious image of that beautiful barrel that remained in my head, I could also still hear that sound:
Never heard that sound in an Oahu barrel. Now I get it. Whomping is a little like skating, like pulling a trick: it’s fast, it’s burly, and you get one quick moment of glory. It all comes down to that one second of truth.
It’s also a little bit like cliff-jumping into pow on a snowboard. You don’t really expect to make it; you just want to pull a sick 360 for the glory of it. F- it if you eat powder for 20 min. after.
I saw one bodysurfer: a lone guy with a plane down the beach at Escolleras, Ixtapa. He appeared to be getting his whomp! on. Never saw him again.
Such is life on The Whomp.
The surf crowd in Western Guerrero is super-chill. The Mexicans here might be the friendliest locals you will ever meet – all you need is a smile and some Spanish, and “mi ola es tu ola” is the attitude. Many of them grew up bodysurfing and bodyboarding Escolleras – they even used to hold their own contests! Escolleras refracts off a breakwall, but it’s no Wedge: it’s notoriously quick to shut down. One kid said there’s lots of handplanes out there in the summer. Considering that the average Mexican earns about 1/5 of an American while surf equipment is the same cost, whomping and bodyboarding are more affordable. You still see a lot of kids at Playa Linda with ancient, ultra-tanned thrusters -- abandoned as trash by a traveling surfer -- making mountains out of molehills. That’s some serious soul, too.
I saw only a handful of gringos who could actually surf. A bunch of golden oldies showed up for a swell at Saladita and, with their head-dips and 5-overs, transported the scene to the ‘Bu in the 60s. Otherwise, all I saw was gringo learners on longboards, and old gringo retirees on longboards, and – did I mention that gringos like longboards?
Guerrero is not new to bodysurfing. Two older guys – Leo, the granddaddy of all things Zihuatanejo surfing, and Fritz, an old gringo who remembers when Mexican families had a burro instead of a car – both recall that bodysurfing was hot there in the 70s. What happened? Where did it go? No one really knows, exactly. Thrusters came in during the early 80s, and the handplanes and laybacks were forgotten.
Like longboards in the 90s, the handplane was bound to make a comeback. Every time someone like us shows up at a break full of surfers, the impact is viral. When I show surfers the convexity of the Sole planes, explaining that it provides bite into the face, as well as lift, they get it. “That’s so cool!” At the cantina post-surf, I was always “the bodysurfer”, as in “hey bodysurfer dude, how about a cerveza?” Dollars to donuts, surfers are noticing. As one famous bodysurfer a.k.a. the President said on inauguration: “this is our time.”
2015 was the year of bodysurfing. Discovering that Sole Handplanes had cracked the code with the ultimate performance handplane coincided with a year with more South swells than I can remember in 29 years of surfing. On the South Shore of O’ahu, the Southern Hemi energy fired up in March and was so consistent that you stopped checking the surf report and just went to the beach every day. We had 3 Richter swells during the Summer that closed out the channel at Pt. Panics. It got up to long-interval, 10 foot Hawaiian, which is ridiculous on the South Shore. When I left on Halloween, it was still firing.
And it didn’t stop when I arrived in Guerrero on Nov. 6: we enjoyed head-high late-season Southern Hemi energy every single day until Dec. 12. I surfed 9 spots in those weeks (all to myself: La Barrita, Barra, Ixtapa Island, Buena Vista, Playa Jardin, and with others: Playa Linda, Punta Manzanillo, Saladita and the Ranch). 86 degree water, whomping surf and good vibes...Guerrero is a bodysurfer’s paradise.
The end of the season ended on a serious note: a Dec. 12 paddle-out to commemorate Dean Lucas and Adam Coleman, two surfers tragically killed and burned in their van while traveling in Sinaloa 10 days earlier. Leo of Catch L’Ola in Zihuatanejo asked me -- on-the-spot, in the circle -- to offer a eulogy to the circle of 30 surfers, all but one of whom were Spanish-speaking Mexicans. So, I proceeded to deliver a eulogy…in Spanish(!)
I basically said to all of the young muchachos that we surfers are all a big family, and if they could imagine two of our brothers in the circle being removed, it is the same as losing the two brothers who were slain. I said how important it is to appreciate the gift we have today to be healthy, out in the water, surfing with our friends. Then, Leo offered his own eulogy. It was a powerful ceremony, and I felt honored to be a part of it.
That last day of the season was noteworthy for one other reason: Leo loaned me a longboard so I could actually “sit” in the paddle-out circle. After, we did our big circle-splash and broke up, all the Mexi-groms went zipping off on their toothpicks. I turned the log around, and paddled into my first boardsurfing wave all year (probably the last wave of the year, as well). As I was trimming along a little section, I couldn’t help but think:
“Man, my Moon Tail would track into this little pocket perfectly.”
Happy Holidays to the bodysurfing family,
Dec. 21, Guanajuato, Mexico
R.I.P. Adam Lucas and Dean Coleman
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