The First Session at Puerto Escondido

Matt Rode

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Updated 45d ago

Our First Session series peels back the legend on the first surfers at various famous spots from across the globe. We've already covered Teahupoo, Waimea, Anchor Point, Cloudbreak, Bali and J-Bay but let us know in the comments if there is anywhere else you'd like us to shine a spotlight on.

When it comes to big wave beachbreaks, there’s Puerto Escondido and then there’s everywhere else. Like Blacks Beach, Ocean Beach, and various other pretenders to the sandy XXL throne, “Puerto,” as it’s affectionately called, benefits from constructive interference caused by an offshore, underwater canyon that wedges up the swell and magnifies its size, causing the peaks at Zicatela Beach to be nearly twice as big as the surrounding spots. But there’s far more to Puerto than a conveniently placed canyon. Indeed, the history of Mexico’s biggest, baddest barrel stretches back nearly 60 years.

Originally a farming and fishing village like many others in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido began to see the occasional surfer visiting in the late 1950s. Legend has it that a pair of surfers from Texas stumbled upon the waves at Puerto’s Zicatela Beach in 1959, but were quickly put off by the huge, hollow tubes that were virtually unapproachable on their heavy, unwieldy, pre-Shortboard Revolution logs. The pair eventually moved on, no doubt attracted to the more sheltered, user-friendly nearby right-hand points that Oaxaca has since become famous for.

Check the forecast: Puerto Escondido

Ah Mex-Pipe! When those XL swells hit the sandbars at Zicatela beach, it can make for quite the spectacle, usually graced by an ensemble cast of chargers. Here's Jafet Ramos.

Ah Mex-Pipe! When those XL swells hit the sandbars at Zicatela beach, it can make for quite the spectacle, usually graced by an ensemble cast of chargers. Here's Jafet Ramos.

© 2020 - Edwin Morales.

As boards were shortened and refined and the Pipeline ethos began to dominate the surf media, the focus shifted from finding the next Rincon to finding the next Banzai. In the early to mid-1970s, surfers from California, Texas, and the East Coast began filtering into Puerto, drawn in equal measure by the waves and the freewheeling, “anything goes” lifestyle. The surf media quickly caught on, and by 1974 the barrels of the “Mexican Pipeline” were being featured in most of the American magazines, effectively opening the floodgates.

As with most surf destinations, wave riders were followed by hippies, drug-runners, and expats, and eventually Puerto became a bustling tourist destination for both foreigners and locals. By the 1980s and ’90s, local surfers had gotten in on the scene, and names like Rogelio Ramirez, Omar Diaz, David Rutherford, and Celestino Diaz became synonymous with heavy water dominance.

In the early 2000s, the X Games once again brought global attention to Puerto, albeit in relatively tame conditions. At the same time, preeminent big wave pros like Greg and Rusty Long, Jamie Sterling, and others began putting in serious time at the oversized beachbreak during the summers, pushing the limits of what was possible on the biggest days. Ken “Skindog” Collins and Shane Dorian both won Big Wave Awards Ride of the Year at Puerto, and with that the lineup officially become a legit XXL arena.

Related content: XL Puerto Escondido and an All Star Cast

Things went next level when Puerto was added to the Big Wave Tour in the mid-2010s. Suddenly everyone knew about Puerto (although it wasn’t much of a secret before), and swells didn’t count unless they were solidly in the XL range. The next generation of Puerto locals, such as Oscar Moncada and Coco Nogales, had the opportunity to test themselves against the world’s best big wave surfers, and Puerto became a mandatory stop for anyone serious about winning a Big Wave World Title.

The ultimate Puerto swell reared its head in May of 2015, and a handful of lunatics were there to meet it. Trevor Carlson took an absolute monster on the head and nearly drowned, underground charger Chris Mumford broke his back packing a keg, and Mark Healy paddled and pulled into the biggest barrel ever ridden at Puerto—a sandy behemoth that was easily 50 feet on the face.

Live Cam: Puerto Escondido

That May 2015 session? Yeah, it's legit.

Since then, it’s been business as normal. The Big Wave Tour dropped Puerto from the tour a few years back, but that hasn’t slowed things down at all. Every summer, the world’s best big wave and tube specialists post up in town, and just about every week the sand bars of Zicatela light up with consistent and consistently heavy swells. In fact, it’s probably pumping there right now.

Cover shot of Andreas DiMarco by Edwin Morales