It would be my last wave during a magical surf trip to Mexico that introduced me to an upscale and unexpected side of our neighboring country – a coastal haven that gave me a newfound perspective on a region that has suffered blows to tourism and its image over the past few years.
I first heard of Punta de Mita from a Billabong all-girls surf and stand-up paddleboard (everybody uses the term “SUP,” so I will too from now on) trip a few months ago. The stories of a mellow, right-hand longboard wave comparable to Malibu’s that went on for what seems like forever, told by the trip organizer Cass Husted, had me searching for more about this secluded spot about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta.
Needing a break from reality, and a relief from the chilly waters in Orange County that were causing near-hypothermia if you didn’t put on a full wetsuit, I wanted somewhere warm with a flight close enough to take just a few days away from work. I talked my travel partner Jen into joining the adventure, and we booked our trip to Punta de Mita.
Jen and I rented a two-bedroom condo we booked online (puntamitasurf.com) for $150 a night. When we entered our new digs our jaws dropped. The two-bedroom condo was beautiful and spacious, with spotless tile floors. The main bedroom had glass doors overlooking a huge patio, grassy area and the ocean. It was the kind of place that would run $400 a night at surf spots in California and Hawaii.
SUP’er Greg McCombs of Ventura, CA said he was trying not to act like a starstruck fan when he met Lopez. Lopez helped create the Gerry Lopez Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle, one of the largest SUP races in the world, held at Orange County’s Doheny State Beach each fall. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said McCombs, joined by his two brothers on the clinic. This has become a new hot spot for stand-up paddling, which has exploded in the past few years. In Orange County, surfers and SUP’ers are irked at each other’s existence on crowded breaks. In Punta Mita, they are family, sharing waves.
Punta de Mita is a resort area on the Pacific Coast of Mexico near Puerto Vallarta that’s also home to great surf spots. Visitors can get instruction from famed “Pipeline Master” Gerry Lopez.
Surf legend Gerry Lopez stood next to me on stand-up paddleboard, watching a bump in the ocean grow as it inched toward us. “Paddle, paddle, you got it,” the “Pipeline master” said in a gentle, encouraging tone. I dug my paddle deep into the ocean’s clear blue surface, trying to maintain my balance, and the wave picked the board up under my feet. Soon I was gliding down the line clutching my paddle with Lopez, one of the best tube riders and most respected surfers in the world, behind me. A party wave. Until I nearly nailed the guy sitting on the inside, and I bailed out of the wave to avoid a massive collision.