In Search Of Mexico's Top Surf Breaks

A well-intentioned drive from Panama to California and back ended up as a three-week drive to Oaxaca and a five-month trip back. Once my husband and I saw the Pacific Coast of mainland Mexico, we didn't want to leave the country. From the border to Oaxaca, Mexico is a surf traveler's destination.

Armed with every Surf Report published in Mexico, a copy of The People's Guide to Mexico, a few maps, a Spanish phrasebook and two dogs (one with a ferocious bark and the other with a deadly tongue), we headed south of the border to check out our list of top surf breaks.

We quickly discovered that if anything is certain in Mexico, it's that surf travelers are going to experience multiple sand-bottom left-hand point breaks. And if they aren't careful (and even if they are), they will likely encounter just as many flat tires—which isn't that big of a deal; there's a llanteria on almost every street corner. (As for other warnings, we found that most of Mexico is relatively safe, but savvy travelers check the State Department's updated travel warning and adhere to advisories.)

We also discovered some new favorites among the hit list of top surf breaks we had to check out. The list included Pascuales, a heavy, shallow sand-bottom beach break that gets exponentially heavier with the wave's height. The wave is lesser known than the hollow barrels at Puerto Escondido, but is equally impressive if not more. There are restaurants and hotels nearby, and even a few places that will let you pitch a tent.

Just over the Colima-Michoacán state border and only about an hour south of Pascuales, you'll find La Ticla, a cobblestone left point break, which turned out to be one of my favorite waves and the best camping destination in all of Mexico. Any "campground" with tiled showers, fresh water, security, palapas (open-sided shelters) and electricity rank high, especially when it costs about $2 per person.

As you travel farther south in Michoacán, Rio Nexpa is an excellent stopping point. It's a sand-bottom left point that can offer long rides when it's good. There are a lot of hotels along the beach and plenty of places to park a camper for the night, though it was never crowded or full when we were there. At some point, you'll want to head into the nearby town for fresh tortillas and pollo asada. Keep your eyes open for the traveling hammock salesman—you won't find a better one anywhere in Mexico.

Farther south in Oaxaca, there are a lot of great waves. The most famous are at Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido. The pounding beach break is known for snapping boards and when the sandbars are lined up, the barrels are as round as anywhere. A few kilometers down the beach there is the lesser-known La Punta, a sand-bottom left-hand point. Depending on the swell and sandbars, it can be firing barrels or mellow down-the-line waves.

Farther south of Puerto Escondido is the now-famous Barra de la Cruz. The right point is about as good gets. The wave was once a three-tubes-on-one-wave kind of quiet secret, but since the ASP World Tour stopped there in 2006 the world-class wave has become a popular destination for barrel-chasing surfers. There's no camping and the closest accommodations are thirty-minutes away in Huatulco. But what's a little extra driving in a place where you want to stay forever?