Archive for February, 2013

Surfing El Rancho In Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo

February 6, 2013

One night after having a couple beers at the bar in Ixtapa, Mexico I bragged to a Mexican girl that I was the second cousin of surf legend Kelly Slater.

“Oh really, you should come surfing tomorrow morning with me and my friend Chiminique.”

#1) It always amazes me what a high percentage of the stories I tell people actually believe.

#2) I didn’t ask if Chiminique was a prison nickname or his birth name

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We met in reception at her hotel on Thursday. I brought a boogie board instead of a surfboard. This being because I have never owned a surfboard in my life.  Chiminique was there at 5 a.m. to pick us up. I secretly was afraid of the beaches around Zihuatanejo, because I had heard stories about tourists dying from getting slammed by waves up to 15 feet high at Playa Larga.

While in his car, our friend Chiminique said he’d take us to el Rancho, instead of Playa Larga. Chiminique explained that although the waves are bigger in el Rancho than those of Playa Larga, they break more consistently, always from right to left. Also, we should never drop into a wave and go right. If we did, we’d be knocked into the bed of rocks that line the sea floor. My throat tightened up when I heard this. Not only were we going to the beach with the most massive waves, but the floor was also lined with rocks that could smash us to pieces if we dropped into a wave wrong.  It was too late to back out, as we were already 20 minutes down the highway and I didn’t want this girl to think I was chicken. I sat back and tried to imagine her in a bikini to calm myself down. Instead of seeing her in a bikini, I saw my own obituary, written in Spanish.

When we got to el Rancho, it was still dark outside. We parked in a dirt parking lot next to a beach restaurant. I could only see the white part of the water as the waves broke. I watched wave after wave crash down, each time making as much noise as a five-story building falling to the ground.  The next thing I noticed was that the whole shore was lined with huge boulders. Before getting out to the water, we first had to climb a wall of rocks.  In between the boulders there were little pools of water a foot to a foot and a half deep, with sandy bottoms.  Chiminique asked me if I had brought aqua socks because if I didn’t, I would probably cut my feet while walking out to the water with my boogie board.  He told me if I did cut my feet I shouldn’t go into the water because I would attract sharks.  The story was going from bad to worse.

I looked back towards the car and the Mexican girl had taken off her T-shirt.  I stared at her tan back as she was tying her hair into a ponytail.  I had to keep it together, I was the only guy there with a boogie board and I didn’t want to look like a punk by staying behind on the beach. If I didn’t at least get into the water, she would probably marry Chiminique instead of me. Chiminique zipped up his wetsuit, put on his rubber booties, loaded his board on top of his head and started rock-jumping to get out to the water.  I took off my shirt, tucked the boogie-board under one arm and used the other arm to keep my shorts from falling down. I was behind the others, so I tried to follow the routes they were taking, in order not to slip off a rock and break my head open. On my third jump to a rock, I stubbed my toe badly.  I laid down and rolled up into a ball on top of the rock, trying not to cry in front of everyone.This gave ample time for the rest of the crew to pass me on their way to the water.

While laying on my side, I looked through the darkness and saw one of the sandy-bottomed pools.  I decided it was stupid to jump from rock-to-rock when I could just stroll through the pools and save myself from stubbing my toe again. I stepped down into the pool and felt something rubbery. All of a sudden the whole sandy bottom started to come alive, like grease in a frying pan. A manta ray the size of a dining room table scooted out from under the sandy ocean bottom.  That should have been a sign to turn back, but just at that moment the Mexican girl jumped off the last rock onto her surfboard and I could see her firm backside poking through the bottom of her shorts on top of the surfboard.  I got back on top of the rock, gritted my teeth and waited for the first flash of pain from my toe to wash away.  I continued to the next rock and then to the final rock. It was time for me to jump into the ocean. I tried not to think about my obituary notice.

I jumped in and the water was unreal, it felt great. I told myself, “No problem, just duck the first couple of waves until you get used to maneuvering out there.”  I went over the tops of the first two waves and all my childhood boogie boarding started coming back to me.  After being out there for 2 minutes, I realized that the only way to get back to the shore was to ride at least one wave in. It would be impossible to swim against the current back to the shore.  Chiminique started waving at me to come out to where all the rest of the surfers were.  He explained to me later that I was in the middle of the break zone and needed to paddle quickly through that part or a wave would crash on top of me and drive me into the shallow sea floor right below me.  I started paddling out and I noticed I was heading right into a pretty big wave.  I didn’t want to duck this one because I was afraid of losing my orientation as I came back up to the surface, so I made a path straight on and started to turn vertical as I went up the face of the wave.

It seemed I just kept going higher and higher and was becoming even more vertical, almost to the point of falling back down to the bottom of the wave which had to be at least an eight foot drop.  I started pushing the nose of the boogie board down with my arms to try and push through the top of this wave and got slapped in the face with the crest of the wave as I zoomed down the other side.  A lot of people say bull riding is the most dangerous sport in the world.  Surfing is like bull-riding except the bull weighs several thousand tons.

At that point I went into survival mode and the only thing on my mind was surviving long enough to stand on firm ground again.  I knew another wave was approaching and it would be even more deadly. I was determined to take the next one in. I turned to face the shore and started paddling.  It felt like the wave was taking too long to get to me, so I turned around to see what was going on just as the wave was falling on top of me, pushing me several feet underwater.

The next thing I knew I was bouncing on the sea floor and my boogie board was hitting me from all sides like a tether ball around a pole.  Before running out of air, I managed to get back to the surface.A half second later I was back under water and being dragged backwards. I breached the surface once more, this time right as the second wave came crashing down on me. I realized pretty quick that I wouldn’t last long out here at this rate.

So, as I was being taken under by the second, I started to feel around on the underneath the water.  As I was feeling around, I felt the edge of a rock sticking out. I grabbed onto it with both hands.  Right as I latched on to this rock all the water receded and I was all of a sudden on a shelf of rocks. I used all my strength to get back up on the original wall I had jumped off barely six minutes earlier. Once on top of the wall, I got on my hands and knees and hobbled across the rocks as quickly as possible.

Once I got back to the beach, I collapsed, face down. While lying face-down, a Mexican man poked me on the back and asked me if I wanted to come and sit inside his beach side restaurant. I ordered Huevos Rancheros but realized I didn’t have any money. The waiter said not to worry, he’d just add it to what Chiminique owed him for that month.