All's Swell in San Pancho
In late August of 2013, the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico was rewarded with a sizable swell generated by storms in the southern Pacific. That Saturday morning I woke early to the sounds of larger than normal surf. Excitedly I rushed a cup of coffee and grabbed my dog Maya for our morning stroll. The beach was empty as we walked south toward the village of San Pancho...not unususal for this time of year. Tourists and our seasonal residents have long since returned to the north.
We strolled down the beach, coffee in hand while Maya scampered across the sand with her favorite "stick of the day". She kept my other hand occupied by demanding an occasional toss of her stick into the boiling waters of the surf. Maya is a Lab... a Retriever. She has no patience with my inattention when she's gumming a good stick. The morning was glorious. Skies were clear, and the winds from the Sierra Madre mountains had yet to materialize across the jungle canopies. It was going to be a good day. I could feel it.
From a distance I could see the juice building up at the river mouth south of my Casa. Surprisingly, no one was yet in the water. I wondered if this swell had somehow escaped the attention of the local surfers. The river mouth was breaking cleanly with 5 foot waves. Maya and I sat on the beach near the Malecon, gazing as liquid energy unfolded before us. An occasional set rolled in and peaked at 8 feet before tumbling over itself with a crash. As my coffee worked its wonders, my mind began to comprehend the reality of the oncoming morning. Beautiful day... good surf... good light... no tourists. No camera! I pondered the moment. Savoring the remainder of my cup, I then decided that news of the surf conditions would rapidly spread through the village once the first surfer arrived to check it out. Maya jumped to her feet as I jogged back to the Casa for my photo gear.
Breakfast was quick, much to the pleasure of Maya, who always insists on a prompt feeding once we return from our morning stroll. The Jeep was hastily loaded with camera gear and a few beach essentials. Within 40 minutes I was back at the river mouth. I shuffled gear, and set up under a beach umbrella for a day behind my cameras. By then 6 to 8 surfers had arrived. They were cutting clean lines across the green faces of the waves... punching holes through the lips of watery curls. Soon spectators would line the beach for a view of the action. I was seated comfortably, front and center.
The morning passed. More surfers arrived. It was obvious that word had spread outside the village of San Pancho. I recognized a few faces from Sayulita, the next village to the south and better know as the surf destination of choice. The ocean's energy escalated as each set rolled into shore. The lineup was more consistent now. My trigger finger was getting a workout. I dared not glance up at the crowd surrounding me for fear of missing an epic moment... that "one in a million shot". The surf talent was obviously here. My camera tracked and captured their aerial displays and fierce carvings of the green, rolling walls of water. I missed a few shots of guys encased in a watery tube - that one moment every surfer lives for. But eventually a local teen managed to squeeze under a curl at the right moment, just as my lens was trained upon his path, and focus-locked on his position. Got it! With a bit of luck. And patience... the "photographer kind".
The sun eventually rose higher into an afternoon haze of heat. I was fortunate to have the shade above me as the villagers lounged around watching the surfing theatrics. Several beach dogs tried to escape the heat by sneaking into the shade under the territorial glare of Maya. She held her ground, determined not to be displaced from her space under the umbrella. By mid-afternoon much of the crowd had succumbed to the heat. Spectators had thinned, but a few remained that were still energized and enthusiastic for those still riding their boards. The slight offshore breezes of the morning had turned. The ocean surface now rippled with winds from the west. Waves were now loosing some of their shape and smooth faces, but the southerly juice of the swell continued on. As surfers tired and paddled to shore, they were replaced by new arrivals eager to stoke themselves with the adrenaline rush of a fast ride. It was a steady stream of new subjects.
The talent dissipated as the afternoon wore on. It was well past lunch. I as hungry. Our two beach restaurants were within 200 yards, offering fish tacos, shrimp tacos, marlin tacos, tacos this and tacos that, etc. My mouth watered. And thoughts of a cold Pacifico were also seriously distracting me from the work at hand. Serious distractions. The bikinis were tough enough. But hunger and thirst...?
I caved in... called it a day. The gear got stowed back into the Jeep. I walked into La Perla, grabbed a table under the thatched palapa with an easy view of the river mouth, and patiently waited for service. I took off my hat, kicked off my sandals and stretched into a hammock-like prone position in my wicker-backed chair. Patience. Of the "La Perla kind".
It was at that very moment that I saw THE shot. The ONE...of the whole day. A younger kid, on a somewhat late takeoff, dropped down a face that was double his height. His wave. No one else took it. The wave curled, and heaved over his crouched back by a good 2 feet. He jetted through the barrel. The air around him compressed as the green tube collapsed behind him.... pushing him forward. He ejected in an envelope of mist. Still standing on his board. Arms outstretched in ecstasy.
Epic... but not recorded.
It simply takes patience. Of the "photographer kind".
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