In the summer of 1991 I purchased a Volkswagen camper van. I found it parked on a street in my hometown with a “for sale” sign in the window. It was a green, 1978 full-camper version by Westfalia, and it was the exact model I’d looked for in previous years while living in two places — Germany and California — where you’d expect to find such a vehicle. Instead, I found mine in coastal northern Massachusetts upon my return there after a winter in Utah.
I went back to Utah a month or so later and started plotting where I was going to go the following summer. I had some money saved up and I wanted to go on an adventure in my new camper. There were two potential destinations.
The first was Alaska, a land I had often dreamed about thanks to the tales of Jack London and National Geographic specials on TV. In fact, living in a cabin in the wilds of Alaska was, along with sailing around the world, one of two dreams I’ve had since I was young. And my brief (to that point) explorations of the mountains of the western U.S. only added to the allure of the Last Frontier: bigger mountains, wilder places!
The second option was a small town in Mexico called Puerto Escondido. It was a newcomer to my awareness, only registering in my late teens and early 20s as I got more into surfing. Puerto Escondido was home to a break known as “The Mexican Pipeline,” a hollow, tubing wave the likes of which I had never seen in person, and unlike the famous break in Hawaii for which it was named, Puerto Escondido broke to the right, meaning I would ride facing the wave.
As summer turned to fall in 1991, my research picked up. And the universe sent me what seemed to be a few signs. In October, I got my dog, Spooner, who was an Alaskan Malamute. Later that winter, I started dating a woman from Anchorage, Alaska. And through it all there was the fact that I didn’t speak Spanish.
In May 1992, I drove to Alaska and fell in love. No, not with the woman — she dumped me before I even got on the road — but with Alaska. And I spent the next 12 years looking for jobs there that wouldn’t put a crimp in the career I was building. It took until 2004 and though Anchorage was hardly a cabin in the woods, I loved my time in the Great Land and have missed it dearly since leaving.
I never did make it to Puerto Escondido. Until now.
It took me 25 years but on Feb. 27, 2017, I stepped off a plane in Puerto Escondido. The heat and humidity were in stark contrast to the cold, dry winter I’d left in New England. And the waves were WAY more intimidating than the waist-high longboard waves I’d ridden in Massachusetts two days earlier. (The water was also twice the number of degrees in temperature.)
So now I’m here in Puerto for 10 days. I spent a couple of hours yesterday just watching the main surf break, awed by the power and size of the Mexican Pipeline. Twenty-five years ago, I’d have charged out there and probably gotten my ass kicked. I’d have survived — my conditioning and fitness then would have seen me through it — but I would not have performed well, if at all. Yesterday, even though I’m a better surfer now than I was then, I opted to just watch and learn…and then went to a smaller, more manageable break nearby. The water was just as warm, the waves were a lot smaller and more gentle, and I still had a bunch of fun.
I looked this morning and the swell looks to have dropped enough to make it manageable, but there are occasional sets of waves that appear that induce a bit of sphincter-clenching. I hope that means that I’m older and wiser, and not that I’ve become a chicken as I’ve aged. But I will give the break a try today. Better late than never, right?
Or I won’t, and I’ll go back to the mellow break. Damn! Older AND wiser…who’da thunk it?!