It’s the day of the Puerto Escondido Cup 2019. A big wave competition in Playa Zicatela, Mexico, with pros, and corporate sponsors and what looked to be 1,000 photographers.
The beach was packed like it only gets packed on surf competition days.
The first person I saw this morning before the competition was Cesar Lujan. He’s a local bodyboarder.
He was wet from getting a session in before the competition kicked him out (from his home break).
Cesar’s a 14-year-old Puerto kid with a back like a Russian gymnast.
And although (thankfully) the competitors had survival flotation devices, ambulances at the ready and two jet skis in the water for the one day show, Cesar had a beat-up boogie and a worn-out t-shirt.
We live in the same neighborhood.
First time I saw him, he had a machete in his hand. He was cutting wood and managing three little kids who were collecting branches.
He was 11.
Next time I saw him, Lujan was without the machete but with a local gang of shoeless kids (three big wave surfers’ sons and a sweet little French boy).
Think Little Rascals, not Bloods and Crips.
They had a length of rope and a banged-up bicycle. As I passed, Cesar made a fastening knot like a professional steer wrestler – that quick.
Each time I see him, he inspires respect and (less importantly) admiration. He’s able.
The Dog that Nearly Drowned
Amid the crowd, I found a friend. She’s Brazilian and of a certain age (she’s lived more than half her life before the age of the internet).
She’s a pioneer big wave bodyboarder at Puerto Escondido. The first woman out there with the men in the late 1980s.
She stays on the sand now and in the shade. She was a little nervous when I sat down but not because her son had been swimming in big waves for the last two hours taking pictures. Barchi Quadros is a local waterman.
It was everyone else she was worried about.
And I could understand why: Playa Zicatela is a particularly aggressive wave, and people were playing in front of a rip that sucks into the impact zone.
If you understand how water moves, that is the one place where you don’t want to be.
“Look at those people.”
She pointed to the nasty rip at the shore 20 yards from where we were sitting.
“Look, that’s going to take one of them. Look at that dog.”
As she spoke, a dog had gotten in too deep and was washing out to the impact zone before a guy grabbed it and pushed it back to shore.
We heard the lifeguard whistle, and the man in red corralled the people back to the sand and gave them a talking to.
Juan de Dios, The Fearless
The next guy I saw was Juan de Dios, a local bodyboarder. He was sitting with Cesar, who was now dry.
Just the day before, Juan bodyboarded one of the biggest waves of the day, which was a better day than the Puerto Cup.
Juan is the best of what Puerto has to offer. He is a quiet guy, deliberate in his speech and has a light around him that is peaceful. You don’t even have to get close to him to see it. He resonates.
He is a surf instructor at Oasis Surf School and sponsored by Erizos Fins, so he’s seen a tiny trickle down from all the money that his home break generates. Bravo Erizos for supporting Juan de Dios!
It was a big day for the Puerto Cup, but not so much for the local folks that I know.
There were sizable waves, and a couple of surfers got to ride in an ambulance (conscious but slightly broken).
But by far, the coolest person I saw was a 13-year-old kid who babysits, handles a machete and can tie a rope fast. Cesar sat with Juan, and they let the competition have their day.
The 2019 Puerto Escondido Cup winners were Billy Kemper and Bianca Valenti.
Profiles from Puerto Escondido by John P. Murphy