I must have looked like the surf version of Dora the Explorer rolling up to the gate of the Punta Escondida Surf Tours camp that first day. A small woman with a small backpack and a large board bag. Still feeling slightly delusional from my red-eye flight and two-hour car ride, reality was quickly starting to sink in. I was on a surf trip in Mexico. Alone.
I was headed to Salina Cruz, to be exact. An industrial port town surrounded by a dramatic series of headlands and massive sand dunes which jut out into the ocean creating a perfect wave habitat. It’s the northern hemisphere’s mecca of warm water, sand bottom, right-hand point breaks, and what surfer’s dreams are made of. I had been closely tracking a south swell and knew there was an opportunity to see this place light up like a Christmas tree. With only a short window free from work and no friends able to join, I decided f-it, I’m going by myself.
A solo strike mission had seemed like a brilliant and romantic idea a few days ago when I booked my ticket from the comfort of my kitchen table back in Northern California. Now that my plan had manifested my brain felt like a washing machine of excitement, nervousness, and fear of the unknown. What kind of people would I run into? Would I be able to handle the waves? Did I bring enough sunscreen?
Some of that fear was quickly removed as the unassuming iron gates opened and revealed a bright orange hacienda-style house, courtyard, and pool, which would be my home for the week. I was immediately greeted warmly by the owner of my new temporary home, Punta Escondida Surf Tours’ Gustavo. He showed me to a clean and comfortable room and introduced me to the jolly teddy-bear of a man nicknamed “Pata,” who would be my surf guide. It turns out “Pata” translates to foot in English, and to this day I have no idea how he earned that name. Pata quickly became my best friend, bodyguard, and biggest fan. He also enjoyed teasing me every chance he got.
While all the staff and guys staying at the camp were more than welcoming, I could tell my arrival as a single girl was a rather unusual sight. There was a look of curiosity in everyone’s eyes, wondering who this random girl was and if she could actually surf or was just plain lost. Fortunately, surfing is a great mediator of differences and it only took one session to break the ice.
That first session took place the next morning. The swell had arrived and Pata drove us to a lesser-known spot, home to a heavy barrel that’s not for the faint of heart. As our truck emerged from the trees we got the first glimpse of the point. It looked as if someone had flipped the “on switch” on nature’s wave machine. Hoots and hollers rang through the air; we all knew it was rare to see this elusive wave doing its thing.
After a long hot paddle and waiting patiently for almost an hour, I saw my wave crest over the horizon and start rolling in like a freight train. I say “my wave” because it was one of those deja vu moments when you feel like you’re being given a wave you’ve already surfed. I paddled with my head down and felt the weightless elevator drop as I snapped to my feet and flew down the face. I carved down the point, knowing the real treat waited on the inside. And then it did exactly what I expected and feared. A big double up lurched in front of me. It was too late to do anything but pull in and hope for the best. I got the vision, the lip crashing in front of me and then blacked out from the surge of adrenaline.
A few underwater cartwheels later, I washed onto shore to the cheers of the guides and surfers on the beach. Pata was standing on a rock waving his camera yelling, “Prooo! You’re a pro!” I’m well aware I’m far from a pro, but at that moment I felt as close to one as I’ll ever be and completely on top of the world.
After that wave, I felt a shift. I had just earned my acceptance letter into the boy’s club. They now knew I wasn’t just some token girl in town for bikini pictures and tanning. I was there to surf and I could hold my own.
The following days I settled into a strict routine of coffee, dawn patrol, lunch, nap, surf until dark, try to stay awake long enough to eat dinner, and then face plant onto the pillow. Each night I’d assess the damage of how sunburnt and sore I was, lay down completely surfed-out, dream of waves, and wake up craving more. By the end of four days, my body was a good five shades darker than usual, my head was full of water, my hair was full of sand, my neck was in a slightly different position, and my cheeks hurt from smiling. The surf camp felt like home and guys seemed like old-time friends. Any fears I had previous to arrival about being a solo girl were long gone.
The morning to leave came too soon, but I honestly don’t know if I could have kept surfing much longer anyways. In just four days I had become a completely different person. More confident, more relaxed, more myself. I’ve been on a fair share of surf trips before, but none of them left me feeling quite like this.
To any ladies or guys out there that are nervous to travel alone, I’m here to tell you to do it. Don’t let the fear of going alone stop you.