Recently, I wrote the Average Surfer’s Guide to the UK Surf Trips. My goal is to surf around the world and report back to all the other average surfers out there, offering a more relatable view of surf destinations around the globe. Obviously, we all know that it’s probably not best for the majority of surfers to get off the plane on Oahu, drive up to the North Shore, and paddle straight out at double overhead Pipe, but what about visits to some other great spots around the world? It can be intimidating for an average surfer to buy a plane ticket to some places, wondering if waves like J-Bay or Ulu’s are suitable for us. Will we be in over our head? I’m doing my best to find out.
My second stop on my trek was to Sayulita, Mexico. I had nearly no experience surfing in Mexico and this particular excursion was with my girlfriend and two other surfing friends. It was to be a quick five-day trip just to see what it was all about. Sayulita was a place I didn’t know much about other than seeing pictures of graceful longboarders cruising atop a tropical wave on Instagram.
I like to think my own surfing style is laid back and smooth. I prefer cruising top to bottom on retro style boards, all from my quiver of a 9’4 log, a 7’2 mini, a 6’0 twin fin, and numerous other “cruisers.” My favorite board of the moment is my ’70s-inspired twin, and knowing Sayulita had some cruisy waves, I was hopeful my average skills would suffice.
My first surprise was the cost of the airfare. We flew in late April, but I was shocked to see the prices almost equaling a flight to Europe. We ended up getting a connecting flight to Mexico City and then a short flight over to Puerto Vallarta where we were greeted by military vehicles with mounted machine guns. Many people I spoke to prior to our trip expressed concerns regarding the current political environment in Mexico and the power struggle with cartels. Personally, I wasn’t concerned. You can wander into the wrong part of Los Angeles and meet your end by that same logic. At least here I could do so chasing better waves. From Puerto Vallarta, it’s a short 45-minute drive to Nayarit and you are in an incredibly beautiful part of the world surrounded by mountains a lush green forest.
The town of Sayulita is quaint yet vibrant. The atmosphere was welcoming and exciting. Accommodations are everywhere with hotels and Airbnbs available from $60 to $150 a night depending on the time of year. Walking through the town you get an authentic taste of Mexico (Of course, there has been a boom in the tourist economy in recent years mainly due to surfing). As we walked through the market street, we were haggled and grabbed to buy a sombrero or some other trinkets. And of course, we did. The underlying current was of a real authentic Mexican fishing village but the truth is we were in a sea of American tourists. The boom has also brought expats to live in Sayulita and I do not blame them one bit. There is an area of town that goes by the name Gringo Hill, where the Americans live, as I was told by an old weathered local fisherman.
We stepped onto the beach at Sayulita and were greeted by peeling, chest-high rights, groomed by a warm offshore wind and green waters. I was later told by another local that the water is quite filthy in Sayulita but I can’t say I noticed. Indeed, it was clear, pleasant and warm and I didn’t get sick — from the water at least.
We rented some boards from one of the many shacks along the beach that offer lessons and rentals. The locals were extremely friendly. The South end of Sayulita is a beach that’s great for beginners and surfers seeking smaller waves. In the center and to the north is the reef where it gets progressively larger. We paddled out to the reef and took our place in a lineup that was mainly full of about 10 to 15 visiting surfers. It was late morning and the waves were great. The reef had some shallow parts but there was an easy take off with a wave that wasn’t too fast. The best thing about the first session was the thin crowd. But that would change as the day went on.
As a goofy-footed surfer, going right isn’t my favorite thing to do but I had no choice here. The wave was gentle and sloping at chest height. Being a reef break it broke pretty consistently through each wave, which was great for gaining confidence and practicing on my backside. It was beneficial getting some extended stand-up time with longer rides than I was used to at home in Orange County.
Sayulita is the kind of beach you can spend an entire day at. We paid the locals some cash and had a set up under the awning with a perfect view of the surf. The wind stayed light all day and the sun was hot. As we sipped beers and ate ceviche in between sessions, it truly felt like any surfer’s paradise.
The afternoon session was just as fun but way more crowded. The lineup filled up with locals young and old, male and female. The surf picked up to head high and the wave had a little more punch with a slightly steeper take off. It was still more than manageable for my average skills with decent length rides and a patient crowd. The younger locals were very good surfers, many riding shortboards and making the most of every inch of a wave. The vibe was still friendly and relaxed, we spoke with many local surfers who were very proud of their breaks and local professional riders. With the luxury of more time, we would have taken up the offer from Jose of a boat trip to some of the better breaks in the area.
The next day the swell was rising and the waves were a little closed out. There were still some fun waves to be had and the crowds were unpredictable. Some mornings it was extremely busy, others were more mellow. Overall, Sayulita is an incredible place for the average surfer. There’s a little something for everyone and a relaxed and friendly crowd. I would certainly put this locale near the top of your list if you like great seafood, Mexican beer, sunshine, and surfing great waves in boardshorts. This place really feels like a tropical surf trip on a budget.