Mazatlan in 2016!
On January 31, 2016 SurfGrandHaven went on a surf trip back to one of our favorite surf spots for Great Lakes Surfers in the 1970’s. Mazatlan Mexico is located on the west coast of Mexico just southeast of the Baja Peninsula on mainland Mexico. Getting to Mazatlan is an adventure in itself because we loaded up the surf van with everything we would need to live and surf on the beach in this foreign country. Of course surfboards and bathing suits were at the top of the list, but other things like tape players, radios, and electric blenders could be very useful. One could never know the value of an electric skillet would be in barter with the locals in settling a bill involving many pesos.
Surfers, especially young ones, generally don’t do a lot of planning. Most of the time, we only think about the wave after the next one, as long term planning. So when it comes to a several month surf trip, surfers can be a bit careless on the final arrangements. It was September of 1973, when my buddy Jack brought his Ford van over to my house in Grand Haven and we loaded the boards on top of the van under the watchful eyes of my dad. It was an embarrassing moment as the boards slid off the van into a ravine during our first turn down the winding driveway. My dad just frowned, as we quickly retrieved the boards and strapped them onto the van more securely.
After driving through Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, we finally made it to the Mexican border in Laredo, Texas. Getting out of the U.S. is easy, but coming into Mexico is another story. After presenting our driver’s license and paying for “special” insurance we proceeded into Mexico. It was a surprise when the local police wanted to inspect all of our belongings, unless we came up with a few pesos to make the process go quicker. Soon we are traveling through the desert of Mexico near Torreon at nearly 100km/hr trying to avoid the chickens and cows that liked to graze on the highways. The last leg of the trip involves an intense mountainous drive from Durango to Mazatlan. Between the elevation and turns, top speed is around 25 mph. It wouldn’t be too difficult except most turns only have room for one vehicle and for some reason Mexican truckers seem to think they have the right of way!
Finally, we arrive in Mazatlan near sunset, as we gaze at the big blue Pacific with a steady stream of waves rolling onto shore. We set up camp at the Sabalo Trailer Park and put up a tent on the north beach of Mazatlan. It wasn’t all that luxurious but the view and the ease of paddling into waves every morning, is something you can’t put a price on. Most of our neighbors in the park were U.S. or Canadian senior citizens and we were barely twenty years old. Every day was the same with surfing from dawn to early afternoon on picturesque beaches with majestic mountain peaks of the Sierra Madre in the background. The afternoon involved getting the salt, sand and wax off our bodies and getting a meal to replace the thousand calories we burned off earlier in the day. It’s a funny feeling one has after doing this routine for several weeks, and it is only early November, and we are going to be in paradise for the whole winter.
Occasionally, we would need a break and we would pack up and venture south towards Puerto Vallarta or further south for new waves and adventure. After a week or two break, we would return to base camp in Mazatlan. No matter where we went, surfing was always the main component or reason we spent our time in “Endless Summer”. Wear and tear, injuries, and cuts would occur from all of the surfing, but similar to other sports, we would rest up, take pictures, and recover for more surfing in the tropical paradise of the 1970’s.
It is understandable that one would be quite excited to return to this winter home after 40 something years to see if things were the same, or if it all was a dream from some other life. Fast forward to January 31, 2016 when our cruise ship sailed into the harbor of Mazatlan on a warm and sunny morning. I was perched on the top deck with my camera and contact lenses scanning every inch of the “Jewel of the Pacific” known as Mazatlan. I was happy to see that the entry into the harbor was virtually unchanged with the historic lighthouse on the north side and Isla de la Piedra on the south. Also, the small islands just offshore were still in place and shape from years gone by. I could see the “island rights” as we called it, was still the same as 1974 on some of the hurricane swells that hit Mazatlan from time to time. Another surf spot on the island we called “Acaba” was there with a few more small restaurants on the beach, but mostly unchanged.
After docking at the port, I quickly rented a tour van for transportation to the north side of Mazatlan to a place they call the “Golden Zone” which is where the hotels and tourists stay. This is also the same spot that was the Sabalo Trailer Park where we lived many years ago. As we approached this area in the van, I could hardly recognize the location because of the massive development of the area and rerouting of the streets. The beach and ocean were still the same, and that’s where we needed to go. Within minutes, and a surfboard rental, it was back in the ocean in a spot I was in as a twenty year old. Out in the warm ocean water, the waves were rolling in and it all felt the same while gazing at the golden sand and the outline of the mountains in the distance while sitting and waiting for the “right wave”.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of returning to a time of back then. It may be even more difficult to explain the experience of choosing a different lifestyle from others with living the surf life while others are living with school, jobs, marriage, kids and life in the United States. All of those things were cycling through my head, as we left the port near sunset on this memorable day in Mazatlan.