For so long, the wave that was now peeling off in front of me for 200 yards had just been a photo tacked to the wall of a Galveston surf shop.
Every time I visited the shop, I was mesmerized by the faded, worn photo of this Mexican wave. I drew it on my notebooks in high school over and over again, imagining the perfection, the power, the speed of the pointbreak.
But when I first saw it in person a few years later, I was stunned. Laid out in front of me, between a river mouth on one side and a headland on another, were stacks of waves as far as I could see, each more perfect than the last, beckoning, calling, as they unfolded along the cobblestone point.
It didn’t look real. I’d seen plenty of waves like it in surf magazines. But, being from Texas, such perfection on those glossy pages seemed other-worldly, so remote and unreachable, like the stars shining from the furthest stretches of our galaxy. Watching it in person felt like I was dropped into the best dream of my life.
The journey to get to this place, however, was anything but a dream. The seed was planted with that surf shop photo. Hesitantly, the shop owner answered my questions about where and how, not wanting to give away the place for fear of it being overrun by crowds of frothing surfers.
There were rudimentary directions jotted on a surf shop receipt: Drive to Laredo, hop on a bus in Nuevo Laredo with stops in Monterrey, Guadalajara and finally end up at a certain kilometer marker along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. The end of the road.
Sounded simple enough. It wasn’t.
With little means save for a part-time job at the neighborhood supermarket, taking the bus was our only option. It turns out it was a well-worn path for surfers from Texas. Seemed most of our predecessors couldn’t afford to fly either. Plus, what fun is there in that, I remember the shop owner saying.
It was two days of harrowing travel by motor coach across Mexico’s vast, mountainous interior with stops at almost every roadside stand for Topo Chicos and whatever fare happened to be on offer. Marooned in bustling cities, we learned to dodge federales trying to search every last one of our possessions. Life simply moved at a different pace Down South. Slow and steady.
The freedom, the experience, was exhilarating.
But nothing could match the actual wave. It was simply the most perfect thing I’d ever ridden. Day after day, we’d awake with the sun, paddle out into the warm Pacific and surf until the wind turned slightly onshore or our arms felt like noodles, unable to support our paddling any longer. We’d take siestas — avoiding the harsh midday sun blazing overhead — before doing it again until the last light faded.
For years, there were a select number of surfers from all around the world who had been coming to this beautiful — but mostly hidden — gem. The place was a poorly-kept secret, and there were enough of us that a local family ran a primitive camp of sorts. We slept in hammocks strung across open-air, thatched-roof palapas, and dined each evening on freshly caught fish grilled over a 55-gallon drum stove. No electricity. No running water. It was as close to a paradise as I’ve ever found.
My friends and I made numerous trips to this little stretch of our continent, always finding the same perfect wave peeling along the point and few other people. It was never an easy journey. Before the internet, before Google Maps, before social media.
Today, a search on YouTube will yield numerous videos of this perfect wave still breaking. There’s a whole village that’s popped up there now, with two-story, grand-looking cabins right on the point that surfers rent — complete with air conditioning, little kitchens and beds.
But every time I watch one of these online diaries, I think back to the paradise we found. It’s no longer the reality, but it forever lives on in my memories.
OPEN NEXT WEEKEND
The Texas Gulf Surfing Association plans to hold its Galveston Open competition along the Seawall on Feb. 24-25, waves permitting. To register or for more information, visit www.surftgsa.com.