Puerto Escondido pumped over the weekend and we wanted to throw a little light on a personality synonymous with these oversized sandy caverns. To that extent we chased down spot stalwart Coco Nogales, a central pillar of this Mexican big wave community.
Coco had just finished filming for a profile for Redbull's Peaking series. Having just run the film crew back to airport he was content but dog-tired after days of continuous filming. He still found the time to run us through the swell and his take on Puerto Escondido, a town built on surfing.
For context you should know that everyone who comes to Puerto talks to Edwin – he's part of the furniture – and those who don't will have seen him at work in waves. Arriving here as a 10-year-old he benefited from the kindness of strangers, and returns the favour whenever he can. Whether that is through his charity AHAVA or the familiar faces of the big wave fraternity, they all come knocking at this one door.
We started by asking about the swell. The blobs of energy which disentangle themselves from the Roaring 40s and steam up the Pacific before unloading in front of expectant surfers and terrified tourists.
Can you run us through the swell Coco?
I was expecting it to be bigger and unfortunately it was also inconsistent. However it was still solid with occasional 20 footers rolling through during the peak of this three day swell. Day one was really nice, a clean beautiful 8ft. But the next day, the big day, there really were only 2 or 3 good waves, one of which was ridden by Shane Dorian early in the morning at about 7:30am. Unfortunately at that point I was stuck on the beach fixing the WaveRunner which we were using for safety. I was there for about an hour trying and couldn't get it working. But after Dorian's wave I grabbed my board and leaving the ski on the beach and paddled out into the lineup.
Gabriel Villaran got a really good barrel late morning as well. It was incredible. I got a really nice one, a big bomb later on but I didn't make it. It was a huge tube and I got really pounded.
How is your relationship with Puerto? After all these years have become accustomed to being hammered?
I grew up all my life here. It's a long story but when I first got to Puerto I was 10-years-old, more than 25 years ago. [laughs] Now when there's a swell coming everyone calls me and looks to me for something and I try to help.
I was pulling in but the barrel wouldn't really open up and when I tried to exit but it exploded under my feet and I flew up and landed on the fins, resulting in deep cuts on my chest.
This was the biggest swell of the year so I haven't been used to it for a while. I didn't have a leash on and my flotation vest is not a safety vest, it's one of those wakeboard vests which are not made for big wave paddling and it was pulling over my head as I clung on to it. I had a GoPro rig on as I was trying to get some footage – meaning I had extra weight on my body – and yes I went straight to the bottom. It was brutal. I came up and took two waves on my head before I got to the beach. It was a two wave session. I got another wave which wasn't as good and that was it. Luckily Patagonia are getting me a flotation vest which will really help in those situations.
Now I'm out of the water for a week having been injured on the last of that swell. I was pulling in but the barrel wouldn't really open up and when I tried to exit but it exploded under my feet and I flew up and landed on the
the fins, resulting in deep cuts on my chest, also my arm and chin. I'm kinda bruised right now. The good thing is that it is my chest as it hit the muscle rather than the ribs which I think would have resulted in a few broken bones. It could have been a lot worse, so I am thankful.
Who else got waves?
A few other guys got waves but not that many. Mark Healy went on a wave which was a solid right but didn't make it. A lot of guys were going over the falls and not making it. There were some mean waves. However on Sunday, the day afterwards, it was still solid and a local kid Angelo Lozano got a nice left which was one of the best waves of the day. Nic Lamb got some good waves later in the day. Billy Kemper got a big wave and a wipeout. Also I saw Tom Lowe get a right, a nice clean wave.
Gavin Beschan was here, Greg Long too, but I don't think he got the waves he wanted this time. It was hard for everyone out there. No waves for long periods, early morning there were some sets then no sets for 3 hours then 1/2 hour gaps between waves. It was difficult for everyone, not consistent at all, plus it was very crowded.
It's a big surfer tourist destination. How often do they have to rescue people during the big swells?
Oh so often. You see their hand up whilst you are on the ski and go and get them. When there are waves I surf but my partner, Godofredo (Godo) Vásquez captain of the Lifeguards of Puerto Escondido, he's in charge of water safety and we pull people from the water all the time. Before the lifeguards people seemed to down all the time, but now we very rarely have a death, especially considering how heavy it is.
Sometimes people are trying to enter the water and they don't know what they are doing and you have to stop them. It might not be my job but it is what you do as surfer, we look after one another. Often you can see when someone can handle it before they even enter the water.
Who do you look for in forecasting a swell for Puerto?
I check a lot of internet forecasts: Magicseaweed, Stormsurf, Surfline, Buoyweather and the NOAA. Sometimes one be wrong be wrong. But when I see they all say the same thing – and it is big – I know for sure the swell is coming. When they are different to the other one I worry.
There was talk a whole ago of the wave being affected by increased urbanisation affecting sediment flow. Is this still a thing?
We were thinking this a few years ago as it expanded fast but we have not grown into a city. Of course there are some things in Puerto which should not have been built. But the wave is still magic. Like anywhere, we have good and bad seasons.
10-years-ago we fought a battle with developers during which we told them: "If you are going to build on the sand make it from wood to allow the sand to have movement." Development was moving really fast at that point and we had to make it stop. Where the urbanisation has grown now is from the back, not on the beach.
Back then, 10-years-ago it was much scarier. We were getting threats of death and all that. To make progress it was a game of: push, pull back and then go again.
So, how do you make it stop? Doesn't sound like an easy task.
Meetings, protesting, talking to the authorities. Back then, 10-years-ago it was much scarier. We were getting threats of death and all that. To make progress it was a game of: push, pull back and then go again.
Things have get better, you know? Every government has a different mentality and now they listen. This town is about surfing, the number one reason people come here is for the surf and that is why we have this economy. We tell them that they have to respect the beach, give it the space it needs. There's a way to do things and construction is possible in the right way. It needs to be, I don't know the English, but, it should be organic.
As in harmony with the beach? And now the government listens?
People are gaining more understanding, not everyone, but they are starting to see things from our point of view. We are not just talking about surfers, but how to develop things for the best for Puerto Escondido. The taxi drivers, the restaurants, the hotels, let's try to do things right.
How's the wider security situation in Mexico at the moment?
In Puerto it is nothing to worry about. But in general I think it is getting much better and heading into a good moment. We don't hear about so many bad things for sure. Around 2008 to 2010 it was very intense but much less so now.
My project AHAVA, which works with poor kids who don't have any money and want to buy a board but can't and introduces kids to surfing.
How does the year ahead look?
I would like to travel more to Fiji or Tahiti when there is a big swell but I don't have the budget. But I am here whenever there is a big swell which is what matters.
Also working on my project AHAVA, which works with poor kids who don't have any money and want to buy a board but can't and introduces kids to surfing. I spend a few days with them giving them advice and motivation. I share my story with them to motivate them. I have one coming up in Puerto Escondido on August 8 till 10th. I am going to be developing this further with Red Bull.
I have the Coco Nogles surf Challenge as well, a surf comp with Red Bull and Hurley for young surfers in Puerto Escondido. This is the 5th year and will be the last year of this contest as RedBull told me this has been a great event but they want to focus on the AHAVA project and really make it something next year.
Last year I could only get 15 boards to giveaway and I searched for the 15 who most needed it. This year we will giveaway 25 boards, between Share the Stoke Foundation (10 boards) from Firewire. Bob from Millennium promises 10 boards and me and my sponsors, 5 boards. I have to solicit product from the States and luckily Red Bull will help with the airfare. Then in 2015 they will get really involved and the project should grow massively.
Sourcing Mexican boards/materials is still tough?
There are hardly any shapers in Mexico and no production of quality blanks. There is only one shaper in Puerto Escondido using imported materials which makes it very expensive. It is very difficult and kind of a pain in the arse to get things shipped in as everything come in from outside so you have to get it through customs etc. It is not easy.
Perhaps Red Bull should setup foam production in Mexico?
Ha, yeah, exactly. They are going to get much more involved. But anyone can give away a surfboard and at AHAVA we are not just about giving things away. One of the most important things is me sharing the time with them, sharing my story and motivating them to believe that they can make it even if they are poor.
You have a particular emotional attachment here because you were offered similar help when you were younger?
Of course. When I was a kid i was on the street. I had to work and I had to do a lot to survive. But at the same time I had people helping me and I think that is why I am doing it today. Everyone is putting a bit of themselves into this project, teaching the kids to believe in themselves. I'm not superman but when I was a kid someone told me surfing would change my life and to work hard. And that is the message I give to them: work hard and never give up, even if it takes a long time.