The solstice has come and gone, which means winter is in full swing south of the equator. Normally, winter brings big swells accompanied by difficult weather and cold water, but when you have a Northern Hemisphere destination with a Southern Hemi swell window—well, then you have an exception to the rule. And Mexico is wonderful exception.
Located north of the equator, but with a coastline facing southwest, Mexico gets all the perks of summer and all the swell of winter. In other words, it’s just about the best place in the world for a surfer to be in July.
As with most Pacific coastlines that like Southern Hemi swells, Mexico receives most of its waves from storms that originate down near Antarctica and push north and east toward South America. But the country also benefits from tropical storms and hurricanes, which start to kick into gear this time of year. And occasionally there are even storms that form near South America and push north and west toward Mexico, creating steep south swells that light up many spots that might otherwise be shadowed.
While the weather can be a bit of a wildcard early in the season, by mid-summer things are pretty predictable—offshores in the mornings at the majority of spots, and predictably good winds at the points. With consistency like that, the only real decision to make is which part of Mexico to strike.
The classic California escape, Baja is 775 miles long, and has dozens of world-class setups that pump year round. South swell season focuses mostly on Baja Sur, although there are waves up north that pump during the summer as well. Whether you are looking for points, beachbreaks or reefs, there are waves to be had—most of which break empty 99% of the time. With a good 4x4 and a lot of drinking water, you can disappear into the desert for weeks at a time and score waves alone.
This is the Mexico that most people think about—the thundering beachbreak at Puerto Escondido, and the right hand points that we all fell in love with during the Search event a decade ago. Dozens of resorts have popped up around the points, where you require a guide to access most of the waves. But they are waves worth investing in, hollow, rippable sandbars that drain for hundreds of meters.
Meanwhile, Zicatela Beach in Puerto Escondido is one of three stops on the Big Wave Tour, and is considered by many to be the best XXL beachbreak in the world, but is also world class when it’s in the overhead range. The best part? While Oaxaca sees thousands of visiting surfers each year, locals like Coco Nogales tend to dominate when things get serious. Fortunately, most of the locals are also friendly, gracious hosts, making this an enjoyable place to visit.
Oaxaca isn’t the only zone in mainland Mexico with good waves. Up in the northern states such as Colima, Jalisco and Nayarit, there are dozens if not hundreds of quality setups, without all of the hype of Oaxaca. Zones such as Puerto Vallarta are popular with the pointbreak at Sayulita being one of the most-visited areas. But there are also lesser-known heavy-water beachbreaks on offer, some of which can give Puerto a run for its money on XXL swells.
A lot has been made of the potential dangers in Mexico, from robberies and labor strikes to cartel violence. While caution should always be exercised when traveling internationally, the reality is that Mexico isn’t as dangerous as its reputation suggests—as long as you don’t go looking for trouble. More often than not, the problems down south are related either to turf wars between drug families or the party scenes in border towns, so if you go looking for surf and keep your nose clean (both figuratively and literally), you shouldn’t have much of a problem.
It is also advisable to avoid driving at night. The road conditions can be a bit sketchy in Mexico. Plus, there is often livestock on the asphalt, which can be hard to see at night. And if those don’t get you, the methed-out truck drivers will.
Drive during the day, sleep during the night, surf during the swells, and you’ll see why musicians from Jimmy Buffett to Tim McGraw have been singing about Mexico for half a century.
Cover shot by Damian Davila.