A Sinaloan Road Trip: Why Surfers Risk Everything for Waves
Everyone said I shouldn’t go. “It’s dangerous down there right now,” they told me. In fact, just a few kilometers from where we were staying, two Australian surfers disappeared last November. According to reports, they were pulled over by assassins dressed in police uniforms and shot. Lit on fire and burned beyond recognition. The authorities had to do a DNA analysis of the remains to identify the surfers. This happened at the end of 2015, just as I was sending my deposit in for my surf trip to the notorious state of Sinaloa. The land of El Chapo.
I almost backed out from the trip a few times. You know, it’s hard to fight that internal struggle between fear and stoke. It seems like the world is getting more violent, but maybe it’s just because there is more sensationalism in the news and on social media. Not sure.
Ranked 15th in the world for coastlines, Mexico has 5797 miles of beachfront. Much of the Mexican coastlineline is surfable at some point in the year. She likes south swells, north swells, hurricanes and micro-weather systems. She will eat you alive in Puerto Escondido and crush you in the channel near the island of Todos Santos. She has many playful sides and walks the line between violence and joy, between life and death. She is wild. We love her. We fear her.
We were picked up at the Mazatlan airport and they shuttled us off to the small fishing village about 90 minutes north. Half of the trip was on a sandy and solitary dirt road. If there wasn’t a surf camp in this town, I doubt if any gringo would ever know or care that this place existed. Lonely. Depressing. Dry.
But there are waves. Great waves. Thus, we gringos care, and we care a lot. We care so much we open our gringo leather wallets wide open and drive into the heart of the Mexican drug cartel country. The country we only know from late night news programs and poorly written surf magazine articles. We travel into a land that looks and smells like places we would never visit in our own country because we long for that perfect, desolate, oceanic experience. We crave it like a junky, not really knowing what it is that drives our arousal to enter a culture that we watch from a distance across our own border.
In Buddhism, understanding desire lies at the root of Gautama’s teachings. The original word or concept used by the Buddha refers to “thirst, desire, longing, greed,” either physical or mental. This idea is translated as craving, and is of three types: kama-tanha (craving for sensual pleasures), bhava-tanha (craving for existence), and vibhava-tanha (craving for non-existence).
How could one hunger for both existence and non-existence?
Ask any surfer what dwells at the root of his addiction and I guarantee that if he searches deep enough, he will discover this mysterious dichotomy. Both the desire to exist and to not exist play tug-a-war on the edges of his soul. Surfing is a magical and demonic interplay between both realities, an expression of life and a journey into nothingness. Surfing crosses a boundary within ourselves that we know little about, yet we intuit that it is always there, lurking in the background, waiting patiently to surface and show itself.
This is why we travel to dangerous places, take off on life threatening waves in front of sharp rocks and razor reefs. We surf with great white sharks for fuck’s sake. We frequently push aside our fears and even our logic. “Surfers are crazy,” many non-surfers say. But are we?
Maybe we’re just caught in that dance of learning how to know life and finding ourselves in the chaotic mess of existence. The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism suggests that we should spend some time and energy knowing our desires, not, as many believe, getting rid of them.
Love to surf? Surf.
You know that feeling you get when you haven’t surfed in a while? That’s because your boring landlubber life is reminding you of the inevitable march toward death. Not surfing. Surfing reminds you that you are still alive, still exist, and yet strangely don’t exist.
We surf and travel to experience life, to bring out that part of ourselves that frequently lies dormant in the shadows of our everyday existence. Surfing invites that mysterious part of ourselves to the surface, and we fucking love it. Want it. Desire it. Crave it.
It’s hip to talk about external ecology, the green movement, being eco, going organic. Ecology is about the relationship to things in and around us, and you can’t have one without the other. Honor your inner ecology and magical things will happen, even in the badlands of the Mexican cartel.
See it on The Inertia