Fishermen might have gotten there first, but decades before Cancún put Mexico at the top of the heap for sun-and-sand vacations, peripatetic surfers discovered the sublime beaches that fringe Mexico's west coast. In the 1950s, Matanchen Bay in northern Nayarit, appears to have been the lodestar for surfers with a case of wanderlust — about as far as they could go in a creaky woody without sacrificing home, job and family for the sake of an exotic wave.
Hundreds of surf spots dotting more than 2,000 miles of tropical coastline have been conquered since then, some of them many miles from nowhere, some near small fishing villages and others the centerpiece of major cities. Lured by year-round long points, reefs and hollow beach breaks, die-hard surfers know them all and think nothing of rattling their bones on long rutted roads and dropping a sleeping bag on any horizontal surface to surf their favored spots or try out a new one.
For the rest of us — casual surfers who enjoy traveling or travelers who think they might like to give surfing a whirl — a place with comfortable rooms, a few good restaurants and some cultural options is preferable. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some places proven to fit the bill.
Nicknamed the Mexican Pipeline because the shape and power of the wave resembles Oahu's Banzai Pipeline, Puerto Escondido has become the country's gold standard of surfing. The world's most famous surfers, along with plenty of up-and-comers, show up for the Quiksilver Pro Puerto Escondido competition each year to test their mettle on some unpredictable waves that get funneled through the offshore canyon.
At Playa Zicatela, the stomping ground of Mexico's most renowned surfer, Carlos "Coco" Nogales?, prime surfing season is April through November, when ground swells up to 20 feet break into hollow tubes. A surfing friend describes the Mexican Pipeline in summer as "a full-barreled racing tube that will smack you down." These waves are best left to the experts.
"When I was younger I would have paddled right out and gotten smashed up, but when you get older you get wiser," says Craig Zabransky, a travel writer who seeks out surf spots everywhere he goes but counts himself as no more than an intermediate. Yet he counts Puerto among his favorite surf spots even if he doesn't ride the waves. "Sometimes I have just as much fun watching the really great surfers. It's inspiring."
For those with more gumption than expertise, Huatulco to the south has a few good breaks, including local favorite Rio Copalita. For a more rustic experience, head north to San Agustinillo, about 8 miles past Puerto Angel.
This once-drowsy fishing village, about a half-hour drive north of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, has mushroomed into a winter resort for U.S. and Canadian residents fleeing the cold. Besides a pristine coral-sand beach curling toward a picture perfect little bay, it offers small beachside accommodations, basic groceries and water, and ecotourism galore. If you need more excitement, Ixta and Zihua are close at hand.
Troncones Point, jutting out into Manzanillo Bay, is famous for its consistent left point break and suitability for novices and veterans alike. Waves have been reported over 15 feet in peak season, May through October, so it's not for beginners during those months.A dozen other surf spots, many within walking distance, lie no more than an hour away. Suitable for all experience levels, La Saladita is an exposed reef and surfing point break ideal for longboarders. It's seemingly never-ending lefts earn it the moniker, "The Wave Machine."