At 6:30 in the morning, there is only one place to get a cup of coffee on Playa Zicatela, but despite the crowd gathering on the beach, the line at El Cafecito was short. Everyone sat looking out at the southern horizon line, which was rising toward the shore and crashing down like thunder on the sand-bottom beach. These were Puerto Escondido’s legendary waves, amplified by the large Pacific swell that attracted this early morning crowd. Their focus was on the surfers who were already in the water, sitting just beyond the breaking point, waiting to catch a ride.
News of the incoming swell buzzed about town in the days before, but I learned about it up the coastline while bobbing along in the beginner break of Playa Carrizalillo. My surf instructor, Jan Bernard, an experienced rider of Zicatela, told me to get there early — at least before 10 a.m. when the offshore winds would start to render the waves unrideable. If the waves of Zicatela were a full-size orchestra, the fountain shows in Las Vegas would be a dollar-store music box. But more impressive than the roaring display of misty explosions were the tiny people paddling into these watery mountains, pulling off feats I thought were only possible in cartoons.
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A small city in southern Oaxaca, located at the bottom of Mexico’s sloping Pacific coastline, Puerto Escondido’s sun-weathered, sand-blasted charm has persisted through the decades since pioneering surfers looked at the 25-foot waves crashing down on Zicatela and dared to ride them. It’s the kind of beach town where you’ll see a surfboard hanging out the window of a vintage green cab and can find a storefront solely dedicated to selling coconuts, hacked-open upon purchase.
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Spoiled for Beaches
Although it’s lined with bars and hotels, the main beach at Zicatela is mostly unswimmable due to the force of the waves, but Puerto Escondido has many other options for cooling down. A short walk from Zicatela, past the rocks and toward the fishing boats, you’ll find local …….