Mexican Powder Keg – Part I: The Chase Beyond the Border

Matt Rode

by on

Updated 14d ago

While everyone's heading right, MSW's Matt Rode, Raquel Heckert, Tyler Reid and photographer Sarah Lee turned left during Mexico's biggest south swell of the season so far. They uncovered this remote slab, dubbed it the Mexican Powder Keg and pitched up for a few days while the likes of Puerto Escondido were bombing. Here's part I of their story.

There’s a beast of a swell currently bearing down on Mexico—the biggest we’ve seen in a couple of years—and, as expected, all eyes are currently on Puerto Escondido.

But although the coming swell has a lot of well-deserved hype, what many people have failed to notice is that there’s been a nonstop barrage of small to moderate south swells for Central America over the past month. Although they haven’t had the numbers of this weekend’s donk (7ft@17seconds!), there has been no shortage of respectable 5@15 swell, which is more than enough for most people.

There's a certain degree of difficulty to surfing waves like this. Not if you're Raquel Heckert - who has been sculpted by Oahu's North Shore.

There's a certain degree of difficulty to surfing waves like this. Not if you're Raquel Heckert - who has been sculpted by Oahu's North Shore.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

Although we’ve been tracking this weekend’s swell for the past 10 days, I’m not one to turn my nose up at a good thing or get lost in the hype. So before flying into Oaxaca for the main event, I decided to grab Tyler Reid, Raquel Heckert, and photographer Sarah Lee and hop to another region where a neat little slab thumps quiet and empty, safe from surf-hungry tourists in Mexico’s more populous states. There has been no shortage of respectable 5@15 swell, which is more than enough for most people

I’ve heard it said that you should never go back to something you’ve scored epic and alone, especially when it’s a wave fuelled by shifting and unpredictable sand. After all, the chances of getting it as good as last time—let alone better—is pretty low, so you are basically just setting yourself up for disappointment.

Related: Meet Raquel Heckert

Your author, MSW's Matt Rode tucking in.

Your author, MSW's Matt Rode tucking in.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

But some places are just too sweet to forget, some setups so picturesque and promising that you can’t help but get sucked back in. This was one of those setups—a fickle, difficult-to-navigate lineup that offers the perfect blend of challenge and reward.

Tyler and I stumbled upon the wave last year, during a sojourn away from the craziness of COVID-19 and the deluge of travelling surfers flocking to the handful of known, accessible waves in countries open to US travel.

Tyler Reid rounds out your trio of surfing protagonists, with Sarah Lee behind the lens.

Tyler Reid rounds out your trio of surfing protagonists, with Sarah Lee behind the lens.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

The goal was to stay as far away from society as possible and maybe spend a bit of time in the water but as it turned out, we ended up getting barrelled for a week and developing relationships with a handful of the friendliest, most down-to-earth townspeople you’re likely to find anywhere. We stayed with them until the last dribble of south swell faded away, then returned home to hunker down for the winter, with promises to return for another visit.

Matty Rode.

Matty Rode.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

Six months later, newly vaccinated and freshly tested for COVID-19, we returned as promised for a quick stay before heading to Oaxaca. The area hadn’t changed much at all—villages in this part of Mexico rarely do—but the sand at the slab had definitely shifted, just as expected.

Sand in this area tends to be extremely seasonal, and, after a winter without swells, there was a lot more of it stacked up under the jetty than we’d previously seen. This made the lineup much more difficult to read, with many tubes requiring a tricky doggy door exit or running away completely. But it also increased the potential to find a long, multi-section barrel—a nice change from last autumn, when the slab was a single-section, one-and-done affair.

Raquel has spent the past 10 years chasing big waves around the world and hunting big barrels at Puerto, but she doesn’t have much experience with smaller, slabbier, more technical tubes, so she figured this would be a good chance to gain some experience and warm up before heading to Puerto.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

Growing up in Brazil but currently living in Hawaii, Raquel has experienced a wide range of cultures and living conditions during her life, and is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. She’s also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, and it didn’t take long for the village to warm up to her.

During our week in town we surfed three different swells, each from slightly different directions and with varying sizes and periods. The variety of conditions gave us a chance to get a better feel for the setup and its potential, and to pull into an endless supply of barrels in front of Sarah Lee. When we woke up yesterday morning, none of us were ready to go

While Sarah’s reputation as a first-class water photog has been firmly established for years, few of her fans have had the chance to truly get to know her. Naturally shy and reserved around those she doesn’t know, Sarah opens up when she’s comfortable with you—and there’s no better place to get comfortable with a crew than on a deserted stretch of beach somewhere far off the beaten track. While the wind would only stay good for a few hours every morning, the stories and laughs continued all day, every day, as our little group feasted on fish tacos and enfrijoladas.

Can't be all sunshine and rainbows in the remote point of Mexico.

Can't be all sunshine and rainbows in the remote point of Mexico.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

We knew we had to leave by Tuesday if we were going to make it Oaxaca in time for Friday’s bomb swell, but when we woke up yesterday morning, none of us were ready to go.

A new swell had filled in, our slab was still pumping, and our quiet little refuge was just as peaceful as ever. As we waved goodbye to our local friends and headed for our flight to Puerto, we knew this wouldn’t be the last time we’d see them. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, once you’ve found something epic, you should always go back.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

© 2021 - Sarah Lee

Matt and Tyler in awe...probably.

Matt and Tyler in awe...probably.

© 2021 - Sarah Lee