Puerto Escondido

Savage Mexican beachbreak tube located on the northern tip of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, in the state of Oaxaca; often called the "Mexican Pipeline," and universally agreed to be the world's gnarliest sand-bottom wave. "Some people love it," local ace Coco Nogales said of Puerto in 2011. "Some people get pounded, turn around, head for home and never come back."

The broad, sandy beach at Puerto Escondido ("Hidden Port") is fronted by an underwater canyon that amplifies incoming swells from the south and southwest so that the waves here are bigger than those found virtually anywhere else on the Mexican mainland. From May to October, the surf at Puerto Escondido rarely drops below four foot, is often six to eight, and occasionally 15 foot or bigger. Waves here break close to shore, over a sandy bottom, but hazards are nevertheless plentiful, including swift riptides and currents, exploding tubes, and aggressive crowds. Heat and humidity can also be a problem: midday air temperatures in the summer are usually in the upper 80s, with the water temperature in the low 80s.

Because wave shape at Puerto Escondido is dependent on mutable sandbars, days and weeks can pass where the majority of waves are closeouts. There are two main breaks: a wedging right, sometimes called Carmelita's or Wheelchair Bar, and a looping left about 200 yards to the south known as Far Bar. A softer-breaking point wave along the rock-lined southern headland is also surfed. The wind at Puerto Escondido blows offshore dependably from dawn until mid- or late morning, then turns onshore for the afternoon, and occasionally switches back to offshore just before sunset. High-performance surfing of every description is done on smaller days, but surfers come to Puerto Escondido—sometimes loaded with as many as six boards, with the knowledge that the entire set might be broken over the course of a weeklong visit—to ride the tube.

Traveling American surfers came upon Puerto Escondido as far back as 1959, but it remained a virtually unknown break until the early '70s. The surf press began running photos of spherical Puerto Escondido tubes in 1974, by which time increasing numbers of surfers from California, Texas, and the eastern seaboard were beginning to file into the small hotels in the fishing/resort town to the immediate north. The number of visitors shot up with the opening of the Puerto Escondido International Airport in 1986.

By the early '90s, Puerto Escondido's local economy had been so pumped up by incoming surf tourism dollars that the city council erected a statue of a surfer embedded into a looping concrete tube. Native surfers meanwhile took to the water in earnest in the early '80s, held the first Puerto Escondido National Surf Contest in 1981, and opened the first local surf shop in 1988. Top local surfers over the years included Raul Noyala, Celestino Diaz, Omar Diaz, Coco Nogales, Kalle Carranza and Oscar Moncando. Standout visiting surfers have included Richards Schmidt, Keala Kennelly, Greg Long, Ian Walsh, Shane Dorian, and skimboarder Brad Domke.

Other contests held at the break include the Oxbow Masters (won by Joey Buran in 1998), and the ASP-backed Puerto Escondido Pro (won by Clay Marzo in 2011). The Mexpipe Challenge, featuring an international field, was held at Puerto Escondido from 2001 to 2007, and was Mexico's most prestigious surf contest at the time.

Puerto Escondido has been featured in dozens of surf movies and videos, including Ticket to Ride (1986), Momentum (1992), Siestas and Olas (1997), and Reflection (2002), Absolute Mexico (2007), as well as the Puerto Underground video series (1995, 1996, and 1998). Australia's Surfing Life magazine named the break in 1997 as one of "Ten Waves Every Surfer Should Ride." In 2002, Surfer cited Puerto Escondido as one of the "World's Most Dangerous Waves," and in 2011 named in #40 in its "100 Best Waves" feature.