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Staring Down The Barrel


Liquid refreshmentsBang! A first shot rang out. People ran and pushed each other to get through the door. A lady in a blue dress was pushed by another who was brushed aside by a cop rushing in.
I willed my taco to stop dripping a thick excess of guacamole as I soaked up the scene without moving a hair. My compadres, photographer Maxime Houyvet, Manu and Carine Camboulives ? a pair of windsurfer trippers - and their three-year-old daughter, Lou, remained just as stoical as me.
People were laying on the ground throughout the restaurant. Clearly the correct course of action, so we followed suit. This was only our second day in the depths of Mexico. We ended up here after hours searching on a map for swells and wind, on the look-out for the slightest indication of hopeful conditions. This was an unpublished trip as far as we were aware; the discovery of spots on the Pacific Coast.
Manu had been in touch with Carlos, a local surfer who spoke about incredible waves that were ruined each afternoon by strong winds. There we were, one month later, in action...
I threw myself clumsily underneath a table. It wasn't the closest one, but it was against the wall. I think I've seen them do that in James Bond movies. Without hesitation, Max dived under the table to my right, Manu to my left, with Lou explaining to her that we were just playing hide-andseek. Carine remained rooted to her chair, laughing hysterically.
A cop with a moustache also hid under my table. His hand was shaking on his gun and, from time to time, he'd half-open the door. Sergeant Garcia looked incredibly anxious. We waited there for five minutes, I think, beforethe call of the guacamole grew stronger. Eventually a few people started to emerge from under the tables, silently looking at each other for some comfort and signs that the danger was over. The restaurant waiters were already working again, as if nothing had happened. Sergeant Garcia disappeared.
Banking goldOpening the newspaper the next day we fell upon a full page article with a photo. 'Burglary At The Movie Theatre; Criminals Arrested'. Apparently it is customary in Latin countries to get bandits and accident victims to pose for newspaper reports. Here, we had what could have been a striking poster for a Hollywood thriller; three accomplices with weapons in hand with their loot displayed in front of them on a table. There are few tourists here and no listing or reasons to visit in the Lonely Planet or other travel guides; a good sign for lovers of adventure.
This area is, however, a small paradise of surf spots. But if we told you where they were, we'd have to kill you. You will have to find them yourself, but the discovery will be even more beautiful.
We paddle-surfed waves that roll for more than a minute, with two tubing sections and holding up long enough for a minimum wage of six bottom turns. A ten minute walk back to the peak and, of course, there are only three others around to share it with.
The insider. Jeremie brings it in closeThe fauna begins to rustle at 6am, when the pelicans, fish, rays, tortoises, crabs, snakes and more emerge from their dark hidings. Each morning we'd see the magnificent show of the hard laws of the food chain in full effect.
One morning I was walking back to the peak after the umpteenth wave when I saw a Mexican panicking on the beach. He was running, gesticulating as he shouted to both the surfers in the water, (one of them being Manu). I looked beyond them and saw the ominous outline of a fin cutting quietly through the waves. Dolphin? Shark? It was impossible to make out the difference. We never saw it again and two waves later we'd forgotten about it.
I've never surfed so many waves. We'd take ten or 15, perhaps 20 before breakfast. Each ride lasting a minute, followed by a ten minute walk. We literally got drunk on waves, slamming them down one after another. It became almost mechanical and was the first time that's happened for me in surfing.
We quickly adapted to the customs of the country. We'd take a small break and a Mexican meal before a Mexican siesta. The wind would pick up in the afternoon; a kind of thermal that would sit steady at 15-20 knots. A nightmare for surfers. A paradise for us.
To windsurf or kite was the difficult choice for Carine. This blonde slip of a woman intrigues many, attracting crowds as she surfs waves or flies through the sky. It's the same for Lou, Carine's small fair haired child who spoke no Spanish. The locals would ask Carine which product she used to colour Lou's hair! They loved it. She played all day with Mexican kids and made about thirtynew friends. Her most effective foreign language communication is dance. Add a couple of toys and she's set for the day.
Lou is actually bilingual in French and English. In two weeks she learned more Spanish words than any school kid, which at her age, is very irritating. One day, while in the car, I said the word 'purple' in English. She immediately chastised me, "No, we do not say 'peurpeul' but 'purple'' with her perfect accent, at only three years old. No comment.
In the glass housePhotographer Maxime is a mixture of a comic version of prehistoric man and a viking, albeit a rather featherweight model. He is always motivated, from six in the morning to 10 at night. He wants to get on in life, he's a hard worker and we share his enthusiasm as much as we can.
Manu is a really experienced traveller; a veritable bible to hundreds of spots in the world. He's always on the look-out for the slightest indication of a potential new spot and, until now, his journey has been faultless. Having hauled gear for thousandsand thousands of kilometres, 'it worth it' he'd say in perfect Franglais, imported via the Hawaiian islands.
Equipped with my Bullet wave board and my 12 or nine metre, I spent my days riding perfect, powerful, tubular waves. The set-up is amazing, point-after-point. You have to drive down sketchy little dirt roads, turn right, left, right again; impossible to find on your own and a GPS won't help. It takes time, research, trial and error to get from one spot to another.
Once at the car park you have to walk, sometimes up to 25 minutes, on burning sand to get to the point. Carrying my kite was all right, but Manu and Carine had a mission carrying their windsurf gear. The major problem for me was launching my kite. On a big beach it's no problem, but with mountains 250 metres upwind at each point it's a struggle. Different options are available. You can: walk far enough downwind to some clean air to get some wind in your kite; walk right to the edge of the point, climbing rocks so your kite catches some breeze; or you can swim. I used all three options on numerous occasions.
Se?oritasThe wind picks up around noon, blowing a maximum of 25 knots and perfectly sideshore. I walked downwind at the first point we tried on the first day, launched, and raced upwind for 25 minutes. The wave was beautiful, with a hollow section at the beginning, before filling in to become a long, clean section. The mountains make the wave very glassy, holding back the wind from disturbing the wave face, but this means you have to kick out of the wave before the end otherwise you'll run out of wind. Good luck if you get greedy and leave it too late. One day I did, just too excited by a perfect wave and couldn't let the section go. Like a kid absorbed by the yummy candy I went for the last roller, hitting the section as I watched my kite go down in zero wind. I started to swim downwind as fast as I could but the current pushed me further and further inside.
With my kite behind me I found myself swimming around in the middle of the sea, far from the beach and more than a little concerned by all the things that might be swimming around me in this part of the ocean. (When I got back to France I found out a surfer had been killed in a shark attack not too far from that spot).
Quality greenAfter 20 minutes my kite started to twitch in some gusts and slowly began to creep around from behind me to the front of the window. Finally it relaunched; ouf!
But all these obstacles are worth it, and possibly make the good times even more special. Nothing came easy, but just three friends on a perfect spot seems a complete luxury when you get home and think back. In all we tried five spots with five points, all with the same kind of set-up. Getting to the peak was always a challenge, but riding the wave was always incredible.
Numerous Google Earth searches led us to one fabulous point; a world class spot with a perfect right and no mountains to hinder the side-offshore wind. No doubt it's one of the most beautiful spots I have seen for kiting.
Carine capturing the imaginationOccasionally though, beware: when the wind comes over the land here it can get up to 60 knots, sweeping up any loose debris with amazing swiftness. Fields of plastic bags quietly pollute the sea, an entire city is cleaned, our eyes drip with dust, the water drops five degrees, the trucks overturn and we perpetually fight against the air, drunk on the dust clouds. It drives you crazy; a real Mexican Tarifa or Leucate.
It's a complete transformation. It becomes cold, the fish disappear, the snakes come out of the water to warm upunder the sun and I have to fight the urge to fly away on my seven metre. But the sky, finally clears of dust as the wind eventually dies, becoming incredibly clear and the sun takes the lead role once more. The following morning the sun totally ambushes the remaining night sky, coming up out of the water in such an incandescent volcano of red; a real ball of fire. I have never seen a sunrise so beautiful. This particular day was actually the world's 'Earth Day' and the sun had come to celebrate in its own way.
Friendly spirits are catching...unfortunately that's not all that isThat evening, the sunset was equally stunning, and I hung on to my kite, taking advantage of every wave, printing a fortune of memory notes against the bright red sky that I will be cashing in, in my dreams, for years to come.
I will remember this trip for a long time, for the army roadblocks, the sub-machine guns, the police armed to their teeth, the narcotics traffickers' stories of using 'home-made' submarines, the parties, the incomparable kindness of the people who offered us drink and food, the kidnapping stories, the deserted beaches, the endless waves... and, the cherry on the cake, Mexican flu.
For the last few days Max spent a lot of time in the cold water, feeling sick and feverish with a stuffy nose. We watched the news in the evening and saw the flu had just appeared in the world. We didn't know how to break it to Max, who was curled up at the bottom of his bed. As we tried to explain what might be happening, he took it as a joke, for a while.
I left the next day. Just before I was due to board a plane, the press talked about quarantines and a pandemic with the typical exaggeration of the Mexican newspapers. I found a mask at my friend Carlos' father's drug store on the way. The domestic flight was actually fine, though I did wonder if the pilot was feeling okay with all the wild acceleration and braking.
When we arrived at the airport, half the people had masks. I put mine on, a small souvenir from Japan, and was given a questionnaire. 'Do your eyes sting?' Eugh! I marked 'No', although I did have some conjunctivitis, but this was more from the sea water than anything else. Everybody was getting a little paranoid and wondered every few minutes if they were starting to feel one of the symptoms. It was the beginning of an international panic. We didn't know much at that point, but the media fuelled anxiety levels to the maximum.
Find yourself a corner of the world like this and you might never leaveIn the end, no one asked me for the sheet with all my lies on it, the plane landed in Paris and we immediately mixed with more than a thousand other people in the terminal. As one of the first passengers off Mexican flights, Canal + and France Inter TV stations interviewed me about the Mexican flu. I went straight home, took a shower, shut off the TV, which was finding a fresh alert every hour, and slept, dreaming about those virgin waves, unrolling themselves endlessy.
Staring Down The Barrel appeared in Kiteworld issue #43. Click here to read more about what else was featured
Wainman Hawaii

Added: 2010-02-10

Category: Features

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