Being the first event of the 2017 Big Wave Tour (BWT), the Puerto Escondido Challenge has gained even more importance. Any surfer who has their sights set on a BWT World Title will need a strong performance at the Mexican mother-of-all-beachbreaks. With two months remaining of the three-month waiting period, we take a closer look at one of surfing's premier events.
Will Lightening Strike Twice?
Last year. the inaugural Puerto Escondido Challenge scored conditions that were described by locals as historic. "The first day was maybe too wild, a little out of control," said the eventual winner, Grant "Twiggy" Baker.
"The next day was my ideal size. Fifteen-to-20 feet on the Hawaiian scale with perfect winds. It was as good as it gets, really." Early this season the break has been plagued by rain, some funky winds and unruly swells. But since late June, the first real bombs hit Puerto with a solid 10-12-foot swell being ordered by stiff offshore winds. It was nowhere near big enough to run the event, but the momentum for something special has been building. And the forecast for both Sunday and Monday now look solid. As of now we might see something even better than last year's epic spectacle. "We expect surf in the 20-to-25-foot face range that will make for some spectacular surfing," says Big Wave Tour Commissioner Mike Parsons. "This swell we are tracking is from a very good direction for Puerto that should make for some amazing tube rides."
Out of the Deep
Why does this spot in mainland Mexico throw up some of the biggest beachbreak barrels in the world? It's the canyons. Just like at Nazaré, a series of submarine canyons are scarred deep into the ocean floor just off the coast of the bay at Puerto Escondido. These canyons provide a smooth track and none of the usual seabed speed bumps that can lessen the size and power of swells as they approach the shore. That means that unlike many beachbreaks, Puerto loves a long-period groundswell. The results are towering, powerful swells that are abruptly broken up by the unique sandbanks close to shore into heaving, spitting peaks.
There's No Escape
As you can imagine, driving a 10-foot-long surfboard through a 30-foot wave that is breaking on shallow sand is not without its dangers. Closeouts are a part of the deal you make when surfing Puerto and the main cause of injury. In last year's Final, Makua Rothman provided evidence of this, pulling into a draining, no-exit barrel, that slammed him into the sand, busted his ribs and cut short his chance at victory.
"At Puerto Escondido, if you want to get the wave and the barrel that you're looking for, you've got to pay at least 10 times before that," Baker once told Surfer. "But you learn how to fall, like skateboarding or any other sport. You learn how to wipe out in the barrel, when to jump off, and when to hold on, and that's all part of surfing out here and enjoying the waves."
It's hard to get past Baker, the defending event and two-time BWT World Champion. He's done his time and is one of the best big-wave barrel-riders of all time. Next in line would be last year's event runner-up, Greg Long. He is also a two-time BWT World Champ and has put in over two decades at the break. Less experienced at Puerto, but a perennial BWT contender, Jamie Mitchell's efforts on the bigger day last year also puts him in the mix -- but remember, he's also recovering from an injury. These veterans will be pushed by the next generation of big-wave chargers like Nathan Florence, Kai Lenny and Brazil's Pedro Calado. And of course, any one of the local chargers, guys like Coco Nogales, Oscar Moncada and Jose Ramirez, know the wave better than anyone and are all capable of an upset.
The Optimal Conditions
We've mentioned that a solid, long-period swell is a prerequisite, but the direction is important too. New BWT Commissioner Mike Parsons will be hoping for a swell as south as possible. These best organize the lineup into three main takeoff zones; Carmelitas, the sucky right in the north; Mexican Pipeline, the split peak in front of the lifeguard tower; and Far Bar, to the south. Offshore northeast breezes also need to be in play, as no one likes 30-foot chandeliers. That, really, is about it. Then all there is to do is send the best big-wave riders in the world out and watch the quality -- and the carnage.