An Interview with a Surfer

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By Brooke Gazer

Surfing is Jamie Tierney’s passion.  Growing up in California, he learned to surf at the age of twelve and it has become a cornerstone of his life.  After attending film school, he began making commercials and documentaries involving surfing and other things sports-oriented. While attending school, he worked for Quiksilver, a company that designs, produces, and markets surf gear. This was a useful contact when he set out to produce those commercials.

Jamie comes frequently to surf the Oaxaca Coast, so I asked him to compare the waves in Puerto Escondido, Barra de la Cruz, and San Diego, where he currently lives.

“Well, obviously the temperature is different. The water is 84°F here while it’s only 58°F at home. You don’t need a wet suit and that’s a plus.”

He went on to explain that there are three kinds of surfing beaches:  beach breaks, point breaks, and reef or coral breaks.

A Beach Break offers surfable waves that break close to the shore. The advantage of this is that you don’t need to paddle out for miles to catch a ride. These waves don’t always break softly but wiping out on the sand is far more forgiving than other alternatives.

If conditions are perfect, a Point Break can create a long wave as it wraps around a point and runs along the coastline. These can be more difficult to get onto, but they offer the longest ride. Surfers consider this “The Perfect Wave”.  Another advantage of a really long wave is that several surfers can ride the same one without worrying about injuring one another. The rocks on the headland can be a bit tricky if you lose your board or get swept into them, but, in the right conditions these waves are pretty reliable.

Reef (or Coral) Breaks offer incredible rides, but they are also famous for nasty injuries. If you fall off your board onto coral, it’s going to hurt. You have to paddle out a long way, or even take a boat ride to reach the area where the waves break. They offer a long ride… if you don’t wipe out on the coral.

According to Jamie, San Diego has both beach break and point break waves, depending on the time of year.  Although it’s colder, the winter is the best time to catch the really good waves in Southern California.  The problem is that too many people want to surf there, it gets crowded, and that’s when accidents happen. Apparently, some novice surfers don’t understand the proper surf etiquette. The person closest to the wave should have the right of way.

Zicatela Beach, located in Puerto Escondido, is rated among the world’s top ten surfing beaches. According to Jamie, “This beach break is known for its big, hollow, dangerous waves and is for experienced surfers only.  There are other less dramatic beaches around Puerto Escondido which aren’t so crazy. They are more suitable for less seasoned surfers.”

About half an hour on the other side of Huatulco, Barra de la Cruz is a great point break beach. Jamie notes that at Barra, “The waves can be big, it’s still a high-performance surf, but this beach is suitable for most levels of surfers. It’s also not so crowded, and that’s a really nice bonus.”

Jamie used to love surfing around San Diego, but says he enjoys it less now because there are so many surfers. He comes here often during the season. “California has currents flowing from both directions so, in spite of the cold, you can surf there all year round. The coast of Oaxaca only has surf from April to early November when the currents from Chile are flowing north.”

If you are serious about the sport, it is not so much a question as to IF but rather WHEN, you are going to wipe out and hurt yourself. So I asked Jamie what was the worst thing he’d experienced? “In Maui, I broke my nose when my board got bogged down on a shallow reef.”

Watching someone balancing on a board, skimming the surface, surging forward, and shooting a curl, I am certain that it’s an exhilarating experience. Those who master it seem to become addicted to the thrill.

Learning to Hang Ten is strenuous exercise; students need to have a strong respect for the ocean and to be prepared for bumps and bruises. Mastering the waves requires perseverance, practice and patience. Jamie said, “It’s possible to learn when you’re older, but this skill is easier to pick up when you’re young.” I’m thinking the same might be said for learning Spanish – I wish I’d begun that project earlier, when the grey cells fired more rapidly.  So, I´ll take Jamie’s advice and, alluring as it may appear, you won’t find me gracefully skimming along what they refer to as “The Mexican Pipeline.”


Brooke Gazer operates an ocean-view B&B in Huatulco,  She also has a webpage about Moving to Mexico,

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