World Surf League Visits Mexico for the 2020-21 Championship Tour

By Julie Etra

We all know about the pipeline at Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido, and some of the surf spots just to the east of Huatulco, including La Bocana and Playa El Mojon. A bit farther east is Barra de la Cruz, known almost as much for its wildlife conservation activities as for its surfing.

The 2020-21 Tour (2020 canceled for COVID-19)

In August of this year, Barra de la Cruz hosted the Corona Open Mexico tournament, part of the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour. The Corona Open is an international competition, featuring professional surfers from France, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Italy, and the United States, all being countries with good surf. The World Surf League, the governing body of professional surfers, started out in the 1960s, going through multiple organizational and name changes until it became the WSL in 2015, when it was acquired by an investor group with surfing and media interests. The majority backer is the American billionaire Dirk Ziff, an indication that surfing has now become serious and profitable business. The fact that surfing made the Tokyo Olympics this year doesn’t hurt!

Competition in Barra is completely different from what goes on in Puerto Escondido, famous for its huge waves that attract thrill-seeking adrenaline surf junkies. I am told this by my daughter-in-law Joycelyn Turk (aka Joy), who knows much more about surfing than I do. Joy is a “Tica,” living in Costa Rica as a professional chef and avid surfer, and has surfed, up close and in person, Zicatela, Mojon, and Barra. Barra has a “point break” wave, where the wave comes off a headland or point, while the famous Playa Zicatela is a “beach break” that forms huge waves off the ocean floor.

The WSL competition is very intense and difficult to manage due to tournament protocols and the unpredictability of both the surf and the surfers. This is the first year that competitors overlap during heats, with two paddling out about five minutes before the two previous surfers are still in competition. The competitors paddling out must give priority to the pair in the final minutes of their heat, meaning the second pair has to give way to any wave either of the previous competitors has taken.

The championships at Barra de la Cruz were swept by the Australians. For the men’s tourney, Jack Robinson approached Barra ‘”correctly,” by sitting in the critical position outside the farthest rock, where the wave can be bigger and starts off with a “dredging barrel.” For the women’s tournament, seven-time women’s world champion Stephanie Gilmore narrowly won against Hawaii’s Malia Manuel.

Winning the WSL Championship

In 2021, the WSL is offering each of the winners (one man, one woman) of the entire tour a prize of $100,000. In addition the WSL has a prize pool of over $1 million, which is divided by competitive ranking among all competitors during each event.

The finals of this year’s WSL tour took place September 9-17 at Lower Trestles Beach in San Clemente, California; the men’s competition was won by Gabriel Medina of Brazil, who took fifth place in Barra, while American Carissa Moore, also fifth in Barra, took the women’s title.

According to the WSL, judging is on a scale of 1-10. The surfer’s performance on each wave is scored by five judges on five characteristics: difficulty; speed, power, and flow; and different assessments of the surfer’s maneuvers. The highest and lowest scores are dropped, and the three remaining scores are averaged. Then the two highest-scoring performances combine to become the surfer’s “heat total.”

The competition begins with 100 participants, male and female; occasional vacancies are filled with “wild card” competitors, which is how Huatulqueñan Regi (Regina Perez Paoli) was able to compete this year (more about Regi: https://www.montecito.mx/razones/surfing-huatulco – her scores were not available when this was written).

Why Did the Tour Come to Barra de la Cruz?
So, the next obvious question is WHY BARRA? The break, of course, the infrastructure to support the event and its large staffing and entourage, and – very important – COVID-19. Other potential host countries had less friendly protocols during the pandemic, with tourism and foreign arrivals curtailed or prohibited, although Joy and I viewed websites shouting RED status for COVID-19 in Huatulco, “LEY SECA!” (limits on alcohol sales), “50% occupancy!”

Interview with a Surfer
Naturally, to further my education on surfing, I took advantage of Joy’s visit to interview her on the topic.

How long have you been surfing? 22 years. It’s wild. All because of my friend Neal McCombs. We met in Carlsbad, California, where he and his family taught me how to surf. North County San Diego has a lot to offer surf-wise – something for everyone. I grew up in Tahoe so it was a natural transition from snowboarding to surfing, but still it took years to actually understand and be decent in the sport. I moved to New York City to work in Michelin kitchens and become a professional chef. While I was there, I was surfing at Rockaway in the city and out on Long Island in Montauk, before The Surf Lodge [a Montauk hotel/restaurant] opened, before it was as trendy as it is now. That’s also where I met another close friend, Danny DiMauro, who heavily influenced my surfing style.

Where is your favorite surf spot? That’s a hard question to answer. I have to say overall, five minutes from my house [in Costa Rica] is the break I’m at every day, all my friends are there, and the vibe is great (most of the time) and it’s always different. Some days it’s big and nasty, some days it’s small and playful, and almost every day it’s head-high for me because I’m short. Pavones would be a close second in Costa Rica because it is only a day of driving to get there and the second-longest left-hand wave in the world.

Tell me about Barra de la Cruz. Depending on the day, it can be very technical, starts off fast, and if it’s the right swell direction there’s potential to get some pretty serious barrel action both on the outside and on the inside of the wave. It can also be scary if there are large swells with overhead and double overhead waves. The current gets really strong during those moments and it’s hard to stay in position. And you have to get behind the rock and avoid falling into the rocks. If you are more to the inside of the rock, the takeoff is easier but that doesn’t mean it’s not intense.

The locals can be pretty territorial. which is normal for surfers, particularly in Mexico, which is completely understandable and ok, as long as you are respectful and give a friendly hello. It is a little different for women, we can get away with a little more, but we really have to prove ourselves. And we sometimes have to fight a little harder to get a good wave if there are a lot of people in the lineup. It has been my experience that, all too often, men will assume you can’t handle certain waves or that women can’t surf as well as men. So, you had better go when it’s your turn or you will forever be at the back of the line.

And other surf spots along the coast? Mojon is a gem. There are a lot of these gems along the coast. I cannot stress enough how important it is to speak Spanish or at least try. It goes a long way with the locals both in the water and on land. Also, really important, if you want to surf the more remote beaches, hire a guide. That will take you to hidden spots, get you some great waves and feed the local economy that depends on surf tourism. I have heard that Lalo with Surf Tours Salina Cruz is excellent.

I know this article is about Mexico and the competition, but where else have you surfed?
Most of Central America with the exception of Honduras because there’s not a whole lot of surf there.

Drew (my media naranja) and I met in Las Manzanas, Nicaragua, located on the Emerald Coast of the Pacific 45 minutes northwest of Chinandega. There’s lots of remote surfing up there, but none of the breaks really had names then. I was shocked to see another person in the surf and in true surfer fashion we thought the same thing at the same time “Who the f*** are you?”

El Tunco and Las Flores in El Salvador. The setup in Las Flores is very similar to Barra De la Cruz.

Bocas Del Toro, Panama, goes off during wet season and has a well-known big wave break called Silverbacks, and then lots of other breaks off the various islands that you can only get to by boat taxi.

Chile has Chicama and Los Lobos. both epic world-famous lefts, Chicama being the longest left in the world (makes goofy footers happy) at 2.2 kilometers from start to finish.

And then there’s Indonesia and the Maldives and South Africa. So many waves, so little time.

To see almost an hour’s worth of the WSL tournament in Barra de la Cruz, check out this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJOKVxFHo8Y.

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