On This Day: Andy Irons Wins The Rip Curl Search Mexico

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Swellnet Dispatch

Fifteen years ago, Andy Irons stood on the winner's dais for the Rip Curl Search Mexico, having easily dispatched of Taylor Knox 16.86 to 11.33.

Despite AI's win, the event is better known for its backstory: the quality of the surf and the exposure it brought to the then-little known wave of Barra de la Cruz.

By the turn of the century, the surf world had largely wised up to the deleterious effects of harried and unplanned development that followed in the wake of surf discoveries. That such discoveries were often in developing countries without a regulatory framework to cope made the intrusion all the more unsettling to locals. Some profited, many didn't, which created winners and losers where none existed before, while the environment was almost always disregarded.

Surfers could point to examples all around the developing world, starting with Kuta and heading outwards. A mix of concern for vulnerable communities with concern for their own surfing experience brought a change in the travelling mentality. No longer were new discoveries openly publicised on the screen as Bruce Brown as Alby Falzon had done, or even written about such as Peterson and Naughton in Surfer. Cryptic was key, nothingness was better.

Which is why the 2006 Rip Curl Search Mexico caused such a stir. Just when it seemed the surfing world had moved beyond putting secret spots on the front cover, the ASP went and turned one into a Championship Tour event. Rip Curl justified their move with a cash donation to the local hospital, though the amount was questioned by Chas Smith in an article for Stab that's no longer online and in the following Surfer article by Kimball Taylor.

It could be argued that the cost of exposure - either negative or positive - shouldn't be judged in the immediate years that follow, but that a longer view needs to be taken. Traditional life may be unsetlled, the changes were perhaps always going to come, only it happened sooner and faster than expected, but ultimately, did the net positives outweight the net negatives?

Next month, the CT returns to Barra de la Cruz again and we'll hopefully get some sort of an answer to that question.

 

Indication Point by Kimball Taylor (excerpt only)

I first walked into Barra de la Cruz in 2000, floating in upon the whispers of a Puerto Escondido native who, over beers, conjured a dream wave in the jungle. And I suppose I found the village as sleepy and forgotten as the two Australians had. At the time, Pablo Narvaez was away working in California, which meant there were no local surfers or any suggestion that there ever had been. I remember the luminous rocks, as suggestive of form as a ruined monument buried to its shoulders in sand. I remember the current as steady and sure as a treadmill, and the feeling, on kicking out so far down the line, of actually having gone somewhere—of having traveled. While enjoying the golden light of evening on the beach, a fisherman approached. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he asked, apropos of nothing, “Where will you sleep tonight?”

I shrugged. “On the beach.”

“You can’t sleep on the beach. The mosquitoes will come out of the wetland and eat you alive.” The man looked at my few possessions. “Where is your food?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Is there a restaurant?”

He chuckled. “You are stupid,” he said.

I nodded. We watched the sunset. Afterward, with a grimace, he said, “Come with me.”

The fisherman walked me back into the village, where he negotiated with a family who then swept the shit out of their bamboo turkey hutch and placed a cot inside for my comfort. Then my new friend delivered me to the home of an elderly woman who fried up some tilapia and served it with tortillas as hard as the stone mortar the corn had been ground in. That night, lying on the cot, I listened to the complaints of the turkeys who’d been evicted on my behalf; they waddled, gurgled, and pissed just outside the bamboo.

In Pablo, the two things—surfing and environmentalism—weren’t necessarily linked, but had evolved, shifted, and traveled together like species of migratory birds heading south. A recent crisis in the village, however, seemed to pit one against the other.

Ever since, I’d taken an interest not only in the wave, but in the pueblo of Barra de la Cruz. I thought it was an opportunity to understand what discoveries like that wave can do to a place over the long haul; I had Kuta Beach and Puerto Escondido in mind. But the example of Barra de la Cruz turned out to be special because its people had long instituted a form of democracy based on native principles and had consolidated into a recognized comunal in 1964. Each leader of a household carried a vote, and no land transactions could be conducted without the unanimous consent of the voters. Sales to any non-citizens of the pueblo were prohibited. To my mind, this communal government that appointed citizens to all positions—from night-watch guards to president—might serve as a bulwark against piecemeal, corporate, and federal tourist schemes. The town just might be able to work in its own self-interest.

Examples of why this may be important lay up and down the coast, from Puerta Vallarta, where residents of the fishing village at Punta de Mita were forcibly evicted so a five-star resort could take their place, to nearby Huatulco, where inhabitants were pushed off their coastal land but invited back to work as maids and gardeners for 70 pesos ($6) per day. From Ixtapa to Cancún, if tourists showed interest, outsized development was sure to follow.

Barra de la Cruz stood in contrast, possibly because of its democratic roots. But how long could it sustain itself?

Word of the wave quietly grew until 2006, when the surf-themed clothing company Rip Curl proposed an internationally sanctioned event to the council at Barra de la Cruz. Some in the council voiced concern about the exposure an international event would bring; some believed they were not ready. But the people wanted a medical center. If they got a structure in place, the government would provide a doctor. They needed $30,000 to build it. Negotiations between the international company and the villagers were uneven. In the end, Rip Curl paid Barra de la Cruz a fraction of the medical center’s cost, which equated to less than 10 percent of what it would have cost to permit an event at Trestles at the time. On the issue of exposure, Pablo claimed that he and the council asked Rip Curl not to name Barra outright, which is why, on the webcast, it was called “La Jolla.” Regardless, no one expected what happened next: Some of the most incredible point waves any Association of Surfing Professionals event has ever seen arrived in perfect step for the event.

“Those were the best waves I have ever seen at Barra,” Pablo said.

The actual location of the Rip Curl Pro Search “Somewhere in Mexico” spilled across the Internet with the speed of fiber optics, and it instantly became one of the most sought-after surf destinations in the world. To accommodate visitors, the town council built a large cabaña on the beach that housed a popular restaurant, and a set of bathrooms just behind. The road to the coast was gated and a small fee was charged for entry. Proceeds from the restaurant and gate fee initially brought good things to the pueblo. The medical facility was finally completed and the road into town paved. Citizens were becoming proud of their little town. The beach cabaña evolved into a symbol of their new economy. So when not long after the contest the historically wild river mouth that emptied near the point began to threaten the cabaña with erosion, Barra’s council decided to move the entire river to the east. According to a local surfer named Cesar, this is when sand began to disappear from the break. The river, Cesar indicated in hindsight, was the source of the wave’s magic. Without a periodic infusion of river sand, a hole soon began to develop in the sandbar. A tropical cyclone exacerbated the situation, and by 2010 the most phenomenal sand point the pro tour had ever seen was a shadow of its former self.

Click to read the full article.

Comments

Clivus Multrum's picture
Clivus Multrum's picture
Clivus Multrum Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 11:54am

Interesting read

MickyFanny's picture
MickyFanny's picture
MickyFanny Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 11:22pm

Clivus...

loungelizard's picture
loungelizard's picture
loungelizard Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 12:07pm

i remember some australian guy scoring a 7 point something , being interviewed afterwards and saying (not complaining) "7! that was the best wave of my life!"

Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67 Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 2:47pm

It was Taj. An absolute smoker and he got 7, I think he also said something about "I don't know what I'd have to do to get a 10"

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 12:31pm

I just found an another, better article on the outing of Barra. It's also written by Kimball but goes into greater detail:

The Spot - Secret spots, “The Search,” and surf imperialism in Mainland Mexico.

From The Surfers Journal 15.6.

lucky-al's picture
lucky-al's picture
lucky-al Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 4:19pm

Good one. What's Kimball Taylor up to these days?

Here's Andy Higgins talking about the event on the "It's Not The Length" podcast with Paul Evans: https://soundcloud.com/user-938287692/search-so

Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 3:00pm

With the translocation of the river and demise of the wave, in reality, it’s probably the best thing for the pueblo of that area. They’ve always been, there and will be in the future. Connection to your land, history, family values etc. Its not always about the bucks, as Vincent Lingiari once said.

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 3:13pm

Had it good in ‘11. Abundance of sand.
Shithouse in ‘12. Not a grain of sand. (Hurricane had just been through.)

What will the wozzle juju conjure up there.

Edit: pray for skunk. The worlds best on the worlds fattest burg.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 3:44pm

Sand looks decent, not heaps but the bank is there.

Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67 Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 3:54pm

Well they can't whistle up their mates at the sand bypass on this one...

Jono's picture
Jono's picture
Jono Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 12:22pm

Looks OK here, not really conclusive though

savanova's picture
savanova's picture
savanova Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 3:47pm

Mexican Crescent Head

jordanddisch's picture
jordanddisch's picture
jordanddisch Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 4:27pm

Yep those Mozzies will eat you alive at dusk and give you Dengue while they are at it.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 4:45pm

Isn’t there an abundance of right points there?

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 5:15pm

loved the way Andy surfed.............................

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 10:21pm

I really like Kimball's writing, as a positive.

On the negative, well, where to start?

I have very little, if any, faith in the ability of the powers that be to bring together a complete or equitable set of metrics which go anywhere near answering the question of whether the event/exposure has been good for the town/area. It's a sad indictment of surf culture at that point in time, but who's to say it won't happen again in the pursuit of coin?

BTW, Savanova, I'd just about eat a fin if I saw footage of Crescent like that.

Bubble elder's picture
Bubble elder's picture
Bubble elder Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021 at 11:43pm

such an epic wave! I was there for about 3 weeks in 2010, it didn't get under 2-3ft and got as big as 6-8ft. All swells broke pretty similar, grinding barrels out behind and next to the rocks at the start, followed by a really good turn sections through the middle before rifling back off tubes before an eventual closeout section way down the beach....

I was travelling solo when I was there. I would get up in the dark and walk down the road to the beach from town with my head torch to get to the point to paddle out at first light, surf until the wind came up (usually around 10), have breakfast at the restaurant on the beach, if I was really keen have a second surf (there's only so many days you can do this before the eyes flare up and the shoulders give way!), then walk back to town to read a book and sleep during the mid day heat, then head back down in the arvo for the late surf and glass off, back home dinner and bed! I did this on repeat every day and didn't want to leave, only after a couple of weeks I blew out my finplugs and so decided to venture up to check out puerto and get the board fixed.... Stayed there a couple of days and hated it so I went back down for another week at Barra as soon as my boards were fixed! Great memories....

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 6:59am

Fuck oath mate. Sounds very similar to ‘11 when I was there. Can remember one particular morning I was out solo for far to long in pumping waves and fully started freaking out that I was dishonouring some locals only day or disrespecting some other reason. I just couldn’t work out where people were. I could even see cars coming down the hill.

Was able to live the dream at another point in ‘12 with beachside accom. If I wasn’t surfing, I was watching the surf eating unreal food. All day, every day for nearly 3 months. Love it over there!!!!!!!!

dawnperiscope's picture
dawnperiscope's picture
dawnperiscope Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 10:43am

5:10 on this one for a Danny Wills highlight from the free surfs.
He was sooooo deep.

Bubble elder's picture
Bubble elder's picture
Bubble elder Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 10:21pm

Sick! That brought back some good memories!!! Far out makes me want to go back one day

dawnperiscope's picture
dawnperiscope's picture
dawnperiscope Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 7:23am

Me too Bubble. I was fortunate enough to be the guy duck diving as Danny comes out of the deep section. To this day it’s still the most skilful tube ride I’ve seen. I was so mesmerised by what was going on in there I got in the way!

juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 6:51am

Modern day colonialism. Are they going back to build the hospital this time?

BigZ's picture
BigZ's picture
BigZ Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 8:38am

What fraction would you think wsl, quiksilver and corona have negotiated this time around with the pueblo, get ready to be disappointed in the corporate care factor, fractional at best.
Do we feel embarrassed by this article , being surfers and watching, wearing or using their products ?

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 1:18pm

Yeah Claw and Singer hang your heads in shame.

dr-surf's picture
dr-surf's picture
dr-surf Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 6:45pm

$5000? Rip Curl was Generous. Bet some Money was thrown around during the Event.

jetson.rover's picture
jetson.rover's picture
jetson.rover Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 2:18pm

I'd imagine this time the locals would be a bit more financially savvy and an extra 0 would be in the figure.
Still peanuts when both the mens and womens winner gets 100k.

Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 6:54pm

Memlasurf totally agree. Has been a world theme forever and a day and it doesn’t look like ending. Western countries and corporate businesses taking advantage of lesser developed nations often the ‘first peoples’, manipulating them, promising lots and delivery very little. Then, they have the audacity to turn their backs on these communities (i.e pueblo), walk away snickering to one another on how they got it so cheap. It’s all analogous to white Anglo Aussies holidaying in Bali and consistently bartering locals down in price, we just need to remind ourselves who is the one on holidays, us. Sickening.

D-Rex's picture
D-Rex's picture
D-Rex Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 7:35pm

Geez Brad I've seen aboriginals in Bali doing the same bartering but that doesn't sit correctly politically, does it? Wanker.

Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 12:17pm

D-Rex. With a reply like that, you must be a total loser, but, I suppose you already know that. Another Australian lapping up the spoils of life in a country of which you know very little about. Probably haven’t even been to Tassie through fear that your xenophobic nature will rear it’s ugly head, of course you’ve been to Bali. How’s your knowledge of history in the place in which you live, pretty poor I’d say. Cheer up fella, no ones going to raid your piggy bank to help out with the Surf Contest at Bells.

D-Rex's picture
D-Rex's picture
D-Rex Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 4:28pm

That you selectively condemn your own kind without hesitation says a lot about you too Brad. If you want to spend your miserable life atoning for white people's 'sins' that's your sad problem. You sound like a complete fuckwit so no doubt you'll go ahead and make more ignorant accusations from your sanctimonious ivory tower.

ardis96's picture
ardis96's picture
ardis96 Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 7:38pm

Epic Wave!

lemmy13's picture
lemmy13's picture
lemmy13 Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 7:40pm

Yeah Babe ;)

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 7:59pm

Swipe left Lemmy, you're being catfished.

jetson.rover's picture
jetson.rover's picture
jetson.rover Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 10:30pm

My guess is if the sand isn't in good enough shape 2 weeks out from the event,or if there's not going to be enough swell,they'll cancel the event due to 'high covid numbers in Mexico'.

bigredcouch's picture
bigredcouch's picture
bigredcouch Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 11:56am

Stu, you may remember some years ago a writer who may or may not be myself submitted a similar article to Swellnet. At the time it was deemed irrelevant due to being so long ago, and perhaps slightly inflammatory for a potential advertisement partner of Swellnets. I wonder how it would fare now...

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 3:17pm

Indeed I wondered the same thing myself.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 3:30pm

Is it true that there’s been intimidation from locals if you don’t pay a local guide to show you around the area?

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Thursday, 1 Jul 2021 at 9:15am

I would be far more concerned about the cartels Blow in !

Surfing in Mexico is a dangerous affair.

It's not the surfing that is dangerous either!

quad fin kook's picture
quad fin kook's picture
quad fin kook Tuesday, 6 Jul 2021 at 4:39pm

Barra can be surfed without hassle. But the waves around Sallina Cruz further south you must be with a "surf guide". Which basically means you have to pay to surf. And it's not cheap. This has been the case for 10 years at least.

dean maddison's picture
dean maddison's picture
dean maddison Friday, 25 Jun 2021 at 4:49pm

I certainly hope so , Blowin.