Bodysurfing with Mark Drewelow at Puerto Escondido

September 9, 2019 | Surfing
Mark Drewelow: a prolific bodysurfer from Encinitas, California | Photo:

Mark Drewelow had a grandmother named Eve.

"She was a painter. The first female to get a master's degree in Art from the University of Iowa in 1925. Moved to Boulder. She was an artist and curious she did everything herself. She even welded her own sculptures," he said, and he laughed.

"I love that," I said, "there've always been women like your grandmother. People who did what they wanted."

I think if you hold a belief that the story of humankind is a story of oppression, you're right.

It has always been the strongest. For example: Before Spaniard sickness decimated the Aztecs, those same Aztecs were chucking each other down steps.

Oppression always ruled the world until Gandhi's Salt March, in 1930, and then in 1956 in Egypt when the world jumped in to defended Egyptian property rights from British, Israeli, and French invasion.

That said, we are and have always been, one specific animal of many species; we are the Naked Ape. Read "The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal," a 1967 book by Desmond Morris.

Nature is in balance. Right? Lionesses are responsible for the species as much as lions.

The Tetons - Wyoming (1933): an oil paint on canvas by Eve Drewelowe | Painting: Eve Drewelowe

But somewhere around 1969, we, as a species, decided child-raising was less important than a career to make money.

We're feeling the effects as a society, and the pendulum of family values is swinging back into favor.

I'd say all the great accomplishments were half influenced by women. And half the terrible things that happened too.

Stands to reason. Hitler had a momma. Do you feel me?

And thankfully, Mark Drewelow has the stuff of his grandmother Eve running through his veins.

Eve Drewelowe (1899–1988): the first student to earn a master's degree in Art from the University of Iowa | Painting: Eve Drewelowe

A Bodysurfing Life

"I've bodysurfed my whole life. I'm in my mid-50s, and I only started getting good at it the last few years," notes Drewelow.

Mark is coming off a first-place finish at the 43rd Annual World Bodysurfing Championships, in Oceanside, California. It's his home court.

I watched a lot of videos. He reminded me of Dennis Rodman, who made a career out of taking one aspect of a sport and dominating - discrete domination.

Mark spends a lot of time underwater, and for that, he has disrupted the art of bodysurf (and the silly competitions).

You might think the wave is done and he kind of arrives from nowhere. He rides the power of the wave underwater.

"How do you do it?" I ask.
"I kick different," replies Mark.
"I saw that," I said. "You roll sideways. I tried it yesterday."

He sets his eyes on me from behind the light shades, which are perfect for an interview.

Mark Drewelow: he's been bodysurfing his whole life | Photo: Global Yacht Aid

Mine are broken. I figure it was one of the reasons Hunter S. Thompson wore those yellow glasses. It allows people to see your eyes.

You can't connect behind shades. You can talk, but you can't connect.

I left my shades off.

He holds up his hand and explains: "there's a power distance within the anatomy of a kick."

"And if you kick up and down - like a dolphin - you're likely to break the surface of the water, which slows you down. But if you kick side by side - like a shark - you rarely lose the power stroke."

"Got it," I said, knowing he had moved the canon forward in open water self-rescue technique, aka, bodysurfing.

"It's called fin swimming," said Mark. "It's a sport."
"Swim finning?" I said, revealing a dyslexic short circuit.

Mark Drewelow: bodysurfer, captain and humanitarian volunteer | Photo: Jaciel Santiago

He was a ship's captain in the luxury - is there any other kind? - yacht business for about 14 years.

Sounds like a nightmare to me.

Forget about the part about storms and people dying for now. Just think about solving all those imaginary problems for rich people. But he did it.

"You ever dive the bay here in Puerto." He stretches his arm and points behind us.

"There's a deep natural trench that runs out to the shelf. I anchored a boat there right about where you'd think."

And he points again to the harbor. Looks safe as a kitten.

"Well, there are big rocks down there. And the wind changed, and our anchor got fouled, and I went and dove down."

That's the kind of captain he is. He jumps off a 65-foot boat and dives down 80 feet to have a look for himself.

Mark Drewelow: negotiating a perfect right-hander | Photo: Iris Burchi

"You still hold your license?" I ask.

It's a big question for captains. It's a hassle to stay current and a hassle to decide to let it expire.

"I let it go," he says and looks out to the waves.

We're not looking at each other - just checking out the waves. Silence passes between us.

"Yeah, my wife and I decided. There would always have been a phone call at 3 am asking me to come. And offering a lot of money. And I was fair. I never gouged the billionaires."

Words of wisdom: Treat everybody straight; with that, you will set yourself apart.

"How big were the boats?" I ask.
"Relatively small - up to 165 feet," he says.
I let that sink in and said, "or relatively large."
"Yeah," he said and nodded.

Nicolai Rotter: trimming the perfect bodysurfing line at Puerto Escondido | Photo: Jaciel Santiago

It was the night of the rules meeting, and I saw Mark and Pat, a retired United States Marine Corps (USMC).

I love Marine Corps guys. Semper Fi (Always Faithful). All that. Best man I ever met was a Marine. The happiest guy as well.

But there are only two kinds of retired marines.

The happy kind and the ones who trip over a bottle and drink the whole pension. Tricky. It's in no way an easy line to walk. That is why so many stumble - retired cops and retired firefighters, same thing.

"Hey Mark, I got this kid I want you to meet. His name is Nicolai Rotter. He's like 16. Last year before the contest when I explained the judging, he came right up to me and asked for a copy of the glossary."

Nicolai Rotter: dropping into the abyss | Photo: Miguel Diaz West Side

"I met Nico," he said and smiled. "He reached out to me last year, and I've been swimming with him for the past few days. Sharp kid."

"He's the best of what Puerto has to offer. He's third-generation and from two cultures. They're bridges between cultures and languages and generations."

There are a lot of really special kids in Puerto, like Cesar Lujan - see article "Reflections of a big wave surf contest" - and Luca Cardoso, the youngest competitor at the Open Bodysurfing contest, held in Playa Zicatela. Fourteen at the time.

The last time I saw Mark, I asked him what was next.

"I'm interested to see what the next phase in the sport is - kids like Nico and Luca. I like mentoring. To see what happens next. Then I'll just fade away. I was a lone wolf to start, and that's where I'll probably finish."

He shook his head and continued: "I don't know how those kids did it. Nico weighs what?"

"He's like 6'2 and a buck forty dripping wet." And most of that is heart.
"Consider this," I say, "four years ago, Luca Cardoso was 10."

Mark and I shake our head and laugh.

Nicolai Rotter: who said you can't get vertical in bodysurfing? | Photo: Jaciel Santiago

Waves For Water, YachtAid Global, and Hurricane Dorian

Waves For Water is an organization that provides filters the size of a fist for clean water in communities that need it, and for disaster relief efforts on a global scale.

Think hurricanes and flooding. You can only live for a few days without water.

So with Mark's years of experience in the maritime industry, he helped organize YachtAid Global and partnered with Waves For Water.

He worked out large scale logistics of maritime transportation with emergency relief water filtration systems being a primary focus.

Mark is working 18 hours days now with sleep coming when it comes and interrupted at any minute. He's still getting phone calls in the middle of the night.

But now, not for money.

He's helping to relieve human suffering. It's different. And for that, he can sleep later.

For Hurricane Dorian relief donations, please visit YachtAidGlobal.org and check out "Operation Topaz."


Profiles from Puerto Escondido by John P. Murphy | Writer and Kpaloa Fins Team Rider | @jpmwrites

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