How to surf Puerto Escondido

March 7, 2019 | Surfing
Puerto Escondido: home of the infamous Playa Zicatela | Photo: WSL

Puerto Escondido is a laid-back coastal community located in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is the home of one of the heaviest and most dangerous waves in the world.

The town's most famous surf spot is Playa Zicatela, a pounding and temperamental beach break capable of producing big, powerful, and bone-breaking tubular waves.

Surfers discovered Puerto Escondido and its beaches in the late 1950s, but it was the explosion of shortboard revolution in the 1970s that really opened the town to the surf world.

With its humid and tropical climate, Puerto Escondido has become one of the most important surf destinations in Mexico and Central America. For many, it's the ultimate proving ground.

Playa Zicatela is a force of Nature and has a long and infamous track record of regularly breaking surfboards into pieces. Make no mistake - it's a deadly wave that has already made victims.

Ron Cassidy (2007) and Noel Robinson (2011) lost their lives surfing Puerto Escondido, but hundreds barely survived its thundering waves.

Paddling out at Puerto Escondido's sand-bottomed peaks if often as scary as taking off on the waves and, during epic swells, you need to time the go-for-it moment right; otherwise you'll get caught inside and suffer the consequences.

Playa Zicatela: one of the heaviest beach breaks in the world | Photo: Hinkle/WSL

The Gear You'll Need

If you're planning a visit to Puerto Escondido and surfing challenging waves is your top priority, you should ideally travel with, at least, three or four boards.

The reason why you should bring a quiver is that you could easily break one or two boards in the pounding shore break.

The best board to surf Puerto Escondido is the semi-gun. A long surfboard offers extra paddle power and will get you into the wave faster in order to pull into the barrel and get spit out it more quickly.

It is also recommended that you bring a first-aid kit, a helmet, and an inflatable life vest. They could very well save your life in case of a wipeout.

You will not need a full wetsuit. The average air and water temperature are stable throughout the year around 80°F (27°C).

Puerto Escondido: Playa Zicatela is also known as the Mexican Pipeline | Photo: Hinkle/WSL

Advanced Surfers Only

Puerto Escondido's Playa Zicatela is not a wave for beginner surfers, and even intermediate wave riders will struggle to get comfortable with the spot.

If you're new to surfing or simply want to have fun without putting your life at risk, try La Punta, Carrizalillo, and Playa Marinero.

When the surf hits the 10-foot plus range, surfers need to know how to read each wave before committing to their favorite roller. Note to self: don't take the first wave of the set.

And if you think the Mexican Pipeline is all about picture-perfect barrels, then you've been misled by finely edited videos and magazine covers. There are many thumping close-outs at Puerto Escondido that can be as spicy as a chili pepper.

The Wave

Zicatela starts working with southwest groundswells and westerly hurricane swells and quickly transforms into a fast left and right and barreling heaven.

When swell lines reach the shore they're welcomed by an offshore deep water trench that increases wave height like a magnifying glass.

Exiting a triple overhead barrel at Puerto Escondido is probably the ultimate surfer's goal, but it can be a rare feat even during historical, macking swells.

But if you're into roundhouse cutbacks and aerial moves, you can always get the most out of the ramps that form on the shoulder of a tubular green cylinder.

Despite being an experts-only wave, the infamous Mexican beach break can get crowded. If you're new in town, make sure to respect the locals and ask for advice whenever you need it.

The best time of the day to surf Playa Zicatela is early in the morning when the offshore winds are blowing, and there are fewer people in the water.

Playa Zicatela: the beach breaks produces thumping barrels and gnarly close-outs | Photo: WSL

If you're not a fan of beach parties, late afternoon Corona beers, and nightlife, you may enjoy the regular glassy sessions that take place around sunset when the wind dies down.

Remember that Puerto Escondido is a collection of volatile, unpredictable and neurotic big wave spots that will change and get bigger at the blink of an eye.

Before paddling out, take a few minutes to observe how rip currents could work in your favor, and why some wave detonate like bomb and others don't.

Also, beware of leashless surfers and their boards. You don't want to get pummeled by a gun while duck diving a monstrous wave.

Today, Zicatela is one of the selected venues for the world's best big wave surfers and bodyboarders to test their skills. Brad Domke surfed the biggest ever skimboarding wave here.

The reputation of the Mexican Pipeline lives on. Why? Because it's rarely flat and it may offer you the wave of a lifetime.

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico | When and How To Surf It

Type of Break: Beach Break
Swell Size: 2-10 feet
Swell Direction: SW/W
Wave Height: 4-25 feet
Wind: Offshore NE/N
Tide: All Tides
Season: April-October
Gear: Semi-Gun Boards, Boardshorts, Inflatable Life Vest, Helmet, First-Aid Kit
Watch Out For: Close-outs, Muggers, Bandits, Pickpocket Gangs and Insects

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