There are not many surf competitions going on these days and not many sponsors either. But the annual bodysurfing contest at Puerto Escondido managed to get underway.
And that is testament to the respect that Godofredo Vasquez, the event organizer, has inspired over his 20-plus year career as captain of the Lifeguards and Puerto Escondido's number one personal watercraft (PWC) rescue pilot.
Apart from leading a crew that safely pulls around 700 living people from the water every year, Godo is the director of the local junior lifeguard program and has been for over two decades.
It's his thing. The program went from 40 participants to 170 in the last four years.
It includes free water safety education classes - Saturdays and Sundays - for two months on the beach.
Twice a year and with outward-bound life challenges: coastal open water paddle, triathlon, and the mountain bike distance ride.
The juniors' goal is to empower young people and provide a whiff of opportunity as best we can.
Education is always the long term remedy to any of society's ills.
The Bill Missett Legacy
The contest crowd gathered in small groups, mostly masked and at safe distances - lots of air fist bumps and shaking shakas from a distance. No hugs.
Puerto is steeped in bodysurfing history.
Bill Missett was an Oceanside transplant to Puerto Escondido, who co-founded the World Bodysurfing Championships in California in 1980.
The legendary event has run continuously until this year.
Bill Missett also wrote a bodysurfing book called "Soul Surfer Johnny."
He came here in the 1980s and met and married the lady sitting next to me, Patrice Perillie, Esq.
They used to own a restaurant called Bruno's named after the tiger shark that swam - and surfed - at La Punta.
Patrice is a mystic and matriarch of the community as much as Bill was what Bill was - a bodysurfer and a writer. In charge of the cold beer.
Bill and Patrice played a key role in getting the Puerto Escondido lifeguards funded through the fire department.
Bill passed a couple of years back.
The Day of the Dead
"It's the Day of the Dead," says Patrice, and she splits a mandarin to share.
Although the memories are clear, the problem with old photos at beach communities is that they tend to mold. They stick together and die.
I know folk who keep them in plastic bags and coolers, and they still fade away. I don't know; everything fades away.
Except on the Day of the Dead, where people not here physically make a connection with those who remain.
We think of them and celebrate life. And that's nice.
Some people go to the cemetery with flowers and food for a party; others go to the church of their choice.
Patrice came to the beach.
I say, "Well, even though there aren't many photos, Bill is no less here. How much time did he spend in the water?"
I already knew the answer.
"Everyday," she said and looked to the sea.
Double overhead surf concussed. Somebody dropped into a close-out bomb and disappeared.
I held up my arm. "Well, I got chills."
"Me too," she said, and we looked out to the waves again. There was salt in the air.
Aged 16, Luca Cardoso was once again the youngest competitor in the 2020 Bodysurfing Playa Zicatela Puerto Escondido competition.
This year, Luca came in second and stole the show in every heat he swam. His swim partner Josue Lopez, also 16, took third.
They both represent the junior lifeguard program and the future of bodysurfing in Puerto Escondido and are joined by another young buck, Nicolas Rotter, 17, who came in first in the handboard expression session.
Twenty-three competitors took to the water at Playa Zicatela, Puerto Escondido, one of the heaviest waves in the world.
Seven of them are lifeguards, real hearty dudes, very floaty, and built like barrels. Those guys are never far out of peak shape.
Athletes train to peak on competition day. I did too.
The swell continued to fill in every minute the competition continued as Patrice and I sat on a Monday morning with our feet in the sand.
Barchi Quadros' clean dolphin take-offs were a standout at the contest.
And he seemed to be the fastest person out there. He got just a bit further down the line. It was wonderful to see.
I got up to stretch, and Barchi's mom came to sit.
She's another of the matriarchs of Puerto who witnessed and participated in wild times. High risk. No hospitals, for instance.
There was subsistence living, but no one went hungry because there were fish in the sea and as many waves as a body wanted.
There were fights and fornicating too. And drinking.
And these two lovely women were of that Wild West time as this beach town began to grow.
Barchi's mom bodyboarded what was, for a long time, the biggest wave ridden by a woman. This is silly, really, because it's not like that moment of "the biggest" speaks to all the hours (years) that lead up to it.
I considered how much those ladies know about the wave at Playa Zicatela.
To have seen the moods of this break across decades. Like you'd seen the same wave before. Maybe with a different rider. A long lost love.
It was the Day of the Dead.
The Water Perspective
I left the ladies, crossed myself, and walked out with my camera on the third wave of the off-set and swam past the break without anything of consequence even touching me. Like in a dream.
I swam - and shot - the handboard expression session and the final that followed.
I'm not a big wave bodysurfer.
I think it would break me up into pieces here at Playa Zicatela. And eventually, it does. You get hurt.
Watch Matias Albacore during the handboard session. He's a couple of months out from a broken clavicle and one of those people who is bodysurfing Zicatela all the time.
I watched from the water on the safer side of the break as the four finalists made their way into the surf.
The two junior lifeguards, Luca Cardoso and Josue Lopez, each showed young man stamina and love of sport.
And there too, I saw the beauty of the competition.
Competition is never about the other person, and winning and losing is of little importance apart from monetizing and vanity.
These two young men had pushed each other to succeed, to be their personal best. They're better by the benefit of the other, and they achieved something more.
Apart from the two skinny kids, there was captain Godofredo Vasquez with his pink fins and Cheshire grin and Andres Di Marco, a waterman, big wave rider, and an Argentinian.
In the water, Andres was pure stoke, laughing and hollering and encouraging Godo and the lads.
What I knew for sure was that I didn't want to be on the wrong side of these waves.
Di Marco took off on a wave and flashed the Mötley Crüe sign at me (2:02 in the video below).
It seemed madness to me, but that's a confession of mine and has nothing to do with Andres. It was a day in the park for him. And he got crushed by that wave.
Each individual is exploring their own personal relationship with the water - their personal best.
My relationship is to avoid the bone-crushing violence.
For about four years, I only bodysurfed one wave a session, the last one coming in from swimming.
The getting-in and getting-out safely was the challenge, and the underwater part by far the most fascinating.
It's where every surfer always ends up - underwater.
And how are you going to face that aspect? The wanting of air? There's no room for vanity underwater and no cameras down there in the dark anyway.
The mightiest wave of the swell rolled in.
I was right where I wanted to be. I waited for it. I'm high in the water, lungs full of delicious air. Heart rate steady.
I ducked under it and felt the lip lick the underside of my fins as it passed me by. I went to the bottom, briefly dug-in, and felt the ocean floor rush to shore.
The sand slipping through my fingers.
2020 Bodysurfing Playa Zicatela Puerto Escondido | Results
1. Godofredo Vasquez (MEX)
2. Luca Cardoso (MEX)
3. Josue Lopez (MEX)
4. Andres Di Marco (ARG)
5. Jordy Cortes (MEX)
Video by Isi Raider | @isiraider.frames
Words by John P. Murphy | Writer and Kpaloa Fins Team Rider | @jpmwrites | www.jpmwrites.com