Oaxacan Vignette

A journey to the depths of Mexico with the brothers Florence

Stage right, a dozen surfers stopped in place to watch this air from the shoulder. We are all witnesses. Photo: Russo

In early September, we followed the Brothers Florence--John, Nate, and Ivan--down to Puerto Escondido for a late-summer south swell. On our way out of town, we took a day trip to a nearby point and feasted on head-high waves until dark. Our treat, here’s an appetizer for the feature on the Florences in our December issue, on newsstands now:

We piled into a Mexican taxi, and with a shortage of seatbelts and a disregard for traffic laws motored through the Oaxacan countryside toward the pointbreak we aimed to reach before high tide. In a small harbor town we arranged a boat ride through the lagoon. The outboard motor putted to a start as we took off across the red-tide stained water. We navigated through dense mangroves to the shores of the point, where blue ocean water gave way to a right-hander reeling off the jetty river mouth, creating a south-of-the-border Rincon. Mutant barrels from the takeoff spat into head-high walls that lined up all the way to the sand. "I gotta get in there, I feel sick," said John, abhorred by waves going unridden.

You get accustomed to seeing John's airs in web clips and contests, punctuated by garage-rock riffs or the rabid squeal of webcast commentators, but witnessing one in person is a sight to behold. Paddling up the point, I found myself on the shoulder of a wave as he raced down the line and prepared for takeoff. I froze in place, with every other surfer in the lineup, to watch him flawlessly launch into a hands-free full-rotation; hours later, gravity brought him back down to Earth. As he touched down I expected some sort of explosion or fireworks or at the least a Turpel-esque cry, but heard nothing. He landed with ease, like butter, seamlessly transitioning down the wave without a sound. The only thing I could think of was that he must have hollow bones, like some sort of owl. I don't know why, but that's where my mind went, to my elementary education, where I learned that owls have hollow bones, and that's how they fly and stalk and hunt in silence. That is all I could compare the aerial I'd just seen to, an event that was simultaneously breathtaking and graceful and intrepid and kickass.

At sunset he was the lone surfer left in the water, deep into a session that no one had the heart to pull him away from. It'd be like asking Lebron James to leave the gym, or telling Kate Upton to put more clothes on. But we had to leave, with an hour's worth of now-moonlit travel through the mangroves ahead of us. With the amber harvest moon just above the horizon, the panga motored across the lagoon toward the lone green light marking the dock. Plumes of water flew off the hull, the red tide's bioluminescence illuminating our wake with a neon glow.

Read more about the Florence brothers in Mexico from our December issue, available digitally and on newsstands now.