Very consistent, very hollow, lined-up barrels thunder here at Mexico's version of Pipeline. The most famous wave is the beachbreak, Playa Zicatela, which explodes over a shallow sand bottom, with equally fast lefts and rights, 5 to 20 feet. The freight-train rights sweep into the bay from the north side, while the peakier lefts come in from the S. There's a small cove in the village of Puerto Escondido with excellent diving located north of the beachbreak by the old airport called Angelita. On the right swell direction when the beachbreak is too small, 2- to 5-foot waves can be surfed off the small point, with lefts and rights.

A couple of miles south of the beachbreak, at the end of the bay, is a left pointbreak that is much mellower than the main break, surfable in the afternoons when the beachbreak blows out. The take off spot is rocky and gets hollow and big, up to 18 feet.

Either walk or take a taxi from town (and arrange to have them pick you up). If you drive yourself, look for a giant cross above the point and take the maintenance road right there. Puerto Escondido is probably the only spot in this state where you're likely to find real crowds.

The Surf

Recently completed roads and bridges along Mexico 200 have opened up many more miles of coastline to surf exploration through Oaxaca and Chiapas all the way to the border of Guatemala. Unfortunately, the area does not seem to be as rich in surf potential as Guerrero and Michoacan to the north, with the best waves being found at Puerto Escondido and Chacahua. There may be outstanding potential at the reefs and headlands below Salina Cruz, but prevailing wind conditions are not favorable.

Most spots will be largest in the summer, sometimes huge from June-September, but surf can reasonably be expected all year. Puerto Escondido may be too big during peak summer months for many visitors. Cleaner, more playful surf can be found in the early season, March-April. Hurricane season is August to November but early storms may occur anytime from late May on. It pays to follow their progress.

Hazards include: sea urchins, jellyfish, rocks around points and reefs, bugs, and stingrays at sandy beaches. A stingray wound can be very painful, so take the precaution of shuffling your feet on flat, sandy bottoms to avoid stepping down on the back of the ray. If you are stung, immediately apply heat to relieve the pain. Immerse your foot in water as hot as you can tolerate for 45 minutes to an hour. Have it checked by a doctor to make sure nothing remains of the barb in the wound. If you have only contaminated water and don't want to take the extra time to boil it, holding a hot water bottle against the wound will work and prevent contaminated water from contacting the wound. Insects will be at their worst during the rainy season, especially mosquitoes, although the peak of the wet season, August-Octover, is also one of the best times for surf. Another excellent time to visit is during the spring before rainy season begins, although Chiapas may be very hot.

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•Read the interview with Coco Nogales