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Sand & Fury

Getting the barrel of your life in Mainland Mexico doesn’t come cheap

Picture the coastline of Pascuales, Mexico, with sprawling grass fields, swaying palms, and dark sand beaches perfectly angled to greet any ripple of south swell. At a glance, you'd think it's the kind of utopia that every surfer dreams of. But the reality isn't so inviting, and the waves there can make even the most hardened chargers feel weak in the knees.

"It's Mexico at its most raw, and the waves are serious," explains Koa Smith, who recently took a trip south with fellow Hawaiian chargers Billy Kemper and Koa Rothman. After looking at the charts, the crew had expected to find some hair-raising 8- to 10-foot barrels. But Pascuales has a knack for amplifying whatever comes its way, and by the time the south swell arrived, it had mutated into 20- to 30-foot walls of unpredictable beachbreak fury.

Five years ago there wouldn't have been a question about how to tackle those conditions: either gas up a Jet Ski and wax your shortboard or find somewhere safe to hide until the swell dies down. But in the midst of the current paddle renaissance, the crew felt compelled to try scratching into a few under their own power.

"That was our original plan," says Kemper.

"There was a window when I was the only person in the lineup and got about 10 waves in a row without a drop of water out of place. Everything came together in those few hours, and I realized I was probably having the best session of my life."
—Billy Kemper

"But it wasn't like Jaws, where you know where the best waves are going to break and you know exactly where to sit. It's a beachbreak, so you're getting caught in rips, chasing waves, and taking 20-footers on the head. After paddling for a while, we realized using a ski would be the difference between catching one big bomb on a 9’0″ and having a good session or catching a hundred of them and having the best session of your life."

After that epiphany, their horsepower increased and so did their wave counts, and the trip turned into an all-you-can-surf barrel buffet. For three days straight, the swell kept growing and the conditions kept getting cleaner. Rip tides eased and the wind switched offshore, allowing the crew to take turns pulling into some of the biggest and most perfect tubes of their lives. But it wasn't all smiles and rainbows. Surfing maxed-out Pascuales always comes at a price, and everyone who caught waves paid in broken boards and broken bodies.

"Every time you fall out there, you know it's going to be bad," says Rothman. "There were a couple of long hold-downs when I thought, 'If I have to take one more of these things on the head, I'm not gonna make it,' and the ski came just in time. It's hard to keep surfing after wipeouts like those, but then you look out and see the best barrel you've ever seen, and you have to get right back out there."

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