Personal History, Mazatlan Waves

Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Playa Bruja, Mazatlan

Mazatlan is too far away to make the usual Sayulita surf map, so forgive this digression, but...in 1948, my parents, wanderers both, met in Mazatlan at the Hotel Freeman on the Avenida de las Olas Altas, at a party thrown by the Mexican author Octavio Paz, to honor the visiting American "celebrity" Margaret Sanger, in town to promote the new idea of birth control. My Dad was in his mid-thirties, a writer down from LA to find his voice; my mom, 22 years old, was an adventurous girl from a small town in Texas, a college dropout wandering alone in Mexico.

So much water has flowed under so many bridges for all of us since--personal, political, social, cultural - that it can be hard to fathom what sixty-something years have wrought. But there I was in Mazatlan a few days ago, hanging out in room 503 at the Freeman, now the Best Western Freeman but tastefully restyled, with photos from the old days gracing the lobby, and a grand view west over the ocean. Gazing at that haze-softened Pacific horizon, I was thinking of Mom and Dad and how they met in that distant time and place.

A Windy Left at Playa Bruja

I last surfed in Mazatlan at Cannon's Point, a rocky in-town lefthander, when I was halfway strung-out in the late 1970s - I took a train down from Mexicali with a couple of seriously deranged friends and a pile of powder--and haven't ridden waves there since. Until last week, when I drove up with my family to visit friends who'd flown in from Seattle for their annual timeshare week on the beach at the north end of town. Gaudy, tickytack resort-style tourism, while not in evidence in Old Town, is very much the order of the day along the beach north of town, where high-rise hotels, timeshares, and apartment buildings tower over the beach, parasailers float by, jet skis roar, and countless vendors trudge the sands, selling everything they sell here in Sayulita and then some.

The View from Playa Bruja

After a day or two of poolside frolicking I managed to track down a surfing beach at the very far north end of the "Marina" and "Nuevo" Mazatlan strip of hotels and condos that represent Mazatlan's version of the same places in Puerto Vallarta. This last bit of unspoiled beach (a hulking hotel called the Riu looms just to the south), called Playa Bruja, is semi-sheltered from the north wind by a rocky little hill that sticks out into the sea. The waves are "beachbreaky," formed by sandbars and the shelter of the rocks. The waves were blown out the day I surfed Playa Bruja, but I suspect if you got it on a big swell at high tide on a glassy or offshore day, you might get some decent waves. What you see here is what I got stuck with on a windy day this past week. There was nothing else in town worth riding, not even at Cannon's Point (although the namesake cannon that symbolically guards the city remains in place).

Lurching Left at Playa Bruja

While it's not really a vacation destination for those of us who live by the beach in Mexico, if you should find yourself in Mazatlan with a little time to kill, check out the Old Town historic district, which abounds in sidewalk cafes, art galleries, and other outposts of sophisticated urbanity. You'll feel like you've found a little slice of France or Spain right there, just a few hundred meters away from the Pacific and its waves full of memories.