The Mexican Pipeline: Surfing Medical Emergency in Mexico

By Danielle Rivet

Medically Reviewed by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Danielle Catching a Wave at Trestles in Orange County California, Photo by Nicole Grodesky

As I packed my bags, the excitement of a surf trip to Mexico filled my mind. A good friend's birthday celebration and the X Games surfing competition being held with predictions of a large south swell were just some of the highlights I was looking forward to. Puerto Escondido, Mexico was the destination. It would be my first time venturing down to this particular part of mainland Mexico that has such powerful surf; it is known as the "Mexican Pipeline" because of its similar treacherous conditions to the famous Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore. Despite the tales and warnings I received from other surfers about the place, I was ready for an adventure. Little could I have predicted that I would receive more "adventure" on this surf trip than I had anticipated.

With three boards in tow and a week's supply of bikinis and clothes for hot humid weather, I set off to catch my flight to Puerto Escondido, Mexico. After a full night and half a day's journey, I exited the Puerto Escondido airport. The cab ride with other surf travelers, including even some pro surfers coming in to compete in the X Games, only took a few minutes to reach the hotel that faces the infamous beach break. As the luggage was unloaded, the sound of eight foot surf turned my head, and I found myself in perfect viewing distance of hollow beach break waves spitting surfers out right and left like baseballs in a batting cage.

After registering at the hotel, in no time I found myself in a bathing suit grabbing my biggest board and heading out front to conquer the heaving Mexican surf. Moments later I took a few minutes to sit on the sand and watch the waves; the way they were breaking, to plan how I would paddle out, and to catch my breath and work up the courage to surf in such demanding conditions. Knowing the longer I sat on the beach the less likely I would get into the water, I grabbed my board and charged into the surf. The feeling was much like that of being on a first date; excitement and nervousness all at once causing that gut-wrenching experience mixed with adrenaline.

After taking a few waves on the head and sensing the power being dealt by a sizeable south swell, I made it into the line-up. The next battle would be paddling for a wave. A few sets passed and finally a smaller wave looked good. I charged, got a little hesitant and I went over the falls helplessly - with enough time to know what was in store for me. A hard hit on the bottom of the shallow ocean floor, a few more waves on the head, some long hold downs underwater, and then finally a break that let me catch my breath and paddle back out. A few more poundings, and finally one perfect wave came through and I caught it, pulled in, and got my first Mexican barrel just before the sun slipped past the horizon! I decided to call it a day and proudly walked off the beach; luckily unscathed and with a little more experience than when I first arrived.

The next morning was the same mission, take on the beach break and get some good barrels. This time it was a little easier, yet still nerve-wracking. The Mexican Pipeline is all about give and take. You have got to risk taking a beating in order to get some of the best barrels of your life. After a couple of hours in the morning mustering up all of my courage, I decided to reserve the rest of my afternoons and evenings to surf "The Point." The Point is a left point break that is only a five minute taxi ride from the main beach break. It is much less treacherous and offers a really fun left hand wave that occasionally barrels to provide a fun, yet less challenging surfing experience.

It was here that I would least expect to get injured, especially after coming out of the beach break's treachery each day unharmed, but I guess one rule of travel is to expect the unexpected. After four days of continuing on the daily routine of waking up, surfing the beach break in the morning, and heading to the point for the afternoon, I was starting to feel at ease with my surroundings and was having even more fun. However, that fun was interrupted on one of my last waves of the day at The Point. I dropped into a wave and was enjoying the view of being in the Green Room-getting barreled. I looked up and slightly ahead of me I saw the nose of a board paddling into the wave. No sooner did I see this, and the board and its pilot dropped right in front of me. With rocks beside me, and the back of the surfer's feet and board in front of me, I only had one option - and that was to pull out and give out a, "hey!" and let him know I was there and hope he would exit just as swiftly as he had arrived.