Feliz Navidad en Manzanillo
December is always a good time to visit mainland Mexico for off season south swells, pleasant weather and warm tropical water. Its peak tourist season from Xmas into the New Year and attracts people from all over Mexico and the world trying doge the cold. Winter down south typically offers milder temps versus the scorching hot summer when the thermometer can climb into the high nineties with near unbearable humidity. Having visited the area before the surf can get world class but hit and miss for the off season so scoring epic waves is always a gamble and comes with a risk of missing a big winter swell back home in Cali. But small swells are where paddle boards come in and although always eager to ride my shred stick having SUPs in tow can assure a small day of waves is hours of endless fun on the water. It was my first time lugging paddle boards down this way and it turned out to be well worth the hassle.
Santa Sends Small Perfection & Clean Conditions for the SUPs
After a short flight on Xmas day we pulled up to the beach and the big off season swell we wished for was not to be but small fun surf would suffice. We opted to take out the paddle boards and were rewarded with 2-3 ft. peaks peeling perfectly across the sand. Feeling in the spirit I opted to take out the Santa hat for the token Christmas wave shot to send back home to everyone freezing their ass of back in Cali. Only problem was the joke was on me as Cali was experiencing some of the warmest winter weather in decades along with a solid run of surf but it was a cool shot nonetheless. Warm water, fun waves and just a few friends it was the best Xmas present anyone could ask for. Feliz Navidad
Playing with the GOPRO Tail Cam on the SUP
The surf jumped up the following day giving me an opportunity to use my paddle board tail mount for the GoPro. I have wanted to mess around with it and get a tail cam barrel shot on the paddle board but it’s hard to find the right conditions. Paddle Board Tube shots are always tricky as pulling in with a paddle in hand and board that big can spell big trouble if it should hit you underwater so its always risky but anything for the shot right? After a bit of tinkering I got the thing set up and mounted on the tail and attached the Go Pro remote on my trunks. After a few takes I was able to avoid getting whacked by the board and snapped of a couple cool shots never able to exit the barrel. Its gives you a really interesting angle as the board is so long and the camera sits way back on the tail. Now that I have the setup down im ready to test it down the road in bigger barrels. Save that for the next trip…
Getting Dazzled by Supergrom little Al Jr.
The stand out of the trip thus far was the 11 year old son of our host who lives down in the area. He was born and raised in the powerful surf and his skills are far beyond his years. With little to no experience paddle boarding other than a few flat water paddles with pops we tossed him foaming at the mouth into the surf on a 9’8 Diamond Tail and he was off. He weighs no more than 80lbs wet (The 9’8 Diamond Tail is 27 lbs) and proceeded to put on a clinic in paddle boarding the small surf riding a board weighing almost as much as him. He clearly is one of the best up and coming surfers in the world for his tender age of 11 with perfect style, tube knowledge, hacks and it was a treat to watch him jump on the SUP and ride every wave that came his way with poise. Watch out for this kid in the future he is a force to be reckoned with and should he go pro surfer or against his fathers will and veer to the dark side of the force and turn pro paddle boarder we will be seeing exciting things to come from this grom. He’s a cool kid too just cover your crotch when he’s close cause he likes to punch you where the sun don’t shine when you least expect it. After paddling until our arms could paddle no more it was time to head back to picturesque bays of Manzanillo for a big seafood dinner and call it a day.
Exploring the Bays of Manzanillo
The following day we arose to sunny skies and opted to have a look around Manzi on the paddle boards. Manzanillo is a port city with 2 large bays several miles in length and a large headland in between. Our host lives on the tip of the headland and it has a cool marina and resort providing a perfect place to launch the paddle boards and lots of resort and mansion eye candy on the cliffs. The hills are littered with multi-level million dollar mansions fit for a king sitting right over the water. We paddled around the headland from the southern bay to the northern bay taking in all the cool little nooks, crannies and coves along the way. As we approached the coast of the northern bay for sunset we were pleasantly surprised with little peeling beach break waves and glassy conditions. We made our way along the beach riding waves till sunset and soaking in the warm water and air. Again little Al Jr. was on fire riding everything he could get his little hands on and to top it off we had an amazing sunset watching the sun dip below the tall cliffs jutting out into the ocean.
With small surf and the crew Cancun bound for New Year’s we figured it best to step out on the town for a pre New Year’s warm up. Manzanillo central is a long strip along the water of hotels, stores, discos, restaurants and taco stands. Overall the streets were pretty dead but we managed to sniff out a fun michelada bar with live bands playing the greatest rock hits over the water. As the clock struck midnight we ventured over to the local late night spot called the Sunset Lounge overlooking the water spinning the best in electronic. It was mostly a local scene and really no American or foreign tourists at all. After slugging a few cocktails we figured it best to rest our weary souls for the rage to come in Cancun but felt good to get out and have a look around.
Cancun Bound for New Years
It was time to say adios to our Manzi hosts and head across the mainland to the pearl of the Yucatan, Cancun. New Years is peak season for Cancun and the entire city was sold out. We got lucky and a good friend used his time share account and we scored probably the last time share left on the strip! In addition the swell was on the rise due to a storm offshore and our time share condo was conveniently located right in front of perfect paddle board waves. I never even thought the Yucca side had waves and could hardly believe my eyes to see 2-4ft onshore rolling peelers with deep crystal blue water right out front. The hassles of lugging the paddle boards all this way were finally about to pay off in spades.
Vegas of the Tropics with Waves – Cancun
A wall of Vegas style resorts with paddle board waves steps away, no complaints here… The Cancun strip is a 10 mile thin strip of sand at the tip of the Yucatan peninsula covered in over 100 massive resorts with the clear warm waters of the Caribbean on the east and the tranquil lagoons of Cancun on the west. The first hotel was constructed in the 1970’s and it’s grown and grown ever since as many discovered the beauty of the Yucatan and ventured back. Mexico saw this demand and financed the first handful of resorts designating it an official tourist zone. It caters to millions of tourists annually from all over the world and is renowned for its nightlife and as a spring break destination. Paddling the water along the stretch of hotels you could take in the scale of just how massive Cancun really is and with New Year’s just a day away we finally realized what we had got ourselves into and a heavy rage was brewing on the horizon. The most interesting part was with all these people and fun little surf you would think it would be covered in paddle boards but not a sweeper in sight. We had groups of people walking along the shore constantly stop and watch with amazement as we caught hundreds of perfectly little peeling waves to the beach. After so much paddling the all-inclusive accommodations of the resort come in quite handy and its all you can eat and drink until you pop. That will be 10 tequilas sir! In fact, make it 20! Most every resort works this way and if you don’t have your paddle boards be prepared to pack on the pounds with so much free food and drink.
The Outrageous Nightlife of Cancun
Cancun nightlife is all centered around one main area on the strip. Everyone hops in a bus or taxi around 8-10pm from their resort and heads into this zone and it usually takes a good hour sitting in traffic to get to the official party vortex. When you arrive it’s the most chaotic mess you have ever seen with promoters running around with neon bracelets for sale, thumping bass on every corner, vendors selling hot dogs and Massive night clubs piled one on top of the other. Thousands of people are swarming around like bees from all over the world trying to get into the nightclub for the evening. We opted for a club called the “The City” for New Years and it did not disappoint. It’s the largest nightclub in Latin America and can hold 5000+ ragers. When we walked in it was like an arena and with New Year’s only hours away “la gente estan muy loca” as they say. As 2014 rang in it was a sea of bottles, champagne, laser beams and balloons. The revelers spilled out of the club onto the strip around 1am and then the party kept on going as people filled into the other various open air night clubs until sunrise. Cancun had truly lived up to its reputation as the Vegas of the tropics.
2014 Delivers Perfect Offshore Peelers for Cancun
As we arose in the New Year a squall had moved over Cancun and caused the normally onshore flow to switch offshore. This made for a jump in swell size and offshore peeling waves all day long. The crew showed signs of weariness from the previous nights festivities but managed to pull it together and grab a bunch of perfect little paddle waves before dark. A great start to 2014 and although we enjoyed our time in Cancun it was time to leave the massive all-inclusive resorts behind and head south towards Playa Del Carmen. We had heard nothing but good things about this place and it was time to see what the fuss was about just a few hours down the line.
Playas Del Carmen & The Never Ending Storm
The storm that moved in over Cancun had settled in over most of the area making for nonstop rain and stormy seas. We arrived in Playas under rainy skies and hoped for sun the following day. It was not to be but the silver lining was it made for larger than normal surf. We found tons of fun little paddle board friendly peeling reefs just outside our hotel and even a long peeling left reef sandbar that reeled for about 100 yards. The vibe in Playas was just the opposite of Cancun. Nothing really seemed over 3 or 4 stories and the central town was filled with sheik restaurants, nightclubs and well-kept shops. No huge mega resorts or large towers. It was a welcomed change of pace from the over the top madness of Cancun. We settled into a nice boutique hotel and caught our Zen for the evening but the BPM music fest was just getting started and Zen would be the last thing anyone would catch again until the trip was over.
The BPM Music Festival in Playas
The BPM (beats per minute) festival is a 9 day electronic music festival on the beach of Playas and in the town center with hundreds of underground DJ’s and producers from all over the world converging in Playas to play their latest tracks to the 30,000 visitors from all over Latin America and the occasional Swede and Canadian who attend. The swanky beach clubs of Mamitas and Kool thump base from top DJ’s from 9am to 9pm and then the rage moves into the nightclub district with world class DJ’s again spinning from 9pm to 9am in the morning. This whole process repeats for 9 days and it’s insane to witness. Everyone is ready to rage and even though the weather was dumping rain for most of the time it didn’t slow down the spirit of the festival.
The Sun finally Emerges in Playas!
With BPM in full swing and the rain nonstop over the last 48 hours it was a welcome sign to see the sun pop out for our last day in Playas before the long haul home. We hit the beach to paddle along the BPM festival and it was madness. The beach was covered in thousands of party goers drinking, dancing and soaking up the sun. As evening feel the sun slipped back behind the clouds and the rain began to fall once again until our departure. We had bounced all over the Mainland from Manzanillo to Cancun to Playas and it was finally time to head home. We made a great connection and deal with a rental company on the central beach at Playas and left the paddle boards behind at his rental shop. Happy to not have to lug the big sticks around it was time to head stateside. Playa was one of our favorite stops along our journey and we look forward for any excuse to get back for not only a paddle but the great nightlife, food and vibe. Until next time…
About the Author - Marc Miller is the founding partner of Isle Surf & SUP an online retailer of paddle boards & surfboards. He has been involved in board manufacturing, product development and website management for Isle since its inception in 2004. He also writes the Isle Surf & SUP Blog. An avid surfer and paddler for the past 2 decades when hes not in the office he can be found on foreign shores searching for waves and fun.