For decades a few lucky ex-pats have been steadily trickling south from nearby Puerto Escondido to a quiet fishing village in Oaxaca, understandably tight-lipped about the hidden perfection stacked up along a set of sand-bottom points. Then, in 2006, a Rip Curl Search event scored what has been called the best contest-surf ever seen, and overnight the whispers and murmurs began. The secret was out, and surfers flooded the area, treading the fine line between exposure and exploitation with mixed results.
As more lucrative magazine and film trips marched through, the town and its inhabitants received little benefit. Then, last year, a slew of film trips and a gratuitously written magazine article converged to bring the issues of exploitation to a head. In reaction, Salina Cruz local and surf camp owner, Cesar Ramirez, sent out an industry-wide email proclaiming a two-year ban on all media coverage of the area’s surf.
Shortly thereafter, Damien Fahrenfort posted this video clip on his blog Doomasrumors under the title “No More Mex” with the following caption:
“Here are a few clips from a trip I did to Mexico this year with Dusty and Alex Grey. We got some pretty mental waves but unfortunately no ones boards arrived and what boards did have we broke really quickly. Shane Dorian, Dane and everybody happened to be here as well and after the trip naturally the mags released a story about it. The article didn’t go down so well with the locals (a little cheeky) and for the next two years photography of this place is banned. This is the last footage I have from here and this place is very dear to me. Its a escape from the horrible waves of southern California and after a few days here I feel like a surfer again, sun burnt and surfed out. I hope the locals can forgive us and let us surf their waves again.”
The locals have since formed a union and decided to lift the ban under a strict new set of rules aimed at benefiting the local community. The new union is known as the United Surfers and Lifeguards of Salina Cruz, and with support from the Mexican Government, the association has decided that all filmers and photographers must pay a flat fee of $800 USD to shoot– no exceptions.
Cinematographer Chris Papaleo was among the first stateside lensman to venture back under the new rules. We were able to track him down to hear about his experience of the recent changes down south. The following is his report from the ground level:
“There was a local meeting while I was staying in Salina Cruz and the things that were discussed during this meeting were how they are going to regulate people coming from other places with cameras and exposing it to the world.”
“The Union de Surfistas y Salvavidas de Salina Cruz, A.C. (United Surfers and Lifeguards of Salina Cruz A.C.) now require a tax of $800 per camera guy– regardless of how many days you are there for. When I was there earlier this month, I had to pay and so did the photographer with me. Everyone pays and it is well worth it. Salina Cruz is a beautiful place so it makes sense the local surfer’s are trying to keep it that way and protect it the best they can. I respect that. The money all goes to the children’s schools, roads, and efforts to maintain the beaches.”
“I went down with Sterling Spencer, Tonino Benson, and Nick Rozsa, for only four days and stayed with the head local and first surfer ever in Salina Cruz, Cesar Ramirez. The deal is if you go down there you have to stay at one of the local surf camps with the local people. If you don’t stay at the local surf camps and you choose to stay at a nearby hotel, you will not be granted access to surf the best local spots.”
“The local Mexican surfers are not violent people. They are an extremely respected group and have a government license permitting them to protect and enhance the area by any means necessary.”
For now it seems tensions in the area have been alleviated, provided that visiting surfers comply with the new regulations. With a long southern-hemi season ahead, expect to see a lot more footage just from filmers such as Papaleo.