The bungled unveiling of Barra de la Cruz, site of one of the best world tour events ever witnessed, the 2006 Rip Curl Search WCT
In 2006 there weren’t too many unknowns in the world of surfing, or so it seemed. The planet mostly scoured for great waves and sure, while there will always be eyebrow raising days and uncommonly perfect swells that can render almost unrecognisable guises at known locales, not too many surprises were in store.
Namibia’s Skeleton Bay would be one exception. Surfed for a while by a small local crew, it wasn’t put out into the known universe until Surfing Magazine’s Google Earth Challenge in 2008. There’s a pretty good reason for that; it’s in Namibia. Nobody really goes there, surfing anyway.
So consider the concept of live broadcasting a WCT event featuring the sport’s biggest starts, from a location that a) had some of the best surf ever witnessed in professional competition b) that goes under a pseudonym to protect its location.
Then consider that the spot happens to be in one of the most popular nations for surf trips on Earth.
Mexico has been the go-to foreign surf trip for Americans for decades. Barrels by day, snapped boards from the morning sesh delivered back repaired while eating fish tacos and sipping Pacifico by nightfall in a beach restaurant playing Marley and Sublime on loop, making in-roads with a group of backpackers from Montreal.
The total antithesis of Namibia, then.
But not too far away from Mexico’s most famous wave at Puerto Escondido, a less-visited, less developed coastline makes a series of bends around rivermouth points, and one of them, in the early part of 21st century, happened to be shaping some of the finest sand point surf on Earth.
The decision to use ‘La Jolla’ as the name for the spot on the live broadcast met the Rip Curl Search mantra of not naming spots, as well as the local sentiment in the village of not wanting to be inundated with visitors.
What the village did want was better infrastructure, and the decision to even stage the event at all was made in return for (part) funding the building of a medical clinic, for locals to receive basic healthcare.
As word inevitably got out by word of mouth over the wave’s location, the comunal (local residents association) established a gate and charged entrance, the proceeds of which were used to build facilities included a cabana, toilets, facilities a restaurant on the beach.
Alas the wildly capricious nature of sandpoints, cyclic at the best of times, fickle at all times, was then witnessed in full effect.
While surfed since the 80’s as an average point set up, in 1997 Hurricane Pauline opened the berm, redirecting the river and feeding the sand flow to the point, which over time eventually render the spot world class. With perfect sand build up, the event window then happened to fall within one of the best swells to ever hit the coast.
Then, not long after the WCT event, the same river was threatening to undercut the new cabana construction and was diverted by local authorities, thus beginning the downfall of the wave. The river stopped feeding sediment to the point, the wave went from being exceptional to decidedly average.
As visiting surfer numbers waned with the disappearing sand from the point, some villagers took it upon themselves to start illegally clearing and claiming land on the point, starting a dispute that saw the involvement of PROFEPA Mexico’s federal environment authority, and the campaign to protect the coast inevitably involved using the location’s real name, Barra de la Cruz.
And while the name was pretty much already out there nevertheless, the narrative of trying to keep a perfect wave secret during an international event, then inadvertently altering it with a heavy handed approach to protecting infrastructure that only came about because of the event, reads like a parable, a modern day Steinbeck’s The Pearl.
Then consider that the wave quality demise lead to economic pressures that lead to an environmental conflict and a campaign that definitively named the spot as a matter of public record, by which time the wave no longer existed in anything like its former glory.
It’s a kind of meta-irony feedback loop that would make your head spin almost as fast the the freight train rights of Barra de la Cruz once did in front of an entirely spellbound surf world.
Photos: Rip Curl