Those are the breaks: Sorting out Sayulita’s legendary surfing scene

(02-04) 04:00 PST Sayulita , Mexico — From the far southern longboard breaks of Punta Mita to the beach-breaking tubes at San Pancho to the boat-accessed reefs of Chacala, the state of Nayarit delivers consistent, warm-water surf for all levels. It is renowned as one of the best surf coasts on the planet.

Sayulita offers a great right break for beginners and longboard riders, and a speedy left break for rippers. Nayarit’s waves are smaller in the summer months — the area’s off season — but even 3-foot waves can provide 20-second rides.

The swells swell in the winter, when waves can reach triple overhead heights. The winter is when the humpback whales crest in Sayulita’s small bay, delivering a buoyant experience for surfers waiting for that perfect wave. Sayulita abounds with surfboard rentals ranging from $15 to $25 a day, depending on the quality of board.

Don Pedro’s board rentals (Calle Marlin No. 2) on the beach, run by the diminutive surfer Davy, offers deals for week-long rentals of quality rides.

Punta Mita offers six slowly peeling breaks perfect for lazy-day longboarding. The beach-pounding breaks at San Francisco — known locally as San Pancho — and Lo de Marco are much less crowded but demand a bit more skill (hint: Bail early or eat sand).

Some surfers hire a panga boat in Sayulita ($45 for a quick session to $150 for all-day hunting) to ferry them to distant reef breaks and more remote waves along the Nayarit coast.

Paddle softly around the Sayulita local surfers, and definitely don’t drop in on them. Sayulita beginners are better off learning the art in the early-morning hours before the aggressive, talented and tourist-weary local surfers take over the break. For a show, watch the locals put on a display of surfing prowess. Some of those young rippers are international surf stars, and their skills are unrivaled.

For lessons, check out:

— Duende Vista’s Surf Dawgs on the beachfront provides two-hour lessons with board rental for about $25.

— Tigre Surf School, owned and operated by international surf champion and Sayulita local Tigre Cadena and his brothers Diego and Regis, provides top-ranked tutorials for similar prices.

— Bev Sander’s Las Olas surf camps provides women-only surf instruction, promising to “turn women into girls” (

While Sayulita — and most of Nayarit for that matter — is primarily a surfing playground, there are many options for play beyond board-wrestling.

Fidel Ponce’s Blue Marlin Fishing Tours in Sayulita (Caracol and Manuel Navarrete, although his office is really his boat, so ask for him among the pangas on the beach) is renowned for ferrying pole-wielding vacationers to the sweetest fishing spots in the region. Fidel charges roughly $30 an hour and offers snorkeling and surf-break tours, as well.

Snorkeling can be a challenge along the coast of Nayarit, and especially in Sayulita, because of the relentless waves. But a short stroll south and west of Sayulita’s square to the Playa de los Muertos can provide some exceptional snorkeling. The tiny cove is protected from the waves, and a series of large, pelican-painted rocks in the cove provide refuge for an array of multihued ocean critters, including lazy blowfish and darting dorado. Best to bring your own gear if you plan to snorkel. The Playa de los Muertos — there’s a cemetery next to the beach, hence the name — is a popular escape from the often zany Sayulita beach scene.

Horseback galloping along white sand, harnessed zip-lining through dense jungle canopy and monkey-spotting mountain tours are offered by Rancho Mi Chaparrita. The horse-tending crew at Rancho provides well-salted and -sanded visitors some respite with steamy excursions into Nayarit’s forbidding jungle. Stop by their offices across from the baseball field in Sayulita.

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