Editor’s Note: Derek Dunfee does things only a couple of humans on this planet can do: he chases massive waves around the world (completely sponsorless and on his own dime) and has the presence of mind to document with his photos and words. This is as close as you can get to what these guys do, and we feel lucky to get the chance to show it to you all. —Travis
“I almost drowned out there.”
I heard that phrase a lot throughout the mega south swell in Puerto Escondido a few weeks ago. A lot of well-known big wave surfers flew into Playa Zicatela for this hyped swell. One of the leading surf forecast websites claimed this storm was a “massive platinum blob with a truly elite status.” Hence the massive flock to Puerto.
One week before the swell, I told my wife I would most likely go into deep depression and would be suicidal if I missed the swell of the summer. I charged my credit card and flew off to Mexico on a one way ticket.
I arrived in Puerto at night and I could already hear the big waves slamming the coast. When I woke up the next day the waves were fucking huge. No bullshit here.
I watched the waves from the roof of my hotel and it looked bigger than I’ve ever seen it. 40- to 50ft+ faces. I rode a 9’4″ Stu Kenson surfboard and wore a Patagonia self-inflating life jacket. The streets were flooded, making it difficult to get to the beach. Trash, trees, cement blocks and other dangerous objects were on the streets and sidewalks.
(Click into the slideshow to see all of Derek’s photos. Story continues below).
Running down I saw local photographer Edwin Morales. He was on top of the lifeguard tower and shouted “I think it’s too big for the sandbars!”
I avoided walking on the beach due to tidal surges and the amount of dangerous debris in the ocean. The beach looked like a disaster zone with restaurants breaking apart and floating away. I walked on the sidewalk for the remainder of the trip to the harbor. The paddle out from the harbor to the main peak takes about 45 minutes. The harbor normally has small surf with safe beach access, but today it held a combination of Waimea shorebreak and a Teahupo’o-looking left sandbar.
The biggest sets broke really far out, so it was hard to know where to sit.
When I made it to the main peak, I felt like a pussy because I was sitting farther outside of the other eight guys. Mark Healey was inside and caught his monster wave within minutes of being out there. The other guys next to Healey all got caught by the next waves in the set. Within an hour everyone inside of me got caught inside by two nuclear sets. I kept my head down and continued to paddle to the horizon.
After Mark Healy’s historic paddle-in wave, he said he had plenty of time to get a breath after he came up, but was struggling because of the foot deep foam on top of the water. He said his Patagonia vest saved his life, and saved 3 other lives that day. Healey said, “We would all be dead if it wasn’t for these Patagonia vests.”
I heard many surfers say, “I almost drowned with my life jacket fully inflated.”
Crazy shit happened on the beach too. The main road on the beach was shut down because restaurants and local businesses had rogue waves coming into their stores. The Mexican National Guard or Disaster Relief Department of the army was patrolling the streets. A family got swept off a low bridge by a wave, sending a young girl away in an ambulance.
One guy partied all day at a local bar, and drove his jeep in circles on the beach. A local told me the guy was on acid. The guys jeep eventually got stuck in the sand, so a handful of people volunteered to help push his jeep out. Within a few seconds, a drunk guy helping push the car, slipped and fell over. He came very close to getting run over by the jeep. Everyone kept pushing the jeep as the guy flopped in the water and sand. I thought I was gonna see someone die. The tire of the jeep stopped in between the guys legs, inches from running over his nuts and killing him.
Everyone ended up safe, and a historic swell has since subsided. But I’m glad I was there to partake.—Derek Dunfee.
Watch Derek below in our For the Love video: