Hot Sand and Thin Salty Skin

The first coffee of Cafe Ole’s daily grind is my alarm clock this week.
At 7am each morning, about three metres from where I sleep, on the other side of a wood panel wall, the cafe comes to life.
For around $10AUD each night, that the accommodation comes with a luxury such as a personalised alarm clock is welcome.
My hotel room, cabana uno, is a single room with a double bed, an industrial strength fan, a few classic surfing festival posters on the walls and little else.
There’s no natural lighting aside from thin gaps in the walls and a couple of small holes in the thatched straw roofing.
I sleep naked under a thin cotton sheet, and as I stumble out of bed I pull on the pair of boardshorts I’ve lived in for the last three days.
I pull the fan’s cord from the wall and as it quiets the sound of the pacific ocean throwing itself at the shore catches my ears.
I’ve rented a nine foot longboard for a couple of days, and it stands against the wall outside my cabana completely accessible to any curious passerby.
This despite the fact that as collateral I’ve surrendered my passport to the surf shop which rented the board. Between yawns I wonder if I’m more naive than previously thought.
The board is faded purple, heavy as the sun and bearing the scars of a lifetime of use as a rental board in a tourist town; a poorly repaired fin cut near the nose; and a leash plug which has been ripped out and re-glassed at least once.
But, it’s the first board I’ve had my hands on in months and I savour the smell of the wax and the weight of it on my head as I walk toward the beach.
A beautiful Mexican girl smiles at me as I leave the hostel and in broken Spanish I tell her I will be back for breakfast when the ocean is done with me.
It is only 50 metres from the hostel to the beach, and though the sun hasn’t yet fully risen, there are ten people in the water at the southern end of Playa Zicatela.
The surf is small but the enthusiasm of a handful of locals is clearly strong.
Within an hour the break will be crowded with learn-to-surf tourists and an anger shared by angry old white dudes and Mexican teenagers alike.
I grew up in a town famed for surf tourism, so I understand the frustration of locals who might have had this break to themselves on a weekday morning in years past.
But it doesn’t stop me from smiling at the kid who splashes at me and yells “kook” as I paddle past him into a wave a few minutes into my session.
“Mas tranquilo mi amigo. La vida es buena,” I say as I paddle back past him in the line up.
He scowls and paddles further inside, no doubt now believing I am even more of a kook than first thought.
He’s right though, and that’s fine.
I get a few more fun sliders from a little wide of the break, making sure to leave a couple in each set for the locals on shortboards sitting closer to shore.
My mouth has a habit of getting me into fights my fists can’t handle, and in a foreign surf town I’ve already tested my luck.
But still, as I paddle back out after my fourth or fifth wave a girl looks at me and says loudly in english, “there he goes, the only one having any fun.”
I laugh and say I hope that’s not true.
But as the lineup is beginning to crowd with the rising sun, I tally that I’ve had more waves this morning than I have in the last year, and start paddling for one final ride.
I am closer to the pocket than I’ve been all morning; maybe two or three metres from the rocky point.
The other two longboarders are closer to the shore and don’t seem interested in the wave I’ve seen.
It’s not a set wave but it seems to be peaking wide of the point, so I’m optimistic it will break through to the shore.
It only takes two or three strokes before I’m able to stand up and run to the front the board to push it fully into the wave.
A moment later I need all my weight on my back foot at the tail for a bottom turn around the crest of the wave, and in front of a clearly terrified learn-to-surfer on a seven-foot foamy.
The rest of the short ride is uneventful, as I simply need to thread the board through the mass of bright blue and red surfschool sunshirts.
It ends without grace as I attempt to hang five into the closeout and just take the lip of the sharply breaking wave to the head, sending me shoulder first into the pebbled shore break.
I blow the saltwater out of my nose and the sand out of my mouth as I surface, smiling.
A few mutts circle me as I walk along the beach back to the hostel, taking the muzzle scratches I offer and then returning to chase their mates in the shallows.
Back at the hostel I lean the board against the wall of my cabana, and from the cafe order an americano and a plate of banana strawberry crepes.
I sit in the sun wearing my slowly drying boardshorts and a pair of broken sunnies I should probably replace.
In the dusty street dogs of all breeds wander between cars and through the legs of tourists.
At the surf shop across the streets where I hired the board, a boy teaches his younger brother to ride a quad bike.
It’s maybe 9am and the temperature is already in the high 20s, and will reach 35 before day’s end.
Nothing here is anything I’ve ever gone looking for. But at least for a few days, I am glad I found it.

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