Extreme Mexico: Let’s go extreme in the water

Mexico may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think extreme sports. Other than bullfighting, which may qualify as extreme, or at least extremely dangerous, but is also morally and ethically repugnant to many of us, Mexico draws us not with sport but with culture, history, and fun in the sun. On the other hand, if you are one of those people who just has to put his or her butt on the line on a regular basis, Mexico does have plenty of good scary challenges to offer.

One of the most physically challenging sports people go for in Mexico has got to be BIG WAVE SURFING, primarily at the notorious Mexican Pipeline, aka Puerto Escondido, west of Oaxaca City on the Pacific Coast (and/or at Pascuale’s and a few other lesser known or even secret spots as well). Just take a look at this photo, shot by Cuponismo blogger Geordie Wardman’s wife, Kirsten Wardman, if you don’t think big surf when you think of Mexico. This, my friends, is a scary-big wave. People come from all over to ride these monsters. The incredible barrel rides, as well as the broken boards and broken bones, offer testimony to the extreme power generated by a heavy swell hitting Puerto’s shallow sandbars. It doesn’t have the razor-edged coral bottom of the original Pipeline in Hawaii, but it does have the epic size and the deep, dangerous barrels. And like the Hawaiian Pipe, you non-surfers (or less-crazy surfers) can stand on the beach and watch these highly skilled surfomaniacs perform just yards away.

To go extreme while kiteboarding, you don’t even need a wave. All you need is wind, the more the merrier. And you will find plenty of it around La Ventana, in the southeast section of Baja, east of the Cabos and south of La Paz. Here, boardsailing reigned for a couple of decades, until the kites came along. Now, La Ventana and the other spots around Los Bariles are west coast kiteboarding hot spots, with reliable, occasionally scary-strong sideshore winds, plenty of vacation options ranging from campgrounds to high end hotels, and enough kiteboarding infrastructure to make it happen for you, whether you’re seeking lessons, rentals, or extreme, high wind sailing—the kind of wind that gets you airborne so consistently you’ll wonder if you ever have to land—or have the choice.

East coasters will find equally challenging winds, and plenty of fully-equipped shops, schools, repair guys, and hotels on the breezy beaches fronting the turquoise Caribbean all up and down the Tulum/Playa del Carmen/Cancun coast. Hike a ruin in the morning, ride the wind in the afternoon.
This sport came out of nowhere a couple of decades back, sent boardsailing into the graveyard of once-fashionable sports, and from what I’ve seen, the stuff that can be pulled off on a kiteboard is pretty amazing. Head on down to the Mexican beach and check it out.

And if you happen to be a windsurfer, one of those BOARDSAILING zombies from a past sports life such as I am, you’ll find boards, sails, and all that stuff at both east and west coast destinations. Although the sport has disappeared from most beachfront hotels as a rental option—sadly replaced by the obnoxiously loud and ubiquitous personal watercraft–there are still plenty of serious windsurfers out there, and if you’re one of them you’ll find both Baja’s east coast and the Yucatan Peninsula extremely accommodating.

As long as we are in or on the water, how about WHITE WATER RAFTING? While it isn’t huge yet in Mexico, in the state of Veracruz rapids ranging from Classes I through VI can be found—classes IV, V, and VI would be considered high intermediate to unbelievably scary–and a number of outfitters offer full packages with multiple days on rivers including the Actopan, the Antigua, and the Filo-Bobos, among others. Fear not, nobody is going to send you over a class VI waterfall. Instead, you’ll be challenged by numerous Class II, III, and IV rapids, whichever river you choose. After all, Veracruz state is home to the highest mountain in Mexico, so you know the rain that falls up there on top of Pico de Orizado (18,490 feet high) has to tumble down to the sea one way or another. Depending on which outfitter you choose, you’ll find camping options, budget or high end hotels, nights in exotic Mexican towns, and day trips to beautiful Caribbean beaches and archaeological sites offered as part of the package.

Another fine raft run lies on the Rio Usumacinta, one of the fastest rivers in Mexico and the longest in Central America. The Umacinta flows through northeastern Chiapas, past Palenque and then along the Mexico-Guatemala border. With plenty of rapids, drops and small waterfalls, it’s a thrilling rush through Mexico’s rain forest.

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