The great long arc of sand at La Saladita, in the state of Gurrero on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, is lined with bungalows, palapas and restaurants, all the way from Lourdes’s restaurant, one of the original local surfers, which overlooks the takeoff spot, down to Ilianet’s, the current local queen of the point, where you can eventually kick out on a 6ft day.
During the week-long event of the Mexilogfest (and even for a week before), I find myself walking this strip several times, to eat coconut shrimp and drink a beer at Ilianet’s or a stuffed pineapple at Paco’s. The walk is like a tour of world longboarding talent, the Basque boys, the Texans, the Hawaiians, the SanO crew, the Brits, every few steps is a photographer poised behind a zoom lens and tripod.
The Mexilogfest must surely be the biggest contest of its kind in the world. Over 150 competitors spread across the men’s and women’s categories. To add to the already overwhelming amount of surfing required to get through all those competitors, the contest operates with a unique format.
Each surfer contests 3 rounds at the start of the contest, not in competition with those in his or her heat, but aiming to reach the last 16 through tabulating the highest combined scores of those opening rounds. The format is brilliant, it takes the competitive edge out of the heats while encouraging dynamic and exciting surfing over defensive heat tactics. But it requires a rare wave to operate, primarily one with remarkable consistency.
Luckily La Saladita has that in spades, and from the opening round to the final, the point was mechanical. The format also asks a lot of the judges, the first three days of the contest were run from 7am to 6pm and the judges were tested to the extreme. Being mindful to account for wind in the afternoon and heats with fewer sets while sitting in the Mexican heat and staring into the afternoon sun is no mean feat.
The opening day was the smallest of the whole event but the wave is still a marvel at 2ft. It stands up on the outside section allowing long, critical noserides before shouldering out through the middle section. After a series of cutbacks the inside section stands up again and lengthy noserides are again possible.
On the best days, rides close to 2 minutes long are common. Day 2 of the event saw a dramatic jump in swell size producing well overhead sets. The increase in swell meant strong rips down the point and any water photographer attempting to stay in the lineup was swiftly swept to the beach.
The currents also created tricky bumps on the wave faces and posed a warbled challenge to the competitors. While the overhead conditions were a spectacle, they didn’t exactly make for longboarding of the highest quality (barring a handful of the most talented surfers, Ian Gottron, Kai Sallas and Summer Romero notable standouts).
Day 3 saw conditions drop to an enticing head high, a size which would hold for the remainder of the event, and prove perfect for longboarding of the highest order. The opening rounds were dominated by the biggest names of world longboarding, Kai Sallas, Kaniela Stewart, Kelis Kaleopa’a, Kevin Skvarna, Sophia Culhane, but lesser known names also shone.
Richey Cravey announced himself on the world stage with a 2nd place finish during the Surfing For Hope Longboard Classic at Pismo Beach in September last year, but was still a relative unknown coming into this year’s Mexilogfest.
He set about stamping his name firmly onto the favourites list with consecutive displays of committed and technical noseriding. On the women’s side, Summer Romero, came in similarly under the radar. Despite being the 2004 Women’s World Longboarding Champion, Summer has spent the intervening years far from the limelight. Through impeccable skill and wave selection she managed to finish top of the pile for the women after the first 3 rounds.
I was most excited to watch the local surfers, who were starting to show considerable promise during my last trip in 2019. They did not disappoint. Surfers such as Dan Pascasio, Ferr, Mauricio Nuñes, Patty Ornelas and Ilianet Nuñes lit up their home point, both in the water with their precision surfing and unique styles, and on the beach with the roar of the local support.
While they were understandably disappointed that none of them made the final 16, they should all hold their heads high having represented their home and country with skill and passion.
The British contingent had also swelled since the last time the contest was held at the iconic left. In 2019 I was the sole representative but this time round was joined by Beth Leighfield, Amelia Hewitson, Lola Bleakley, Masie Marshall and Gwylum Pritchard.
The plethora of British talent is testament to the resurgent local contest circuit, headed by the British Longboard Union tour. Although, myself aside, none of the British crew made the final 16, they will all have gained valuable experience competing and freesurfing with the world’s best.
The quarterfinals and semifinals saw an even more innovative and groundbreaking twist on traditional surfing conventions. The continuation of non-competitive heats (results being decided by top 8 men and top 8 women in the quarters and top 4 men and top 4 women in the semis), contest organiser made the call to mix genders. This allowed for a remarkable comparison of styles between men and women and proved that at the pointy end of world longboarding, there isn’t much in it.
On a personal level, it was a real honour to surf with Kelis Kaleopa’a, one of my absolute favourite surfers, in the quarter-finals, and then two former world champions in Rachael Tilley and Summer Romero in the semis.
Having been commentating for much of the event, I was suddenly thrust into competitor mode. Not that it’s very competitive. The atmosphere in the water is like none I’ve ever experienced, all competitors grinning at their luck, all the way to the final. From the sound of Kassia Meador and Pat Parnell, who took over announcing duties for the finals, the surfing was electric. In the women’s, Rachael surfed with characteristic joy, a broad smile ever present on her face.
Kelis surfed with speed and technical perfection while Summer Romero waited it out for a bigger set which never materialised in what was a relatively slow heat for waves. Sophia Culhane ended up taking the win with courageous noseriding and powerful backside turns, a deserved winner after a week of dominant performances.
In the men’s final Chase Lieder, the teenage surfer from New York, opened up with a mind-bending nose ride, it must have been over 20 seconds long. I was riding the wave in front of him and could tell from the frantic commentary that something special was happening behind me. Chase ended up finishing in second.
Ian Gottron had been surfing with startling aggression and improvisation for the entire event but unfortunately lost his board midway through the heat which put him on the back foot and ultimately led him to a 4th place finish. I walked away with a 3rd to go with my 3rd from 2019, I’m perpetually baffled to be appearing in these events at all, let alone reaching finals. Kai Sallas earned the win, a masterful surfer, seemingly at the peak of his powers despite being in his 40’s, to share the water with him is what dreams are made of.
A week in such an intense environment is a long time. The surfing is inspiring, the parties are pumping and the friendships are many. I’m happy to be heading home but even happier to have borne witness to another stellar iteration of the Mexilogfest. Possibly the best one yet of this iconic event.
Thanks to all the judges, staff, and everyone who made this event possible, especially to Israel Preciado, for having the dream and seeing it through.
1st Sophia Culhane
2nd Rachael Tilly
3rd Kelis Kaleopa’a
4th Summer Romero
1st Kai Sallas
2nd Chase Lieder
3rd Mike Lay
4th Ian Gottron
Remaining last 16 in no particular order…
John Michael van Hohenstein