By Stuart Gammon
After an amazing season teaching SUP to beginners in the UK and going on micro paddle boarding adventures around the Gower Peninsula, it was August when I started thinking about what I was going to do in the winter, I had given up my job as an alarm engineer and was fully committed to my new journey and career as a paddle board instructor and tour guide.
I decided that I was going to go and had a mate over there who I hadn’t seen for 20 years, so messaged him straight away. He asked, “Hey man when you thinking of coming over?” and said that I was more than welcome to go and stay with him for the winter.
I booked a flight to Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico, flying out in October 2019 and returning back home in March 2020.
I wanted to travel light so packed my rucksack with 10kg max. When I arrived there it was 35°c it was hot and the humidity just stuck to me like glue, I love the heat but I’d not experience this since when I went travelling in Australia many years ago.
The day after arriving we went paddling though the mangroves, I was told that there might be a few crocs in there, but hey ho I was in Mexico! It was a great paddle with lots of pelicans flying around and iguanas basking in the trees, with the odd white stork flying past and navigating though the mangroves was amazing with lots to see and it felt like I was in the jungle to be honest like something out of a movie, I was in a tropical paradise.
After about two hours we decided to head back to base as I was struggling a bit after my long flight the day before. It was a great paddle and a taste of what was to come in the following months.
Two days after arriving in Mexico my friend suggested taking a paddle up a river that I was to later nickname ‘croc river’. Our journey started by padding out a few miles into the open sea and as we approached the river mouth there was a large rip current flowing out of the entrance into the ocean which was extremely difficult to paddle against.
Adrenaline pumping I paddled up against the fast flowing water and at one point I was literally going backwards, but stayed focused and at the same time kept an eye out for any crocodiles – I kept telling myself that it was total madness and questioned why I was doing it!
It was a really hot day and with the heat and humidity quite a task so after an hour of paddling I saw a mud bank on the right hand side of the river and decided to head over there to rest. However, my friend shouted over there he had spotted two baby crocs on the bank and that their mother would be close by. Immediately I felt my adrenaline kicking in again and kept paddling until I got around the bend of the river and out of the fast flowing water, feeling very relieved at this point, but still concerned about the crocs as we were in very shallow water now and trying to navigate though the mangroves towards the beach. In the distance I could hear the ocean and knew then that we would be back on the beach soon.
Finally we arrived at the beach and I felt so grateful that I hadn’t been lunch for the crocs – I like eating and not being eaten! Finding a local rugged looking beach bar, we treated ourselves to a well deserved cold beer and lunch, enjoying freshly prepared Red Snapper (Huachinango) Mexican style with all the trimmings with a freshly cut coco from a coconut tree near by.
After lunch we decided to paddle back on the ocean keeping well clear of the crocodiles, and I was told later on that in the rainy season they get washed down river and end up in the sea and on the beaches.
It’s an amazing crazy place Mexico but I loved it.
Dia de Los Muertos in Sayulita: The Day of the Dead festival
One of the most important days in Mexico is ‘Dia de los Muertos’ or ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations when families remember loved ones who have passed and visit their gravesites taking with them flowers and photos to lay. The Mexicans have great respect for their loved ones who have passed and definitely know how to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, decorating home towns and cities with beautiful colourful decorations, enjoying food and drink and with lots of dancing in the streets. It’s an amazing atmosphere, with four days of celebrations starting on 30th October through to 2nd November.
My day started on my paddle board, with a friend, paddling across the bay of Sayulita on the Pacific coast of Mexico and the bay beautiful, surrounded with palm trees and golden sand. There is always a big swell across the bay and it is a huge hot spot for surfing big waves, with the world surfing championships being held there one year. Also, if you’re lucky enough you might get to see humpback whales breaching out of the ocean which is an amazing sight.
Continuing our paddle around the bay we passed prawn boats with nets draped over their bows and pelicans flying above my head, dive bombing into the water feeding on the shawls of fish, and some who were sitting high up on the masts and ropes of the boats waiting for their next meal!
A few miles out in the bay there was a huge swell with waves crashing over the rocks and I felt the power of the ocean beneath me, and were lucky to find a pretty little cove to take a break and chill for a while and take a swim to cool off. I noticed there was a few privately rented apartments with a small jetty and thought what a fabulous place to stay, right at the waters edge.
After about an hour or so we decided to head back to the main beach in Sayulita and this was the bit that I wasn’t looking forward too, as the waves crashing on the beach were huge, so I waited for a gap in the sea and started paddling like crazy towards the beach. The board I was on wasn’t meant for this type of paddling and more for touring, however, it was fast and had that in my favour. I landed on the beach on my back with the paddle board on top of me, and thought to myself that was fun and returned to do the same paddle again many times during my time in Mexico.
Finding a safe place to put the boards, we headed off to the main square in Sayulita where a big party had started to celebrate the day of the dead, with lots of colourful flags hanging from the buildings and across the streets, and people with their faces painted as skeletons. There were Mexicans on horseback dancing in the street and a big parade which had been organised by the locals, it was incredible to watch and experience. After eating at a traditional Mexican restaurant we headed back to the beach to find the boards which had been moved – this seems to happen a lot in Mexico, you put something somewhere and find it in a different place later which is either a Mexican thing or after having too many tequilas! Eventually after finding the boards we headed home.
The day of the dead festival is an incredible event and celebrated in Mexico every year, and it has got to be one for the bucket list.
Sunset in the Bay of Banderas
Our sunset tour started in Nuevo Vallarta Marina, after a few safety checks with equipment and light belts fitted on clients for the return journey back to the marina in the dark we set off paddling past the most magnificent yachts and out into the ocean taking care as big boats passed by taking tourists out to experience the sunset in the Bay of Banderas and maybe spot the odd whale or two.
As we reached the entrance to the sea you could feel the power and swell of the ocean beneath you, further out we would also regularly see manta rays swimming along side and beneath us as we paddled towards the sun.
We would then sit on our boards and wait for the sun to sink into the ocean, it was always such an amazing thing to experience out in the bay, the sky and the sea would turn red, with the odd yacht passing by through the sunset.
As the sun sinks further and disappears from the horizon the whole sky turns blood red, it’s like the world is on fire, the most amazing and emotional sight you’ll ever see, the ocean turns the same colour with its reflection. We sat for a while to take in the beautiful atmosphere around us and a few photos to capture the moment.
It was time to head back so we switched on our light belts which were mainly to make us visible on the water to other crafts approaching the marina, people would wave to us as they passed by, the wake from these boats would test us on our boards and was a bit of fun too as they sailed by.
As we approach the slip way we had to take extra care getting off our boards as the barnacles were razor sharp, I had cut myself a few times on them and didn’t want our clients to experience that.
Safely back on dry land we would always make sure that our everyone was okay and happy with the sunset paddle experience as always they were elated and something that they would never forget.
Whales and dolphins
Humpback whales and dolphins are the most amazing creatures to watch out in the ocean, it’s something that I feel very passionate about and was wishing to see as much as possible while paddling in the bay of Banderas. Some days I would spend hours out in the bay on my board waiting for that magical moment to see them and it was definitely worth waiting for!
Humpback whales are like the gods of the ocean and dolphins like the angels. It was in January and I was living in a place called Bucerias on the pacific coast of Mexico when I was to have one of the most amazing days of my life, and couldn’t have imagined how wonderful it would be!
A Canadian couple had asked my friend and I to take them out on the water paddle boarding and they were both very keen to see some dolphins in the bay. It was a beautiful sunny day, around 30°c so we hit the ocean with our boards, heading out to sea towards La Cruz, not knowing whether we would find anything.
We had been paddling for about an hour when I spotted a fin in the water and it was two dolphins, however, failed to follow them as they were so fast and we ended up losing them. Soon after my mate saw a splash in the water in the distance and we headed in that direction and as we got closer quickly realised it was a humpback whale – and then another appeared and another! In total there was four of them – three big humpbacks and a baby whale, and before we knew it there was a school of dolphins swimming around us which was an incredible sight and experience. We did have to be cautious about not getting too close to the whales as they are huge and can weight up to 30 tons, so we knelt down on our boards and watched the dolphins swimming in between us – such beautiful creatures and so friendly towards us.
The whales were swimming in a big circle around us but then seemed to be swim off in the opposite direction when suddenly one of them spotted me, changed direction, and headed straight towards us. I had been filming them in the distance and at that moment, I put my camera back in my pocket and as this beautiful whale got closer and closer to me. My immediate thoughts were, “Please dive or turn,” as I was right in it’s path and it was getting very close, a little too close for comfort to be honest, when at that point it dived and turned onto its back and swam right under my paddle board!
It was so close that I could see the white of its belly as it glided underneath me and it really was one of the most incredible feelings that I’ve ever had, and was quite spectacular. I did take a sigh of relief when it was clear of my board and my thoughts were, “What a gentle giant,” as it swam back to its family. The four whales circled around us one more time and then headed off towards the open sea, with the dolphins who had also been there the whole time, also deciding to head off.
The Canadian couple were elated and so happy to have had this amazing experience and as it was their wedding anniversary, invited us back to a local beach restaurant to celebrate with them.
That was a fabulous and very memorable paddle and never would have imagined that we would get to see four humpback whales and six dolphins, all in the (Bahía de Banderas) The amazing Bay of Banderas in Mexico.
Mismaloya Beach – the perfect SUP set-up
Before I planned my trip to Mexico this was one place I really wanted to visit Paddle Zone at Mismaloya Beach who organise SUP tours in the bay, it is truly an amazing experience and place to visit.
Mismaloya, and Los Arcos National Park, is graced with consistent clear turquoise waters, stunning rocky grottos and expansive natural ocean arches, offering you incredible scenery and spectacular views as you paddle out from the beach.
You can also do an after dark paddle experience, you will have a chance to observe the bioluminescent waters which light up the sea caves at night.
After you’ve been out on the water you can sit relax in one of the beach restaurants and enjoy freshly locally cooked Mexican food including the most amazing sea food dishes, I recommend the seafood ceviche it is delicious, followed by Mexican beer finished off with tequila or a margarita or two. Welcome to Mexico.
The scenery here is stunning with crystal clear waters local fishing boats and water taxis that will take you further down the coast to remote beaches where you can find hidden waterfalls in the jungle.
These were some of the many amazing adventures I had in Mexico, it really was an epic adventure and something that I will never forget.