Surfing Sayulita: A Life Lesson with Pepe

Surfing Sayulita Mexico

So there I was, lying on my stomach on a scratched up surfboard staring at Pepe le Pew’s feet.

There were other options of course – Sayulita’s main beach is riddled with offers of surfing lessons by everyone from attractive twenty-year-old professionals to local beach bums working out of scruffy shacks – but something made me stroll right by all the others and straight to Pepe’s haphazard thatched stand.
Pepe le Pew is a native to these parts, with long black hair and dark skin that had long ago been toughened and exfoliated by sun and surf. He speaks English well, has a bit of an accent, and gets right into it.

A Sayulita Surf Lesson

First, a quick and thorough theory lesson on how surfing works and what to do when. Check.

Next, practice on sand. Pepe le Pew puts a surfboard on the ground and his son demonstrates the proper movements of paddling and standing up on the board. My turn. I lie down nose to board. Pepe tells me everything from what angle to keep my body (check!) to how to jump up (check!) and where to land (check!). “You’re paddling, there’s a wave…annnnd jump!” He leads me through some practice runs and after a few tries, I’m finally landing in the right spot.

Surfing Sayulita MexicoI’m now ready for the final step: the ocean.
As we make our way towards the beginner’s break, Pepe tells me a bit about himself. About how he’s lived in Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita for most of his life, and has been surfing for nine years, and teaching for five. About how he plays the saxophone in a bossa nova band. When he finds out I’m Polish he mentions his wife is from Germany and that he’s been there and had learned the language. I’m thoroughly impressed but there’s no more time to ask questions. We wade in.

Learn to Surf – Practice Makes Perfect

Pepe is at my side and tells me to concentrate forward, he will be my eyes. When he tells me to paddle, I paddle, and when he tells me to stand up, I fail. The reality is that I could practice all I wanted on the sand but I wasn’t going to get it until I knew what it felt like in the water.

Try again. We wade in a bit deeper and Pepe shows me how to paddle against the waves and after a few attempts that knock me off and result in a mouthful of water and salt in my eyes, Pepe spins the board around so that I’m facing the shore again.

A wave is impending. When he tells me to, I paddle like mad and spring up. I stay up. A second later, I realize I’m surfing.

Surfing Sayulita Mexico

Sayulita Style Surf

I ride until there’s no more wave to ride and I fall off as a breaking mechanism. Pepe le Pew is enthusiastic and congratulatory. We paddle in a little deeper and repeat until my eyes burn, my hips are bruised and my bikini bottoms have fallen off enough to flash everyone in the water.

Pepe le Pew tells me I’m his best student. “Usually students take too long to stand on the board. They don’t realize it’s gotta be quick. You just spring up. It’s good.”

We head back to shore and I thank him profusely. I originally picked Pepe le Pew because he was genuine, and I felt like I could get a lesson from a real local, Sayulita style. But I got more than that: he was laid-back without being lazy, quick without compromising safety, and a bohemian surfer without being a beach bum. And he plays the saxophone?! I didn’t just learn how to surf back there; I also got another confirmation that people can surprise you. And anything that shatters preconceived notions is really the best lesson of all.

Written by Kat Nienartowicz

Kat has been writing since she first learned to string a few sentences together as a child. Last year, she left everything behind to intertwine her passion for writing with her love of exploring the world. After 10 months of living and learning in Europe, she’s now in southeast Asia experiencing the world the backpacker way, and most enjoys spending her time learning and writing about local stories of culture and adventure in Sayulita and elsewhere.