Last spring my girlfriend emailed about a week long paddle boarding camp in Mexico. My kneejerk response bordered on nausea as paddle boarding in Mexico had to mean OUT IN THE OCEAN. To clarify, I’m not a water girl. I always wanted to be, but it just hadn’t worked out so well. She was clear that where we were going is quite calm, and so in the spirit of facing my fears to move forward in life and blah- blah blah, I mustered up an enthusiastic– hell yasss. (Side note: I was reading Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass at the time and vowed to walk the walk…) Fast forward to November and four of us have landed in Puerto Vallarta for our week long SUP boot camp with Performance Standup Paddle Board with Mia Stockdale and Shane Sluder.
After being jostled here and there, stand in line for this, go there to get your bags, stand in line again for that, we were spit out to the warm embrace of that familiar wet dog called humidity. Breathe. More jostling, wide eyed gringos, taxi?, cerveza?, cardboard signs with names printed in sharpie. When do we get a margarita because only an ice cold, in a glass chilled heavy with condensation and a healthy pour of blanco, and limon can ease you into the arms of Mexico.
We found our mark, or more correctly Mia found us. Our fearless boot camp leader for the week. Our destination is Punta de Mita the small town next to the Four Seasons, St. Regis and other notable resorts located “inside the gates” or Punta Mita, which effectively claims the entire peninsula at the Northwestern tip of the Bay of Banderas. It’s a short 30 minute drive from the PV airport. Our town, Punta de Mita, is maybe 10 blocks by 8 blocks and like many towns in Mexico is that wonderful mélange of free range chickens, roosters, cobblestone roads, some roads you aren’t sure are roads, dogs lazing in the shade, children selling candy out of a little box, music and smells– good and bad. We catch our first glimpse of the bath water we will spend the week in learning fast turn over strokes, pivot turns and how to get back in to shore without a thorough may-tagging. I’m breathless. After a quick provision shopping and peso gathering we have reached our destiny… The program includes accommodations right on the beach where you will have every opportunity to watch this fickle female called the ocean, attempt to learn her ways and find some semblance of companionship. I take my first of many margaritas out to the veranda, sit with my girls and have a silent commune with the sea-goddess, asking her to be kind for the week to come.
Our first morning, after a short beach jog we are standing in the quickly rising heat, sweat dripping off our bodies practicing our stroke and how to properly hold a paddle. This is dry land training, stretching and probably a quick sussing up of our enthusiasm or fear level. We’re all game and while we all have some experience with SUPing on lakes, we are different skill levels and certainly of widely different opinions about the ocean. I sit squarely at the bottom of the comfort meter. I let Mia know that I’m really not a water girl, but I am athletic and feel strongly I can get closer to something along those lines. We leash up and head out.
The morning proved to be the most difficult of the week. The wind started blowing and the water quickly grew choppy. A perfect first day to effectively get it all out of your system, whatever it may be. Face your fears. We paddled, we talked, we practiced, we fell, and we drug ourselves back up and repeated it all again, and by all things considered good and happy we were doing it and reaching a distant destination stroke by stroke. Day 1 down. We spent the afternoon lazing by the pool with smuggled margaritas and snacks, in total confidence we had made a really good decision.
We explored other areas. We spent one morning at an outdoor market in the close town of La Cruz buying saltwater pearl necklaces and drinking fresh juices akin to what the gods must drink. We hiked through the jungle, facing the heat and humidity, vines, lizards and mutant leaves to the top of Monkey Mountain for views of the peninsula, the bay and distant Puerto Vallarta. At night we filled our souls with fresh caught mahi mahi, fish tacos, shrimp aguachile and tequila to a gorgeous sunset in sweet exhaustion.
Each day we got stronger. Each day we became more confident. Each day we came together closer as a group and found a piece of ourselves that had been tucked away. I never learned how to get back on the board gracefully and certainly swallowed over a gallon of saltwater, but I am proud to say that I am confident to call myself an ocean paddle boarder and would do this again, as soon as possible.
Mexico is a treasure chest of many beautiful places and people. Punta de Mita now claims a piece of my heart. If you think you might want to try this, go. Go fast and with an open mind. Mia and Shane will be your guides into this brave new world and become good friends in the process.
PRO TIP Coming from the high desert of SW Colorado, going to heat, humidity, intense sun and salt water would present some beauty challenges. Here are a few of my most cherished and used products:
- Systane Ultra Lubricant Eyedrops
Maybe a duh, but heavy duty eyedrops at the end of the day were a form of nirvana. Glare off the water and constant salt flushing…
- Image Skincare Prevention+ Daily Ultimate Protection SPF 50 Moisturizer
My esthetician, goddess and skin saviour introduced me to this miracle product last year, and I am loyal.
- KEUNE BLEND De-Frizz
I have thick curly hair, and now it’s short. This kept my stuff in check swimmingly. I put a few tablespoons into a mini travel container.
- All Good SPF 20 Lip Balm
Again, sort of goes without saying, but tuck this little stick into your bikini top and USE it. You’ll thank me later when your lips don’t fall off.