Thoughts of sharks, rocks, and the crushing weight of water all cross my mind as I stand within the outline of a surfboard that has been drawn in the sand, listening to Ty, the blonde surfing goddess. She is explaining to me and four other novices how we should center ourselves on our boards to ensure the perfect ride. Following our guide’s directions, we lie on our stomachs in the hot sand, lift our chests off the ground as a cobra would, and then spring into position. I instinctually place my right foot forward, positioning myself in a stance that distinguishes me from the majority of surfers, who put their left foot forward. I am, according to the lexicon of surfers, goofy, and as a first-time surfer at the age of 40, this is precisely how I feel.
However, any real sense of humiliation is mitigated by the lesson’s location in sparsely populated Punta Mita, Mexico, located just north of Puerto Vallarta at the tip of Banderas Bay. This is the site of the Four Seasons resort, which began offering its surf package in June. The programs—designed for first-timers, those who want to brush up on their skills, and experienced surfers seeking a challenge—utilize the 12-mile coastal playground known in surfing circles as the Mexican Malibu. The surf package includes accommodations, breakfast, a loaner board, and four three- to four-hour surfing sessions with an instructor and a boat that ferries you quickly to the prime waves.
Our group’s initial in-water session takes place at La Lancha, a surf spot favored by locals, which is accessible only by boat. Joining us are Ty; her surfer boyfriend, Sebastian; and three other local guides from Vallarta Adventures, an excursion company that operates the surfing programs for Four Seasons.From the boat, we watch as the wind blows the misty tops off the backside of curling waves that appear much too menacing for this group of beginners. Nevertheless, we jump off the boat and into the dark water, then climb onto our boards and paddle after our guides. We chase but mostly fail to catch the waves for an hour before paddling back to the boat, defeated and exhausted. Only one member of our group succeeded in standing up on his board and riding a wave. Surfing, we determine, is easier done on the sand than at sea.
Although our shoulders are sore from paddling, we give it another try the next day, this time off the shore of El Anclote, a lively local beachside village just beyond the grounds of the Four Seasons. Here, the water is shallower and enclosed within a cove, offering a sense of security. As we sit on our boards, gently bobbing in the waves, Ty discusses the rhythm of swells and how they seem to be arriving in sets of four. “Get ready,” she says, as she helps me position my board, and then she screams, “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” I hear the rush of the water, and I rise to a standing position, though wobbling a bit as the perfect little wave escorts me toward the beach.
When the ride ends, I lie back down on my board, pivot away from the shore, and begin paddling, understanding now what any veteran of the sport knows: Before you can surf, you have to find the right wave.
Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, +52.329.291.6000, www.fourseasons.com