From the Outside
Words and Photos by Morgan Maassen
3 a.m. is the most ungodly hour. The human body’s twilight zone. Civilization’s resting hour. Mexico City Airport’s darkest 60 minutes. Nothing stirred in the lonely sea of dirty boarding gates and closed Duty Free stores as three young, blonde girls trudged across the dark concourses, dragging hundreds of pounds of surfboards. The few people who idled about stopped and stared at these girls, for they were a thousand miles removed from their natural habitat, fresh off the plane from places we dream to be. As dawn broke and light slowly entered the terminal, they perked up with the opening of a Starbucks. Coffees were ordered, soy requested. They came alive, filled with stories of exotic locations, love interests, and privileges bestowed only upon top athletes.
A final flight through brooding thunderheads led us to a sleepy town in the middle of the jungle. We disembarked into the sweltering heat and the roar of insects, piled into our car, and slept through the windy roads of southern Mexico.
The sun rose to the grating of wax across fresh surfboards. Stickers placed, new bikinis unwrapped, Shiseido applied. As I clumsily gathered my belongings, they sing-songily prepared their equipment and loaded the car. Coco Ho, the young, competitive phenom, corralled the girls with her unbridled excitement as Sage Erickson put the last-minute touches on her board art with a sharpie. New York’s Quincy Davis, the youngest of the trio, had stealthily bested the girls by a few minutes in loading her equipment and sat quietly in the truck, listening to music. Everyone piled in, bikinis and iPhones flying everywhere. And we were off. I stood no chance of protecting the stereo, as bracelet-laden hands shot from behind to plug in the auxiliary cable. And then, it happened. Lil Wayne, full volume, 6:45 a.m. I tried to reason with the girls, as my ears began to bleed, but they couldn’t hear me. All three mouthed the words to his Dirty South rhymes, moving their bodies with the synchronized finesse of professional dancers.
As we blazed through the jungle, I observed the girls cautiously. Sitting in the car, surfboards out of sight, they looked as inconspicuous as regular teenage girls. There was not a shred of evidence to suggest they are world-class athletes. The car came to a stop at the water’s edge. We found ourselves at a perfect sand pointbreak, with crystal-clear water and a lonely gringo sitting out the back. I took in the scenery for a moment. Behind us, little sand dunes quickly turned into expansive jungle-covered hills, which lazily rolled in all directions. A solitary palapa sat on the water’s edge, where a group of local fishermen repaired their nets under shelter from the already vicious sun. My eyes returned to the ocean, where the girls were beckoning for me to catch up, as they ran and jumped into the surf with delight. I followed, not knowing what to expect, awkwardly fumbling into the water under the watchful eye of envious fishermen.
As I swam into position, a set steamed into range. Coco swung for the first wave as the other two scattered. Weaving down the line with such a refined, critical style, she milked the wave for every ounce it offered her. Halfway into her ride, she passed me with a huge speed-burning carve. With brilliant arch of spray thrown in her wake, she continued on her war-path down the point. I turned around, only to see young Quincy racing the section straight toward me. With precision, she laid down a huge open-faced carve, rail buried, literally inches in front of me. She recovered from her turn and proceeded down the line, cracking two more vertical hits before pulling out with a scream of delight. Not an unridden wave passed before Sage came screaming toward me with such obvious pointbreak-honed style that the roundhouse she laid out in front of me was literally flawless. She finished her ride on the inside where she met the other girls. They paddled back out in unison, filling the air with idle chit-chat.. Not an ounce of competitiveness in the air.
What happened next is still a blur. The South Pacific graced us with surf every day of our stay, and the hot, desolate mainland produced perfect winds from dawn until dusk. With no crowds, no parties, and no shopping malls, the trip revolved strictly around the beach. The hot, 12-hour days challenged the body’s ability to survive. The 80-degree water provided little relief. The shade helped, but that meant waves went unsurfed. Every morning, in the darkness of the quiet Mexican village, they would calmly gather their gear, brew coffee, and head off to surf. Every evening, upon return, they would unwind with Facebook, Instagram, and the other staples of modern youth. A camaraderie between the girls was apparent, and I found myself welccomed into their operation. As we shared sessions, meals, and the highs and lows of a jungle expedition, I was continuously impressed by these intelligent, worldly women.
While the sun fried us to the point of barely being able to think, I found myself wondering why I didn’t go on more all-female trips. The girls were beautiful, yes, but they also had more talent then they knew what to do with. They were equally as professional, pro-active, and adept at their sport and traveling as the men I shoot with. But as I danced the dance of a suffering coal-walker over the 50 yards of black sand to the water’s edge one day, I realized what exactly separated the girls from the guys. It was simple: the girls never stopped smiling. They radiated happiness from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. They lead the most divine lifestyles one could wish for, and it’s infectious. From bumpy, humid car rides through the mosquito-riddled jungle to dancing around stingrays in the shorebreak to cooling off, their attitudes were amazing. I realized it had been that way since the moment we met in the airport, even at that dreadful hour of 3 a.m.
And then the trip was over. Memories of huge cutbacks, annoying sing-alongs, encyclopedia’s worth of gossip, the science of tanning and incessant giggling will attach itself to me as I return to shooting the men. While the prospect of being the one man on an all-girls surf trip was not only unbearably awkward at times, I’ve also come away with the conclusion that the future of women’s surfing is in very good hands.