Vagabond Tales: Reinventing The Swim-Up Bar

“There’s only one thing wrong with this wave,” quipped John, a 50-something-year-old surfer from Seattle, who, like the rest of us, had come to the Mexican outpost of La Saladita to score some perfect waves, warm weather and oceanfront lobsters and beer.

“It’s too far of paddle to come back in and get a beer.”

Such is the crux of long, perfect waves the world over. A long ride means a long paddle back out to the lineup, a reality, which renders the ability to enjoy a cold drink between waves to be virtually non-existent.

At a place where paddling back out to the lineup takes anywhere from 20-30 minutes – your arms, shoulders and back straining with use the entire time – a quick jaunt to shore for a beverage becomes a multi-hour rest break punctuated by a nap in a hammock.

Here in La Saladita, a user-friendly wave, which pumps out consistently head-high waves seemingly all summer long, you either drink beer on shore, or you go out and surf. There’s no mixing the two, because as John so aptly stated, the beers are just simply too far from the waves.

But they don’t have to be.Forty-five minutes north of the thumping discotecas and high-rise resorts of Ixtapa, La Saladita still exists as a tranquil, palm-fringed fishing village facing westward to the expansive Pacific. Like other coastal outposts in Mexico, however, La Saladita hasn’t been entirely immune from expansion and development.

Looking down the beach from Lourdes beach bar – one of the original dining options up and down La Saladita – a clutch of foreign investment properties poke their heads out from behind the beachfront landscape.

Some have moved here for the remoteness, others, the cheap cost of living and the laidback way of life. Most, however, have moved here for the machine – like consistency of the left point break, which reels down the beach, a fantasy-wave, which leaves surfers enjoying rides measured in minutes, not seconds.

The water is warm (86 degrees), the crowds are mellow and the commute to the surf spot is never more than a stroll down the beach.

One such expat to permanently land at this place is Corky Carroll, the one-time professional surf champion who now runs surf adventure trips to this stretch of coastline. Everyone around here seems to have some sort of Corky story, a foregone conclusion for an icon regarded as the informal mayor of the lineup.

Despite the influx of foreign development, however, La Saladita remains true to its outpost soul. There is only one place in town with Wi-Fi (barely), beers are $1, the lobsters are hours old and the miniscule amount of artificial light created by development does nothing to dampen the blanket of stars.

The sound of waves hitting the shoreline replaces the sound of bass, traffic or salesmen slinging timeshares. This is not the Mexico you see in a travel agent’s window. This is the Mexico you see when you drive down dirt roads.

Nevertheless, for as idyllic and off the grid as La Saladita may be, there is still the pesky issue of the distant beers. Sure, Cancun or Cabo San Lucas may not have the same sense of rural isolation, but they do have swim-up bars.

Anyone who has ever visited a tropical resort destination has seen them. Usually adorned with a faux-waterfall or a thatched roof, traditional bars are placed right inside of the resort swimming pool as a means of helping guests spend their soaking wet money and initiate an evening fraught with bad decisions.

Let’s face it: when alcohol is placed inside of a swimming pool, things such as sobriety and morality usually get thrown to the tropical breeze. But hey, what are vacations for?

After four days of surfing head-high waves and needing to go all the way back to shore for a beer, however, it became apparent that we, too, needed a swim up bar. If the waves had been bigger and the crowds had been heavier (i.e. more than just our group of five friends in the water), the thought of introducing beers into a surf lineup would be dangerous, blasphemous, and borderline disrespectful. But when you’re the only people out there, what’s really to stop you?

With a flurry of activity sourced straight from a rerun of MacGyver, we managed to attain a floating raft, some climbing rope, two extra strength trash bags and an exceptionally large rock. After assembling the rock, rope and bags into a remedial anchoring system, a 30-minute paddle was all it took to secure 22 beers to the inside of the raft and paddle the raft beyond the breaking, head-high surf.

The end result? Well, let’s just say it was a good decision.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

[Image courtesy of danellesheree on Flickr]