Shane Dorian On Mexican Surf Trips Under Covid

9 SEP 20200

Jackson Dorian. Photo: Edwin Morales
Jackson Dorian. Photo: Edwin Morales
By Dashel Pierson
Travel in the time of COVID-19 has been difficult, to say the very least. Flights have been grounded, entire countries have closed, local tourist economies have suffered and vacation selfies have been absent from social media feeds. (No complaints about that last one.)
And yet, in spite of all the restrictions, some folks have been finding ways to escape the pandemic-induced isolation and getting outta Dodge. Specifically, California-based surfers have been traveling south to Mexico – even though there’s some limitations in doing so, imposed by the US and Mexican governments aimed at quelling the cross-country spread of the virus.
Recently, Shane Dorian and his son Jackson – who’ve been in California, visiting from their home on the Big Island – went down to Mainland Mexico with Big Island surfers Brodi Sale and Torrey Meister. But this wasn’t your typical South-Of-The-Border romp, filled with tacos, tequila, and tubes — especially given that Shane was bringing his teenage son. They took various precautions to ensure their safety, and to limit their footprint while they were there. “We didn’t want to be the gringos that were walking through town and going into restaurants or to the bar,” Shane said when we called him up to talk about the trip. “We wanted to try and make as little impact as possible.”
Check out the full chat below (from a couple weeks back) to hear Dorian’s strategy on how to safely travel through Mexico (with a kid) right now, how the lack of surf travellers is impacting the local economy — and why you should always pack extra snacks.
The crew: Jackson, Torrey Meister, Brodi Sale, and Shane.
The crew: Jackson, Torrey Meister, Brodi Sale, and Shane.
When you were researching this trip, what were you thinking about in order to do it safely?
I’ve been down to Southern Mexico a lot of times now, and I usually stay at Punta Conejo Resort. But Salina Cruz and that whole area is closed right now. Like the local villages are being super careful about the COVID thing. They obviously don’t want gringos coming down, or bringing something down that’s not there already.
I totally sympathise with that, and I totally get it. If it’s not there, don’t bring it. I was talking to some friends who live down there full-time, and they just told me what we could do and what we couldn’t do. So, I just tried to have a solid idea of what it was going to be like before we got down there…instead of just trying to wing it.
But it’s a little tricky to get down there right now. You can’t fly in there from America or anything like that. So, we had to go over CBX [Cross Border Xpress]. You go to the border at San Diego, then go through customs, and go over the bridge like that.
But, yeah, I didn’t want to go down there and like go out to dinner or be around tons of people. So, we just stayed at our hotel, which had room service, and just tried to have a very low impact. We hired a local Mexican surf guide who knew the area really well. Then we just surfed the places that we were able to.
What were people like in the town? Were they taking it super seriously?
Yeah, very seriously. It’s much more serious than America is. You can’t go anywhere in Mexico without a mask on. In fact, you have to drive in a car with a mask on. There’s all kinds of checkpoints where you need a mask, and they ask you where you’re going. It’s cool to be down there – but they just want to know exactly what you’re doing, who you are, where you’re going, and why.
Was it the federales at the checkpoints, or local police, or…?
No, I think it was like a government sponsored program. They had a few different checkpoints with people checking to make sure you had your mask on. And then anytime you’re going into a grocery store or grabbing food or anything, you always have to have a mask on.
Torrey Meister. Photo: Edwin Morales
What was the air travel like?
I’ve travelled a bit since this whole thing. I was cooped up at home for months and months and months. But I’ve been gone from home for like two and a half months now. We’ve been in California a lot, and we went to Texas a couple of times. So, we’ve been travelling. It is weird for sure. There’s no doubt – it’s weird. The vibe is totally different. It’s so strange. They make you stand six feet apart when you’re walking on the plane, but then when you get on the plane, you’re sitting right next to people.
None of it makes any sense at all. You’re supposed to wear a mask at all times, unless you’re eating or drinking water. I mean, I get it. I think that the precautions – you know, bringing your own hand sanitizer, and having your own wet wipes, and making sure your whole zone is wiped down and sterilized is necessary. But at the same time, I feel like it’s important to realise that you can’t just stop your life forever. It’s important to tread really lightly and make sure that you do it in the right way. But it’s like, life can’t just stop forever. I wholeheartedly feel that way.

Did you see any other surf travellers down there?
Yeah, I did. Not many, but there were a few in the area. They were doing the same thing as we were – just trying to get some waves. There was going to be a really long flat spell in California, so, we were just like, ‘Man, what can we do?’ It was either drive to the Grand Canyon or go to Mexico.
Did you get a sense from anyone in the tourism industry down there about how bad they’re hurting?
It’s terrible. Like, nobody’s got a job. It’s very similar to Hawaii. Almost every job relies on tourism in Hawaii. It’s exactly like that in Southern Mexico – nearly every single person relies on the tourism industry. It’s just gotten flattened. There’s nobody travelling. All the hotels are empty. None of the tour guides have any work at all. None of the surf guides have any work at all. The restaurants are dead.
Some of the surf spots we went to, they had it set up to where they said, ‘If you want to go surf this spot, you need to make a contribution.’ Because no one in the villages are working. So, I think that’s a really good way to do it. We were obviously really happy to do that. I was happy to help all those people out however I could.
What about the local Mexican surfers? What was their take on what’s happening?
They’re baffled. Because whether they were local surfers or whether they were the surf guides, they all rely on tourism. There’s like a full-on little surf economy down there. And that is completely destroyed right now. And so they are super bummed; they obviously want this thing to be resolved. They want people to start coming back down there. It just makes it really hard with so much uncertainty and so much confusion, too.
Did you pack differently for this trip, compared to past trips to Mexico?
We brought basically a whole duffel bag full of food. We didn’t want to be the gringos that were walking through town and going into restaurants or to the bar. We wanted to try and make as little impact as possible, so we brought as much food as we could. Also, we wanted to make sure that we stayed healthy, so we were all taking tons of hydration stuff and vitamins and immunity boosters. We just wanted to take any precautions to make sure that these kids came home healthy. And to make sure we didn’t leave anything there.
Do you think Jackson and the kids fully understand what’s happening?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s just more exposure. When our kids are young, they basically live in a bubble for a long time. Their scope of things they’re aware of is very small. It’s only things that affect them directly that they care about or even notice. There are a lot of lessons for them in travelling at this time. They’re learning how to do it the right way, and to be super careful, and to be really respectful of others around them. Travelling is such an educational experience in general, and I think in this time probably more so.
So, restaurants and bars were fully open?
Yeah, they were. But they did full social distancing. All the tables were six feet apart. But we didn’t eat at any restaurants while we were there. We just had all our food packed and then did room service at the hotel.
How long were you guys down there?
Nine days. We’ve been in California for a while and the forecast looked so bad. It looked like it would be like one foot or a while. So, we had to do something. But we got fun waves. It was like shoulder high to a foot overhead the whole time. Good for the kids. And they’re in homeschool, so they got a ton of schoolwork done while we were there. And a lot of surfing, too.
Are you guys going back to the Big Island anytime soon?
No, we’re kinda cruising. We’re going back to Texas and then I’m not sure what we’re gonna do after that.
Brodi Sale. Photo: Edwin Morales
How has it been going to BSR during all this?
The real risk is the plane. The airport is super mellow – you don’t have exposure to a lot of people in the airport. But in the plane, that’s definitely one of those situations where you want to take all the precautions that you can. Texas is fairly easy to get to. It’s just one plane ride. So, you just try and be as smart as you can while you’re on the plane. But then when you get there, it’s pretty relaxed and pretty mellow. I’ll do the same thing, though. We try to not eat out a lot, and make sure we’re not in contact with a bunch of people. That kind of thing.
What about once you’re in the water? It doesn’t feel like it’s unsafe?
No, it doesn’t. I try and stay away from the news. The news is gnarly. The more scared they make people, the more money they make. That freaks me out, watching that stuff. Like, the last time we were in Texas, some of my friends from home we’re like: ‘You’re in Texas right now? Are you watching the news? Like, there’s like the craziest outbreak ever. The hospitals are overflowing. And if you get COVID, you can’t even get into a hospital.’
The next day, my friend almost lost his eye in the wavepool. His board hit him. We had to rush to the hospital and there was nobody there. There was no wait in urgent care. There were two different doctors, like spending time with him. They had nothing else to do. It was super mellow in there. I don’t know what that means, but, when I turn on the news it’s totally different from what’s really happening. I’m not a conspiracy theory guy, but I take what’s on the news with a grain of salt these days way more than I used to.
This article also appeared on Surfline

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