Critical Localisms in a Globalized World
In the fall of 2002—hurricane season—I left Houston for a research
trip to Sayulita, Mexico, a fishing village turned surf town on the
Pacific coastline, north of Puerto Vallarta. Sayulita’s beach is mod-
est by Mexican resort standards: it’s rocky in patches, the sand
a grainy gray. The northern point remains an active fishing ven-
ture with small boats pushing off and returning to shore, leaving
gasoline rainbows trailing behind in the water. In fact, Sayulita is
not a resort. It’s an internationalist surf town, and at its center is
a single surf spot, a consistent and clean reef- breaking wave that
gamey beginners will more or less be able to manage. I wanted to
go to Sayulita to study a women’s surf camp, Las Olas, specifically
to study transnational athletic play (fig. 1). Las Olas is owned by an
American woman surfer from northern California and has been in
operation since 1997. At the time I visited, travel and sport media
were just beginning to widely profile it as “the world’s premier
surf safari for women,” or “the Golden Door of surfing camps.”1
To use the word camp to describe the environment in which
women learn to surf in Sayulita is a bit like calling teatime in Meryl
Streep’s away- tent in Out of Africa a form of wilderness refresh-
ment. One weighs the distant roar of lions against the sterling tea
service. Las Olas headquarters are housed in “la Casita,” a small
bricked building distinguished by a mural of a woman in the curl
of a wave. This is where classes are held and where surfboards and
other gear are stored. The building sports a single bathroom, a pri-
vate room for massage, a gravity shower rigged via PvC pipe, and
a small kitchen. Exiting the headquarters one finds the amenities
of town: some shops, a few one- story inns with rooms opening
onto courtyards, and restaurants serving tequila, ginger shakes,
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