Punta Impresario

Israel Preciado is driven by his Punta Mita beginnings—and an improbably detailed account of a midnight border crossing.

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“I won’t tell you what we used to use this arroyo for,” says Israel Preciado, visibly shuddering. “I haven’t been exactly here since they built this place. They did a nice job.”

We’re at El Surf Club at Punta Mita in the Mexican state of Nayarit, reclining on pillowed davenports with a pair of Maestro Dobel rocks in hand, one of those excellent cristalino tequilas grown and distilled up the hill in, well, Tequila. The surf sounds softly. The DJ, seeing us conducting this interview, has thoughtfully toggled back that reggaeton paean to May-September romance, “Mayores.” 

I tell Preciado that I haven’t been exactly here, as he calls it, since 1980, when he was a mere egg. I’d hitchhiked up the point in the bed of a coconut truck. There wasn’t a single place to stay, so we slept on the wooden tables of a seaside ramada on the beak of the point. The fishermen took us in. They weren’t used to interloping gringo “tourists” and extended all available witchery and grace to keep us there. This included extra portions at mealtime. There was soft conversation regarding the nearby coral point wave, which they told us that some Texans occasionally surfed. They showed us how to hang a pink murex from the back of a chair until the little muscle relaxed, dropping its shell to the ground, the meat pulsing as it dangled from a fishhook.

Frigate-bird angle of Punta Mita. Questionable May windswell, unquestionable positioning for the bluff-top gentry. Photo by Mark Kronemeyer.

That same cove is now noted for its “Tail of the Whale” golf hole, where one lobs one’s ball onto the only island green in the world. Things change in 42 years. I recently told this story to a millionaire chilango who had tripled his fortune in the bottled-oxygen business thanks to the pandemic. “I hope you bought land,” he said. I told him I was a writing major then, living off the long con of student loans and Pell grants. I couldn’t have financed a Crockpot.

We had marched across the prickly savannah to El Faro back then. It was hip-high, hard offshore, breaking with a snap on coral cobble. Difficult sledding on a swap-meet 6’10” Brewer pin. I’d purchased that $10 unit as a rock board for high-tide PB Point, rightly figuring that it would be at home in the hold of some Tres Estrellas bus.

Preciado indulges my memory trip politely. He’s relaxed now. I typically try to have “antianxiety meds” at hand for interview subjects: fine tequila, American Spirit blues, a recent issue of the magazine, or something rare from the warehouse. On this occasion, all four are appreciated. 

Preciado—called “Krusty” by his buddies for his Simpsons clown smile—has a lot going on. He’s a part-time pro longboarder, real estate salesman, restaurant owner, and founder of the Mexi Log Fest, a traditional longboarding—née logging—event hugely popular among the 9-foot-plus set for its lack of pro-surf corniness. The surfers come to Mexico for the freedom, the warmth, and the party. It’s Preciado’s mission to supply those benefits. 

 Running color for the Fest. Photo by Emy Dossett.
Preciado enjoys a close relationship with Bing shaper Matt Calvani and his tuned tankers. Photo by Emy Dossett.

These affairs are a favored stop on what passes for a classic surfing circuit. The World Surf League has a longboard tour, though with only three contests last year it stretches anyone’s definition. Joel Tudor’s Vans Duct Tape Invitational is the coin of the realm, influence-wise. Tudor is a fan and supporter of Preciado’s program, going so far as collaborating to make the Mexi Log Fest Duct Tape–approved. This has been huge for Preciado in terms of visibility. That said, his long-standing relationship with the Austin, Texas, garment firm Howler Brothers provides the event its primary sponsor. “We are family,” he says. “And family never goes away.”

I ask him if his ambition is common among his friends. He doesn’t quite answer my question. “I have a girlfriend and daughter,” he says. Then he asks me if I know what a Malinche is. I’ve skimmed Bancroft’s The Conquest of Mexico, and I answer that she was the beautiful amante and guía of Hernán Cortés, considered a traitor by those who might have forgotten that Montezuma had enslaved her people. To this day, the name is shorthand for Mexicans who sell out to foreigners. He says that some people in town call him that epithet.

“But it’s kind of crazy,” he says. “Since the first event, the festival was made to show people the talent of [Latin American] surfers. Surfers from Michoacán and Guerrero. South and Central America. Guys and girls who don’t normally get the exposure. I started surfing here with my buddy, a local legend, Josue Villegas Almazan. He is like my mentor, and I am thankful for him for all the guidance he gave me in the water and all the expertise. I’m 41 years old and I was born in Mexico City. My parents were already living here in the area, in Puerto Vallarta, Punta Mita, this area, and I basically grew up, like, right here. It is kind of funny: The guys from Sayulita say I’m from Punta Mita, and the Mita guys consider me a Sayulita dude. But, well, I first moved to Sayulita when I was 4 years old, so it is just kind of hard for me to answer. In the end, I don’t really care where I’m from.”

The jungle, the nature, the commerce and opportunity—it suits him and his family well.

Our waiter arrives with a tray of reinforcements. The afternoon light plays across the Bay of Flags, and Preciado’s attention is drawn to the south. He mentions some favored spots below Puerto Vallarta. He studies our immediate surroundings and registers appreciation. “This is pretty cool, man. Because, I mean, honestly, I come here to surf here, but I don’t really look around to the umbrella zone, you know? I used to go fishing and spearfishing here. It is pretty good to have, like, a sick spot like this, you know? Whether it is to chill and then you can walk over there and then you see the tourists, you catch a few waves, and, like, I mean, I never thought it was going to turn like that in this area.”

I ask him about his obvious interest in organized surfing. He takes a big breath. He’ll need it. He’s told the tale before. Over the years, the oratorical POV has jumped around, but with a clearing of his throat he jumps in: “So the whole inspiration of [the Mexi Log Fest] was this kid, this skinny kid that wanted to become a professional longboarder, but he came from a really poor family—where it is hard to qualify to be accepted in the United States to get your visa. So this kid has just heard from other friends of his that there are other ways to go across the border and make your dream come true. And he’d met this shaper from California who wrote a letter for him that said he should come and do the competitions. So he manages his way up to the border. 

“He tried to apply for his visa at the consulate in Tijuana, and they said, like, ‘No, kid, you have to go back [to] wherever you are from. You have to apply for it and do the process.’ And he was like, ‘Well, I just want to go surf. I want to be a pro surfer. I don’t want to go to work. I don’t want to take anyone’s job.’ 

“Somehow, he managed to get some money from friends, and then he just went and stayed the night in a pretty sketchy part of Playas de Tijuana. He told me he was trying to sleep, you know? Just trying to sleep, and his window looked over the beach and it was pitch black. And he would sneak out of the window and there [were] all these noises and all these silhouettes, you know, like moms saying goodbye to their kids because they were about to cross the border illegally. 

“He could smell the burning of plastic when people were cooking food on the beach before they made the journey to the other side. So, he was scared as fuck. He told himself, ‘If I don’t give it a try, I’m going to live the rest of my life not knowing if I could make it or not.’ 

Checking in at El Surf Club, Punta Mita. Photo by Alex Patrick.
The jungled points of Nayarit teem with life. Preciado is endemic. Photo by Mark Kronemeyer.

“So he stripped all his clothes, taped on $400 that his friends gave him, and put a few phone numbers entre nalgas. He put his green boardshorts on—like, so green you can see them for miles—and jumped into the ocean with his board. And it was cold as fuck, as cold as he ever felt water in his life. 

“He was just going through whitewater, whitewater, whitewater. Finally, he makes it so far out that he can’t even feel the waves. So off he goes—paddle, paddle. He was in really good shape back then. And he keeps on paddling and that’s when he starts hearing the helicopters. Looking to the beach, he can see immigrants crossing and just, like, running, running, running, running, and he can see the border patrol guys there waiting for them, waiting for the prey, you know? It was just so bizarre, so weird for him to watch that—like the guys were just sort of video game hunting, just to see how many of them they could collect at once. 

“He told me he was going to meet a friend on the Imperial Beach pier. He landed there and he made his way up to the beach. The next thing he heard was someone screaming, ‘Get on your knees, get on your knees!’ Nowhere for him to run. 

“The border patrol guy looked at him with the flashlight and said, ‘Kid, what are you doing here? Where are your parents?’ And he was like, ‘Well, I’m by myself. I’m just trying to become a professional longboarder.’ 

The northern tip of Bahía de Banderas, showing its island-like ability to handle a variety of swell and wind angles. Photo by Mark Kronemeyer.

“They arrested him and took him down for deportation. That’s when he told me his new dream: to make the coolest longboard contest he could someday. I decided to
help him.”

With a half-dozen festivals under his belt in a few Mexican locations, Preciado is pleased at having locked things down in his hometown. Mostly, he says he loves surfing here. He’s been lucky to have traveled broadly, and compares notes with ripping colleagues from Portugal, Spain, Uruguay, and a dozen other compass points. But his home base in Sayulita offers not only access to Mita’s 270 degrees of swell and wind angle, but also the town-and-country vibe of the point at large. 

A social animal, Preciado says he thrives in the mayhem of his environment—the chaos of surf schools, yoga and acai-bowl slingers, and that heady, mostly lampoonable space where New Age and Instagram converge. With the right wind, it has to smell like opportunity. As needed, he ejects to the wilds of a handful of as-yet-undeveloped honey holes where actual tubes offer themselves up. Minutes away, he and his gal can hose off and hit the muy fresón high-end eateries of Greater Punta Mita for a splurge.

As far as Vallarta proper goes, Preciado mostly gives it a miss. Too much traffic these days, though the cobbled streets and the charm of the old town still offer him a touch of Mexico Lindo. Most often, he sneaks into the bustling heart of the turismo during hurricane season, when neck-cracking pits present at the downtown beaches.

Raconteur mode. Photo by Bego Felix.

“So yes, I’m grateful to be here at home,” he says. “The festival is growing, and I have a solid plan. The ‘A’ group of surfers will keep coming. They inspire the locals and international surfers who see them on TikTok and IG or whatever. Alex Knost, Jared Mell. The solid guys from Europe and Australia. The Mexican and [Latin American] surfers.”

Preciado says that’s where the surprise is. The known players get their first look at the crop of local style lords. The interplay—in the water, on the beach, and at night—is the secret to the whole thing. And then he breaks it all down and goes back to his hustles and his private surf life. And given the greater Mita resource—the variety of surf, the jungle, the nature, the commerce and opportunity—it’s a life that suits him and his family well.

As we fold our tent for the afternoon, I ask him about the border-hopping kid. “Oh, him?” he says. “He finally did it all properly. He applied and got a US visa. Now he can go north and visit his girlfriend’s family in Santa Cruz.”