PUNTA MITA — “Nooo! Please stop,” I pleaded, my voice about an octave higher than usual.
“You’ll be fine. It’s easy,” came the nonchalant response.
“I’m having a panic attack. I can’t do this,” I said, trying again to explain the severity of my fear as I swallowed about half the ocean. I was trying to keep my head above the hurricane-fueled waves.
I needed to get myself out of the contraption my feet were strapped to. It was about to propel me out of the ocean and several feet into the air. This was my feeble attempt at a sport called flyboarding . It’s like having a water-fueled jetpack strapped to your feet. You rise out of the ocean like an aquatic George Jetson . But as the band Blood, Sweat, and Tears discovered: “What goes up, must come down.” In flyboarding there is up, but mostly down.
“Can I see a demonstration? Maybe if I see Arturo try, I’ll get a better idea of how it’s done,” I tried to ask as casually as possible between sips of ocean water. I recalled seeing Meredith Baxter use this tactic to get out of a similarly scary situation in a Lifetime movie of the week. The old “can you demo that for me?” trick.
I believed this quixotic adventure would be wise (when I was on land), because I was in Punta Mita, an area about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta known for its surfing, snorkeling, and other water sports. I couldn’t travel here without at least trying something. But not on this day.
Finally the jetpack bound to my feet was released and I swam to shore. The ocean stubbornly pulled me back. Oh, for the love of Aquaman, I was not catching a break.
At this point I should mention that I was only a few feet from shore, and I may have been exaggerating my plight just a bit. As soon as I got my feet back on dry sand, a surf instructor asked me if I was ready for a lesson. I got a case of the collywobbles just thinking about going back into the ocean. I looked at my jellyfish stings and told him I might take a rain check. This was particularly difficult, mostly because I had just purchased an adorable surfing ensemble.
From that point forward I vowed I would enjoy watching other people partake in water sports. Like palm trees and sunsets in Punta Mita, they were meant to be admired from afar.
If the name Punta Mita sounds familiar, you are probably a millennial glued to “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” or you regularly scan the celebrity pages of US Weekly. This is where Kim Kardashian and Kanye West went on their honeymoon, and the rest of the famous-for-nothing-but-being-famous Kardashians are regulars. It’s also been visited by Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga, and Kate Hudson.
It was used as a location in the futuristic Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Diego Luna thriller, “Elysium.” Justin Bieber caused a small riot here when the Beliebers heard that he was on the peninsula. Enough name dropping. I didn’t see these celebs during my trip. Maybe they were all out flyboarding?
But it’s easy to understand the draw. The pristine beaches — I know it’s cliche, but “pristine beaches” was the best I could come up with — are flanked by the Sierra de Vallejo . These are the kind of beaches that are fuel for daydreams when your car slides into a gray snowbank in February. I didn’t even mind the aforementioned hurricane that created choppy seas and rain. I gazed at the ocean from my hotel room and snapped Instagram pictures of it all.
Punta Mita is part of a collection of towns along the Pacific coast known as Riviera Nayarit, in the state of Nayarit. It encompasses nearly 200 miles of beaches. The area is roughly the same latitude as Hawaii, which means the weather is ideal in winter. During the summer, many US tourists clear out as temperatures average in the 90s.
There is development here, but it is far from saturated. I offer this not only as a fact, but as a warning. There will come a day in the not-so-distant future where everyone and their Aunt Hazel will be vacationing here. Building was sidelined by the recession, but now it’s picking up. There is a string of charming beach towns, many with cute stores and unpretentious hotels. You should enjoy them now.
I stayed at the Four Seasons, which was one of the first resorts built here in what was once a self-contained fishing town. It’s designed as a place where guests can park themselves on the beach, dine at four onsite restaurants, go to the spa and learn about the region from a cultural concierge. Not far away is the other resort, the St. Regis.
An advantage to staying here was the proximity of the Marieta Islands. The islands are a UNESCO natural protected reserve formed eons ago by volcanic activity. Because humans are not allowed to step foot on the craggy little islands or to fish nearby, it’s teeming with rare birds such as the elusive blue-footed booby. On a normal day, the boat trip to the islands is a quick zip through gorgeous Banderas Bay; my ride was a bit more tumultuous than that.
I may have mentioned several times that a hurricane passed by the area when I first arrived and conditions were a little choppy. Paddleboarding and kayaking were canceled by many recreational companies because of the churning seas. But I was in Mexico and I was determined to see those boobies. I managed to get a small boat to take me out to see the islands. I quickly figured out why those activities had been canceled. I clung for dear life as the little boat rose and slammed down through unforgiving waves and wind. The theme from “Gilligan’s Island” played in my head.
The payoff was seeing the blue-footed booby — and I saw a whale. The area is a prime breeding ground for whales in winter.
The Marietas also has something called the hidden beach, which you can only get to by swimming through a small opening in the island. I was offered an opportunity to try it, but because I was on the verge of losing my huevos rancheros, I politely declined and hugged the railing of the boat.
Outside of the gated, celebrity-filled Punta Mita is the town of Punta de Mita. Just to clarify, the private community is called Punta Mita, the town proper is called Punta de Mita. The town contains a collection of beach shops and hotels. It’s worth the drive north from Punta de Mita to see San Francisco (more commonly known as San Pancho). It’s a serene spot dotted with galleries and restaurants. In the center of town is a square with a beautiful Huichol mural made entirely of bottle caps. Nearby is the Hotel Cielo Rojo. If you don’t stay at the hotel, you should at least stop in for dinner and cocktails.
My favorite of all the costal towns was a gem called Sayulita . For years it was simply a sleepy fishing village. Now it’s a small surfing village that retains a bit of its original flavor, mixed with arty independent boutiques and restaurants. There are tourists, but it doesn't feel touristy. It’s a human ecosystem rarely found in a resort town. The vibe is neatly encapsulated in a store called Revolución del Sueño, which sells playful limited edition designs on items such as tees and pillows that are modern twists on traditional Mexican themes.
But it’s the beaches and surfing that draw crowds all along the coast, and I realized that I was ready to go back into the ocean and face my fears. I did not attempt flyboarding again. I think my bumpy boat ride knocked that notion out of my head. But I did want to surf, so I found a calmer beach, a patient instructor, and tried again. My goal was more “Please don’t let me drown” than “Point Break.” I didn’t master it, and the longest I stood on a board was about three seconds, but it was just long enough to merit spending the rest of the day hanging out on the beach with a margarita and a false sense of accomplishment.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.