Swimming, surfing, sailboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, sailing, and personal watercraft–riding are the Puerto Vallarta  region’s water sports of choice.
Viewed from Puerto Vallarta beaches, the Pacific Ocean usually lives up to its name. Many protected inlets, safe for child’s play, dot the coastline. Unsheltered shorelines, on the other hand, can be deceiving. Smooth water in the calm morning often changes to choppy in the afternoon; calm ripples that lap the shore in March can grow to hurricane-driven walls of water in November. Such storms can wash away sand, temporarily changing a wide, gently sloping beach into a steep one plagued by turbulent waves and treacherous currents.
Undertow, whirlpools, cross-currents, and occasional oversized waves can make ocean swimming a fast-lane adventure. Getting unexpectedly swept out to sea or hammered onto the beach bottom by a surprise breaker are potential hazards.
Never attempt serious swimming when tipsy or full of food; never swim alone where someone can’t see you. Always swim beyond big breakers (which come in sets of several, climaxed by a huge one, which breaks highest and farthest from the beach). If you happen to get caught in the path of such a wave, avoid it by diving directly toward and under it, letting it roll harmlessly over you. If you are unavoidably swept up in a whirling, crashing breaker, try to roll and tumble with it, as football players tumble, to avoid injury.
Look out for other irritations and hazards. Now and then swimmers get a nettlelike (but usually harmless) jellyfish sting. Be careful around coral reefs and beds of sea urchins; corals can sting (like jellyfish) and you can additionally get infections from coral cuts and sea-urchin spines. Shuffle along sandy bottoms to scare away stingrays before stepping on one. If you’re unlucky, its venomous tail-spines may inflict a painful wound.
A number of clear-water sites await snorkelers and scuba divers. North of the Bay of Banderas, snorkelers enjoy Isla Islote just offshore from Rincón de Guayabitos. Accessible from the Bay of Banderas itself are Islas Marietas, off north-shore Punta Mita; and the famous Los Arcos rocks off Mismaloya. Additionally, tour boats regularly take snorkelers to small coves near Playa las Ánimas and Playa Quimixto on the Bay of Banderas’s verdant southern shore. Farther afield, adventurous snorkelers and divers explore the wreck at Tehualmixtle on the pristine Cabo Corrientes coast past the Bay of Banderas’s southern lip. Beyond that, rock-studded bays, such as gemlike Bahía Careyes and Tenacatita, invite snorkelers and divers to explore their clear waters.
Veteran divers usually arrive during the dry winter and early spring when river outflows are mere trickles, leaving offshore waters clear. In Puerto Vallarta, a number of professional dive shops rent equipment, provide lessons and guides, and transport divers to choice sites.
While beginners can usually do well with rented equipment, serious snorkelers and divers bring their own gear. This should include wetsuits in winter, when many swimmers feel cold after more than an unprotected half-hour in the water.
The surf everywhere is highest and best during the July–November hurricane season, when big swells from storms far out at sea attract surfers to the favored beaches.
During the fall, veterans regularly spend weeks at San Blas waiting for the legendary Big Wave. Their hoped-for reward is one of the giant breakers that can carry them more than a mile toward the soft sands of Playa Matanchén. Although not nearly as renowned, the breaks off Punta Mita also attract advanced surfers.
For intermediates and beginners, the Puerto Vallarta vicinity offers a number of good spots. These include La Peñita (near Rincón de Guayabitos), the mouth of the Río Ameca just north of the Puerto Vallarta airport, and the breakwater at the entrance to the Laguna de Navidad at Barra de Navidad.
Sailboaters and kayakers who, by contrast, require more tranquil waters, do best in the winter or early spring. It is then they gather to enjoy the ideal conditions in the many coves and inlets along the Puerto Vallarta coast.
While beginners can have fun with the equipment available from beach rental shops, serious surfers, sailboarders, sailboaters, and kayakers should pack their own gear.
The Puerto Vallarta hotel beachfronts of north-side Playa de Oro and, to a lesser extent, Playa los Muertos, on the south side, have long been centers for waterskiing, parasailing, and personal watercraft–riding. In parasailing, a motorboat pulls while a parachute lifts you, like a soaring gull, high over the ocean. After 5 or 10 minutes it deposits you—usually gently—back on the sand.
Jet Ski boats (also called WaveRunners or personal watercraft) are like snowmobiles except that they operate on water, where, with a little practice, beginners can quickly learn to whiz over the waves.
Although the luxury resort hotels generally provide experienced crews and equipment, crowded conditions increase the hazard to both participants and swimmers. You, as the patron, are paying plenty for the privilege; you have a right to expect that your providers and crew are well-equipped, sober, and cautious.