Words and photos by Matt Lovemark
“Hay Banditos aqui,” Ramon states after a long build up, where we hoped his conclusion would be the opposite. Only a few hundred kilometers down the Baja peninsula, we are camping at a long fenced point break, and the camp security guard has just informed us of the danger just outside the security fence. He tells us not worry, and leaves us La Seguridad, three dogs named Bonita, Negra, and Redondo. In the middle of the night a large truck circles the fence and then shines their lights on us for an extended period of time. La Seguridad do their job well and what looks like a government hummer eventually drives off. Sleep comes hard that night with Ramons’ stories and all the recent media coverage of violence in Northern Baja fresh in our minds.
After a morning surf, we decide to head south in search of a more remote point break. A day of bad roads, taco stands, and a few river crossings later, we arrive at a long narrow point with waves breaking on both sides and a small fishing village in the middle where old boats out number inhabitants five to one. We do a quick re-con of the village and find no designated camping areas nor amenities, just fisherman busy unloading the days’ catch of urchins, conches, and fish.
I suggest we buy a fish from the locals and maybe try to get a little information about where we can camp. Soon, we’re seated to feast of fresh sea food and are exchanging fishing stories with some local fisherman and the king of town, a rosy cheeked middle age Mexican man named Adrian. When our broken Spanish fails, Hector, a bus driver from Tijuana, whom is on vacation, translates for us and sets us up a deal with Adrian to rent a room for ten dollars a night. Hector gives us two fish free of charge and invites us to have coffee with him and his wife in the morning. With our bellies full and a ground swell sweeping down the point, we thank our host graciously and slip out for a surf.
On the inside point we find some nice hollow shoulder high waves and soon we are fully engrossed in the moment. The ocean washes off all the dirt and anxiety of the road, Washes away all, until nothing is left except a setting sun, a rising full moon, a desert back drop. The perfect stage for aquatic ballet, lit in a full range of chroma and hues. Days pass, fish are caught, bad roads driven, waves found, surfed. Tequila bent urchin divers? Yes. Other Gringos? No. A rhythm of rice, beans, cerveza, and marginal surf ensues.
While the rest of the world gathered around their dinner tables on Christmas Eve, we were changing out of our wet suits in the cold desert wind. It was then that we realized we missed being home for Christmas. Not long after we finished changing Adrian came over and invited us to a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade tortillas. After dinner, Adrian made nice bonfire and kept us supplied with all the beer and tequila we could drink, not to mention, a second meal of turkey and pork soup. Adrian and his family were very generous to us. They were prouder to give than to have. Adrian kept saying in Spanish, “All of mexico is happy tonight. It is a very important night for family. Happy. Happy.” Adrian and his family asked why we weren’t with our family. To them it must have seemed very silly of us to drive thousands of miles to camp in the dessert and ride waves. I will admit, the more I observed the way the local fisherman lived, the more silly I felt for being a surfer who’s life revolves around such intangibles. Later that night we called our families to wish them a Feliz Navidad and tell them we love them.
For Christmas the ocean gave us a fresh ground swell and we found a nice little point break to the south that broke on high tide. Clean right handers slowly peeled along the point, with the occasional racy inside section. We hadn’t seen any other surfers for almost a week and once again we found ourselves surfing an unknown break with nothing around for miles but desert. After an hour or so The dropping tide broke the wave apart and we headed back to the village to see how the point was handling the new swell. When we got back the tide was still a little high, so we made lunch and relaxed for a while. The roar of the new swell eventually got the best of us and we suited up and made our way out to the point.
The waves were shoulder high to head high, clean and breaking top to bottom over a mixture sand and submerged reef shelves. There were only a few feet between where the waves broke and a dry reef shelf, but as our session wore on the tide continued to drop and we became more comfortable. I was continually shut down by a large rock that was positioned right in the middle of the wave Jared had the wave wired and was getting some nice clean tubes and long rides. He claimed the trick was to top turn around it right at the very last minute, then straiten out and ride along beside it until the wave hit a shallow sand bar and barreled for the next thirty feet. The wave was tricky but a lot fun and once again we found ourselves surfing until well after dark.
After a few days the swell dropped and the point quite breaking. We knew it was time to move on but we were reluctant leave the village. Adrian and his wife Juanita had treated us like family. We never even locked our stuff up in the village, yet alone had to worry about banditos. Nonetheless, our lives in the north beckoned. While a lot of surfers were boycotting Baja because of the violence in the north, we felt fortunate to stumble across such a pristine place with good waves and kind locals.
Matt Lovemark is a well rounded kook of all trades that resides somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He can be found doing anything from stalking the world’s best left hand point breaks to posing as an art student.