Where the Desert Meets the Ocean: Surfing in Baja

Words by Jeff Keenan
Photos by Jeff Keenan

The dust starts to settle in… hair, clothes, sheets, and skin. It blankets everything like a dense fog blanketing a morning ocean. It’s been 3 days since we set foot on to the peninsula where the desert meets the ocean. We are close to the horn of Baja, but far enough away from the crowds attracted to the sunny places full of shady people. The washboard roads, dry dusty air, and a landscape dead of most living things keep the common travel away. But for the surfers our location is well known.

We are here on a pilgrimage of sorts, one that ends the winter months and kicks off the summer. This trip is as much of thaw out from our PNW winter as it is a surf exploration in hopes of catching some south swell. But we are now hot beyond belief and it’s been flat since we arrived. The desert heat is starting to make our minds melt and we need to take the long trip into the closest town to grab supplies for our next 7 days. 

The Essentials

Out here in the desert you do not need much but the necessities of coffee, black beans, tortillas, guacamole, water, beer, mezcal, a pack of cards and a good knife. Prawns, snapper, tuna, and squid, the locafishermen provide us with give us the necessary protein for our meals. Beer of choice is Pacifico, Drink of choice mezcalHighly suggest mixing the two together to create a Baja Fog to hold back the mid afternoon siesta from setting in. While in town, stopping for a good meal, an ice-cold beer is always a mustThe roadside taco stand or chicken BBQ is always the choice, making sure to go to the digs that are busy and full of locals, you want to avoid the stomach issues that can be detrimental.

While in town, news of a hurricane starts to repeat from the locals, hurricanes in these parts are two fold. Destruction from high winds and flash flooding can decimate this whole area, but on the flip side these hurricanes bring swell and the report is now looking insane.We stock up on more water, just in case, and rip back to our spot.

 

“you are in a desert, away from civilization, federales, and police.”

The top terrace of our palapa opens up to the elements. A great place to play cards and soak in the view while sipping on mezcal. As the sun falls, and the ocean winds subside, the moon and stars come out and dance on the horizon line. The mezcal now sets into your brain as you look upon the skies and realize how small of a place you actually occupy on this planet. The settlement turns into nervousness as a truck pulls up behind the palapa…. Snapping back to reality, you are in a desert, away from civilization, federales, and police. You are there with a knife and a few friends and it is still the Wild West here. But relax you are safe; the cowboys are the sheriffs in town…. The truck keeps driving and you settle back into a conversation of surf and forecasts. 

Palapas are open rooms with palm roofs over your head, they protect you from sun and rain and that’s about it. You are open to spiders, snakes, mice and anything that wants to come in. Even though this sounds rustic, it holds on the amenities from running water, electricity off solar to Internet. A palapa is definitely more on the glamping side than a tent on the beach. Somehow the sleeping in the fresh desert air is peaceful and you get a good night sleep. 

Surfs Up

The sun rises on this side of the peninsulaand at this time of the year the light starts to appear out of the dark in these early hours. It reaches up with fingers of red and yellow ito the skies until they hit the clouds. The orchestra of light moves on the water in an intoxicating flow. As the swell starts to flow in, the salt mist mixes with the morning sun and the visions of the first waves appear on the sandy desert points. Over the next few days the ocean comes alive. The hurricane is set to make land fall in two days time and the first signs come as waves start to grow over head. 

This swell is heard up the coast and cars start to fill in as people setup for what is to be a week for the books. We surf our brains out during the day and into the evening, taking breaks for beer and water. As the sun starts to set the first one out lights a fire on the beach. There is something about a beach fire; cold beers flow as good friends discuss the simplest pieces of life’s puzzle. These gatherings are where you forget about what is at home, the distractions of the phone, social media, tasks, bills and all the complexities of life. These fires transition your thoughts and feel like the energy of the waves themselves. As the last cowboy gathers the cattle off the beach, you know its time to pack it in and head home and get ready to repeat the day you just had.

"Walking over the dunes with our first glimpse, our jaws drop down to the sand."

The swell is now full and spots are blowing out, pushing us to new zones up the coast. We drive down each arroyo, holding our breath with anticipation for a glimpse of a readable wave. As we feel we have gone too far and the questions of going back enter ones minds, we start to double question. Did we miss something, should we turn back? But something pulls us and we push on the search, the road is less traveled, the potholes get larger, the cactus taller. Turning the last corner the wind has seemed to scene and a glimpse of the ocean comes back into view. The corduroy of the swell is unmistakable as we turn down a steep narrow arroyo and pull up beside some fisherman’s shacks. We can’t see a wave from our car but can see the salty mist coming over the banks. Walking over the dunes with our first glimpse, our jaws drop down to the sand. A right hand point break is firing from one side of the beach to the other. 

Without hesitation the crew sets up for a long day at the beach. Towel, sun tents, coolers are setup right in the middle. Conveniently in place for you to stop and grab a sip of beer as your running the ¾ miles from the end of the wave to the takeoff point.

The ocean is alive, not only with waves but with reef sharks eating the fish of plentymobula rays jumping as high as they can, and sea turtles popping up if you chose to paddle back up to the point. One could be shaken by the abundance of sea life in these parts, but somehow there seems to be a balance and most stay their distance from the surf and the people in it. 

The sky changes hour to hour in these parts, from sunrises that paint the desert pink and red to sepia cloud covered days. You can get hit with 3 different weather patterns in a very short time. The skies start to warn us as the sepia turns black, the wind starts to blow harder on shore and the signs tells us its time to pack up and head home, the hurricane is upon us. As we pull in, the rain starts to hit us and we baton down the hatches for the next 24hrs. The water is stocked up and we have more than enough beer and mezcal to drink an army. For the next day, we are in a windy raining mess. The mezcal is getting low but the water is fine.

We drink and eat, eat and drink until the rain starts to subside. Waking up the next morning, we see the sun for the first time. Welcoming the rays and hoping they soothe the hangover.

 

 

Our surroundings are in harmony now, the rain has turned the desert green, and grasses grow quickly blanketing the arid land. Foxes come out of their borrows, the snakes out of their hole. The sea even has a bit of sickness but has slowed way down, the waves are gone and the balance seems perfect. Not all trips work out this way, but there is something trippy about this land. If you give it the patience it will give back two fold. Its now time to leave and give our adios to where the desert meets the ocean until next time. As we leave we decide to take the long road to the airport. We head north instead of going to town. This road keeps us away from reality for a few more moments, allowing the mind to reflect and the sense of the surroundings melt away. 

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