People think of deserts as barren wastelands, devoid of animation, but over the past 12 hours we’ve seen far more life than you’d encounter on an average day in San Diego.
Coyotes and road runners, osprey and vulture, lizards and snakes—even a peninsular pronghorn antelope, which was an animal I didn’t know existed, let alone that it was endemic to the area. We’ve also enjoyed a blanket of purple flowers stretching for hundreds of miles along the highway, a vibrant contrast juxtaposed against the endless sand and cacti of Baja. As it turns out, it rains in the desert every now and then, and when it does, life comes out in droves.
Spot guide: Baja
But there’s no rain on the forecast this week—only swell. The last west of the season is limping into the Baja coast, and after a lacklustre finish to the winter, we’ll be damned if we aren’t going to be there to meet it. We push on through the heat, chasing mirages as hungry raptors and desperate scavengers watch us from above.
Sometimes I wonder what the surf in Baja would look like if the weather suddenly changed—if dried-out river beds flowed regularly, creating perfect banks along otherwise nondescript stretches of beach. Other times I imagine the peninsula is aligned differently, sticking out perpendicular to the continent rather than running parallel, so there are two coastlines open to swell rather than one. I trace my finger along the map, cross-referencing with Google Earth and fantasising about better sand or impossible swell windows—about the amazing discoveries I’d make and the waves I’d surf.
This typically happens when the Pacific goes quiet and there’s no swell to chase, nothing to get me excited. The doldrums of the shoulder season lull me into a catatonic state of ennui, and, rather than grovelling with the Southern California crowds, I get lost in a world of what-ifs. What if that arroyo flooded during a hurricane and washed out into the ocean, creating a perfect spit that lasted all season?
What if that cobblestone point faced west instead of east, bending North Pacific swells into a deserted desert Trestles rather than sitting dormant and placid? What if there’s a new slab somewhere just waiting to be unearthed, a fickle setup that only breaks under once-per-decade conditions?
I am inevitably snapped out of my reverie by an improving reality, by an upgrading North Pacific forecast that promises to light up spots that are already known, already confirmed. The beauty, of course, is that these spots will be just as empty as the fantastical waves I create in my daydreams—an emptiness ensured by 600 miles of inhospitable coastline, where amenities are just as sparse as setups are plentiful.
Baja is a place for hermits and ascetics, for self-imposed isolation and a quarantine from the pandemic of urban sprawl. It’s a hot, dusty escape from modern life, where we can disconnect long enough to remember what it means to be alone.
Somewhere between Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas there’s a little corner of reef that holds sand in place—that turns lines into boxes, swell lines into slabs. It’s far from anywhere you’ve ever heard of and nowhere close to perfect, with a borderline impossible entry and a tricky doggy door exit, but there’s never anyone or anything there except coyotes and road runners, lizards and snakes, osprey and fish and dolphins and whales.
The relentless red-brown of earth falls away to varying shades of blue, dark imperfections dancing beneath the sapphire glint as bait balls and krill feed and are fed upon in an eternal struggle for survival.
There, surrounded by everything and nothing all at once—where there’s no one to watch or disturb or harass, nothing to bear witness but the burning sun and shredding barnacles—we sideslip into liquid wormholes, remembering for a moment who we are and where we came from; letting go of everything but the moment and the view in front of us.
We find ourselves in the desert and wonder if we are ever going back.