This was sort of a slow summer for Baja. Everywhere else seemed to pump—Mainland Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji—but most of the swells coming out of the South Pacific tended to avoid the Baja Peninsula. So when a little pulse finally popped up, it was a no-brainer to head south.
Surf photographer extraordinaire Sarah Lee typically goes on trips to watch other people surf, but photogs like to ride waves too, and the right-hand points of Southern Baja have been on her bucket list for years. I barely had time to mention the swell to Sarah before her truck was fuelled, loaded, and chugging its way across the border.
Little has changed in Baja over the years, so a trip in 2019 isn’t much different than it was in 1989. Sure, the roads may be a bit smoother than they previously were, and the phone reception a touch more reliable, but for the most part things are exactly the same as they have been for decades.
The same endless array of cactus and boulders lines the Mex 1 as it extends ever southward, while the same big-rig trucks rumble down the highway, pushing you onto nonexistent shoulders as they disappear into infinite heat waves that ripple through an interminable desert. And farther down the road, the same dusty tire shop waits forlornly for broken down cars, guarded by a pack of scraggly dogs hungry for a little bit of food and a lot of attention.
The same federale checkpoints are still there too, staffed by a new generation of young recruits with those same bored looks on their sweaty faces. They ask the same questions, make the same jokes, and cast the same leering glances at the girls in the back seat.
The same quiet little enclaves still line the Sea of Cortez, full of expats who look like they’ve been there longer than the oversized skeletons that wash up on the beaches. Just offshore, whale sharks that have been visiting the area for years are still feeding and birthing and cruising languidly past barren islands that have existed for millennia. And above them, the same fishing boats putter along, pulling in the same yellowtail that will be expertly fried up by taquerias that have been in business since California was part of Mexico.
When gas tanks get empty, the same Pemex stations are there to fill ’em up, and when bellies starts grumbling, the same little markets are open and peddling their wares—cerveza, frijoles, aguacate, and Valentinas hot sauce. Coco is still there, too, camped out on his dirty little corner, with his dirty decorations and dirty pictures, spouting dirty comments to any female that makes the mistake of stumbling through his door.
And of course the waves are still there too—the same series of symmetrical, seemingly endless points that bend sanguinely into perpetual offshore winds, offering up rippable walls, occasional barrels, and the most nose rideable knee-high peeler north of the equator. Camped out on the cliffs above them, the same gringos watch under the same hot sun, snacking on burritos and then paddling their longboards out for all-day family sessions, parents styling the same drop-knee cutties while kids who are barely old enough to walk lock in minute-long pocket rides.
Most of all, it is the vibe that remains the same—that feeling of wandering in the desert, lost in time, yet somehow finding perfection and living the dream, if only until the swell fades away. Whether they come for a few days or never leave, everyone wears the same smile—the one that Sarah and I have been wearing for weeks now—and that’s something that will hopefully never change.