Saturday, July 29, 2006

Wave of the Day, the Trip, My Life

Three days ago, after the hurricane passed, we discovered La Bocana, a rivermouth break only 10 minutes from our house. We read in the Surfer's Guide to Baja that the beachbreak only works after summer hurricanes pass through, causing San Jose Del Cabo's estuary to overflow into the sea. The influx of water and dirt (mud) causes sandbars to form that catch the hurricane swell. The book described the break as beefy, peaky, and hollow.

When we parked at the Presidente Hotel and walked to the beach at around 8:30 AM, we passed some surfers who had just finished their dawn patrol. We asked how it was, and the first guy told us that it sucked. A second guy told us it was firing and that we'd "love it." In fifteen minutes, we'd find who was lying.

As we approached the break, sparkling like crumpled tin foil in the morning light, a set bowled in, as if on cue. There were four surfers silhouetted in against the bright water and one slipped right into the pocket, the offshore mist creating a backlight contrast for his black crouched form. This was a perfect A-frame peak, shoulder high, by far the most powerful and perfect we had seen on our adventure. We paddled out quickly and barely avoided a set wave that would have tested the depth of my duckdiving skills (or the strength of my thin "performance" leash). The second surfer had told the truth.

My first wave was The One. Two surfers exited the water as we got to the lineup, and I parked on the left side of the peak, wanting to go frontside on my first few. No sooner had I caught my breath than another big swell rose from the horizon line and approached quickly. I was right in the perfect place - maybe a little deep - but OS hooted at me and I spun and went. Two strokes and the bottom half of the wave was already dropping out. I was totally committed, starting my speedy descent, and there was no way to go but down. I popped up and turned left, seeing a big section of the wall already bending out in front of me. I instinctively faced the wave and set my line as high as I could, skeptical that I would make the section at all. It looked like a big closeout to me...

But then my board took off like a bullet and I just hung on, clearing the critical section. I had no idea a surfboard could fly that fast. When I reached the softer-sloping shoulder, I was high on the wave and I banked back down to the bottom, repeating the drop and bracing myself for another walled section inside. Again, my yellow fish bolted and I absorbed the chatter with my knees. By this time, I was dangerously close to the shorepound and I skipped off the back of the turbulent lip, my arms extended like a bird. I was dumbstruck as I finally slowed down and the surfboard sunk under me. I lowered myself to my belly and started paddling back out to where the guys were. Smiling, OS asked how the wave was. He had seen the first half of the ride.

"Oh. My. God," was all I could muster.

Having that much of nature's power under my feet was a new experience for me. I was buzzing from adrenaline and dizzy with a combination stoke and fear. I even considered leaving the water and calling it a session right there, but came to my senses and caught several more when I realized that I only had two more days left in paradise.

Grooverider - Rainbows of Colour

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chubasco Sauce

Down in Baja Sur in the summer, surfers rely on southern hurricane action, called chubascos for the best swells. Sunday night we noticed that Hurricane Emilia was starting to reveal herself a little early, so we headed down to Acapulquito for an evening sesh. At first, the waves seemed pretty tame, maybe shoulder high sets rolling through every 15 minutes. But as the orange sun dropped toward the Baja range the waves began to increase in size. Coincidentally, the lineup cleared around the same time, as if the weekend crowd was all surfed out. No sooner did our Oregon crew notice that we were the only four guys in the water, than a set of three head high waves rolled in. Gee snagged a long right on a 7'10" spoon-nose board we rented. I grabbed a left on my fish that walled up and shot me across the inside boils known as "Mike's Hole." Our buddy, Markarita, as goofy as me, snagged a left as well. As soon as the next set rolled in - another triplet of head high bombs - a guy paddled out to join us on a board with a Billabong logo on it. He ripped a long right immediately.

We stayed out until the sun was gone and it became difficult to see the sets on the horizon. Two other guys on long boards paddled out when they noticed the hurricane swell had arrived. At last, when it was almost pitch black save for the lights of the hotel and cars leaving the parking lot, I turned to catch a wave in. That final wave seemed to take forever coming, so I began to paddle inside, to a channel I knew didn't break as hard on the sand. Glancing back over my shoulder, I noticed a dark shadow closing, and on its peak, some white resembling a snowcap on a faraway mountain. On the left side of that peak there was a streak like the exhaust from a jet. It was OS, who I had lost sight of in the darkness, dropping in on the biggest wave of the night. The memory I have reminds me of old surf photos: The stocky OS (in stark contrast to the whispy pro who joined us earlier), muscling his way into the wave despite his bum shoulder. His standing up with rigid legs and almost facing straight forward, wearing plaid boardshorts and a five-o-clock shadow. I watched him until he passed me by and then noticed him break through the roiling whitewater behind the wave. He may have only been up for five seconds, but it's an image I'll never forget. I'm sure it's a drop he'll remember for a long time as well.

The next day, we woke up with the wind whipping and the sea angry. Gee got a morning session in, but he noted that it was large and sloppier that the previous night - and that there were 25 guys out, hoping to catch some of the chubasco juice. OS and I drove to the turnout that overlooks three breaks (Zippers, The Rock, and Acapulcuito) and watched the storm roll in. Already, strong winds were pushing us around on that cliff. There were only 4 guys left out in the ocean now. Then, right in front of our eyes, the hurricane charged in from the Southeast. Massive swells marched toward the cliffs, reminding me of elementry school, when we would shake a parachute and send patterns of waves to the other side. The rain hit at the same time, diagonal, in our face like a persistant wet machine gun fire. We jumped in the car and very carefully drove back home through the rivers of rainwater that were now traversing Highway 1.

The brutal storm kept us indoors for two days of our vacation. The sea resembled Oregon in the dead of winter - worse, actually. The natural phenomenon that gave us surf bliss left us surf-starved, but gave me time to finish my book, Tijuana Straits.

The Clash - Armagideon Time

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fishing in Cerritos

Friday we took a field trip to Todos Santos, a quaint little town forty miles up the Pacific coast from Cabo San Lucas. We had some amazing tacos and tortas (sandwiches) in the artsy village and paid the open-air chef a few bucks to watch our cars and boards as we strolled through town. I found a set of dried shark teeth at a souvenir shop that I wanted, but realized it might be difficult to pack the fragile jaws on our flight back home.

On our way back to Los Cabos we checked a few surf spots, including a beach break with a rocky point called Cerritos. It actually looked pretty good - the waves appeared to have more power than Old Man's - so we quickly paddled out in the rip next to the point. The sets were overhead, with rights and lefts typical of a more open beachie. The first wave I caught was a right that caught me by surprise. I did a bottom turn and skipped down the line, trying to keep my fish from bouncing too much or sliding out. There were some really good surfers out, smacking lips and doing extended floaters over sections that were five feet tall. I grabbed a couple lefts, a few rights, got pitched and tweaked my neck, and decided to paddle in, sparing the non-surfers in our party the agony of sitting in the heat any longer.

On my way in I grabbed a perfectly formed left inside and Gee managed to capture it from the rocky point. The wave rolled forever and planted me right on the beach in front of our group, who cheered me on from under their umbrellas. They encouraged me to go back out and I caught a couple more. It was a really great day - the first great session of our trip.

The Doors - Light My Fire

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Everybody Up!

We spent our first several sessions at Acapulquito, aka "Old Man's," getting our sea legs. It is a really soft-breaking right on most swells, making it a perfect place to warm up for two weeks of surfing. The only drawback is that it may be the most crowded break in Baja, if not all of Mexico. Also, there are some big, bony rocks that rear their urchin-infested heads when the tide drops. Best time to surf here is in the morning and at dusk, when there is less wind and there are less beginners taking classes inside.

Speaking of classes, my wife and OS's gal took some surf lessons and got some rides on their first day! We have all made up new surf nicknames for eachother... and here they are:

"Chino," aka "Chingaro," aka "Release," (as in Catch & Release).

Gee, aka "Croucho Marx," aka "Mangostein," aka "Roach."

She, aka "Catch," (as in Catch & Release).

OS, aka "Out Sider," aka "Injured Reserve."

Yours Truly, aka "Chum," aka "The Sandy Dego," aka "Chook Norris."

Donavan "Colours"

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Trunkin' It

There's nothing like trunking it for the first time after a season surfing in thick neoprene. The sensation starts as you walk down the beach, as I did tonight in Baja Sur, toward your first session at a tropical break. The grains of sand bounce off your calves, catpulted by your flip flops. There's the breeze against your exposed skin as you sit at the water's edge scoping the swells and deciding where to paddle out. You attach the leash around your bare ankle, stretch a little (but not too much since it gets dark sooner so far south), and take your first steps into th aqua sea. The water is warmer than you remember. You propel yourself forward in land on your stomach and as you start to paddle, you notice immediately how light you are. There's no rubber to weigh you down, or to make you float too much when you duckdive. You can see your arm muscles working as you scratch for the outside. And when you catch your first wave, the one that will set the tone for the rest of your vacation, you can actually feel the beads of newly applied tropical wax under the soles of your feet. Sex without latex comes to mind...

Fischerspooner - Emerge (DFA Remix)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mexico Otra Vez

I finally developed my water camera pictures from Mexico a year ago, just in time to get my stoke up to a full inferno for this year's trip. In a little over a week, we're heading back to San Jose Del Cabo again. This time we are going with a group of friends and renting a house near Zippers. I just peeked at the surf report for Costa Azul next week and it looks promising: 5 feet at 14 seconds!

Looking at these pictures from last year, I'm flooded with emotion. My wife the smiling Buddha, warm waters, Mike Doyle (barely in the shot), Donavan F., tacos at Hangman's, sore ribs, sunburns, micheladas, sand in my ears. I can't wait to do it all over again with my best friends. This time we'll explore a little. I'll stick to my new fish (and eat more fish too).

I'm bringing a stack of surf literature, including Doyle's "Morning Glass" which is just perfect for falling to sleep to by the pool after sessions. Here are my original posts from the last vacation down south: 8 at 16, Smiley Smile, Surfyland, Hola Olas

Kings of Convenience "Gold in the Air of Summer'