Baja Road Trip: California surfers take on their neighbor to the south.

For many native Californians, Baja is their first real surf trip. Yeah, they may live in Newport Beach and occasionally drive two hours north to Rincon or an hour and a half south to Black’s, but it’s not until they’ve crossed the border, wound their way through the confusing back streets and highways of Tijuana, and found themselves staring south at a thousand miles of uninhabited coast that they can really say they’ve had a surf adventure.

For those who decide to make the drive, Baja is a rite of passage. It’s where they got drunk the first time, or where they had a gun pulled on them, or where they created memories that will last them a lifetime with good friends or ex-girlfriends or simply the people camping two cars over. No Baja trip is complete without dramatic stories that always have a hint of a near-death quality to them.

If drama awaits, why is Baja so highly regarded by San Diegans, Orange County-ites, and Angelinos? About twenty minutes south of the border, once you’ve survived the unlined freeways that traverse the hills south of T.J., turn your head 90 degrees to the right and lay your eyes on Baja Malibu–then you realize why. Baja’s Pacific coast is one of the most surf-rich stretches on Earth. Yeah, it’s cold, and its Mars-esque terrain is far from inviting, but the place is bombarded by swell year-round, and on any given day you can find anything from playful chest-high ramps to booty-removing fifteen-foot bombs exploding in waist-deep water. Baja seldom disappoints.

In mid January, Californians Brian Conley, Timmy and Ryan Turner, Greg and Rusty Long, and Dustin Humphrey made the faithful pilgrimage. They spent a week and a half searching the barren coast, sleeping in tents, and creating memories that will flash through their minds 50 years from now, as they draw in their final breaths.–J.P.

Oh to be back in Baja! It’s been so long for me. It feels so good, so right. Like a long-lost friend found again. Driving these roads (just as frightening as they used to be) gets me back to my roots. These winding roads were my first days of travel. There is a feeling that overwhelms me just as I make it past the border, a release if you will, as I am sure it is for so many Southern Californians. As a young surfer waiting tables, going to school, and just trying to pay rent, Baja was my escape. How much money was in my pocket determined how much gas I could buy and how far I could go … usually only as far as San Miguel. It’s been several years now since I moved away from California. I have since moved to and traveled through many distant lands and experienced many exciting cultures as well as surfed and photographed many great waves. I do believe the one thing I miss most about California is not really California at all, but rather Baja, Mexico. It’s the food, the campfire stories, the beer, the good friends, the waves, and even that smell. Baja is my first love.–Dustin Humphrey

It’s weird that I live in Southern California and the farthest south I’ve ever been is Ensenada. I’m not your typical pro surfer. Actually I’m not a pro surfer. For a living I work at my mom’s restaurant, the Sugar Shack in Huntington Beach–the twelve-hour shift from 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., five days a week. For me, surfing is usually after-hours when it’s blown shit waves in H.B., so I don’t really surf when I’m home. I do most of it during my three-month pass to Indo, where my friends and I become feral adventurers in the jungle. I didn’t know what to expect in Baja and just took it all in. I couldn’t ask for a better vacation. I never knew you could get away from it all so close to home, and that’s exactly what we did. Tasting dirt in your mouth is great, wearing the same clothes for nine days is even better. It wasn’t the waves I was loong for, it was the adventure and the vacation with my friends, and that’s exactly what I got.–Timmy Turner

I’ve been fortunate enough in the last few years of traveling to have been shown a handful of points and reefs that are not well known and for the most part are left unridden on the best days. Each time the circumstances are the same, I swear to secrecy the exact location, swell direction, and anything else that might lead some wandering adventurer on the path to revelation. So once again I’m faced with a confrontation inside myself–wanting to brag about another new spot and wanting to keep the location to myself.

I don’t get to see my friend Dustin as often as I used to, so when he came to stay with me we figured it was time for a much-needed road trip. Word was out that Brian and the Long brothers were headed to their favorite swell sanctuary. When I called up Rusty to invite myself along, he was reluctant to let me get my plea in. It took a couple of days and a vote to let Dustin, my brother, and me follow. The conditions were that we drive at night and submit to being blindfolded once we reached the transition of desert dust to salty air. But as it turned out, I was too anxious for the intoxication of the freedom one can have in Mexico–I drowned my short-term memory in cerveza.

Baja is a rugged, desolate place, and we couldn’t have been following a more committed group of desert nomads. Cheers to Brian, Rusty, and Greg for putting up with us. Car trouble started for us in the first leg of the trip and continued throughout. I’m sure those guys felt like leaving us at times, but they stuck with us. I look forward to returning the favor and showing them some of the precious secrets I hold in places they have yet to experience.–Ryan Turner

Because we grew up in San Diego, Mexico has been our backyard. We’re fortunate to have such an untouched land so close to home–a place to tap into the wild energies that roam. A trip back in time for Californians, our dreams of what California once looked like: open land, empty points, pumping swell, and dirt roads. For our crew, Mexico is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Yes, Baja is littered with epic setups for surfing, each just waiting patiently for someone to show up and experience her beauty, but getting there is more than half the battle.

Traveling in Baja is an adventure you need to be prepared for. For me it’s all about being self-sufficient, so that we have no excuses for not reaching the next point when it’s going off. When in Baja, there are necessary supplies–water, food, spare tires, extra fuel, 4×4, tow rope, tools, searchlight, jumper cables, a lot of patience, and a positive crew of explorers. For our recent trip to the wild land, we had no shortage of classic Baja mishaps. Fortunately, our mother ship, The Hurricane Hunter, was there for the rescue at all occasions. Whether it was sending out a search party in the darkness of the desert or busting out the tools and jumper cables many times to keep the Turners’ vehicle underway along the desolate dirt roads, the Hunter came through.

One morning we decided to leave the Turners’ vehicle behind and really search for some sick waves. So the boys threw in their sleeping bags, tent, one board each, and their fishing poles, and we began to blaze new trails along the untouched coastline. Rusty Long, our head navigator and slab seeker, reckoned there was potential down the beach. So we checked out our best line to get there. The terrain was a bit swamplandish on the left and crashing shorebreak on the right, so our best bet was straight ahead along a cobblestone berm.

So I put the Hunter in 4-High and started charging down the ridgeline. As we made our way, the cobblestone bank got steeper and steeper. I decided to stay on the left side, away from the surf zone. Then suddenly the weight of the truck collapsed the bank and put the Hunter in a near-roll position. I quickly stopped, and we ever-so-carefully climbed out of the rig to keep it from rolling over. We were all a bit worried; it was definitely the most critical position the Hunter has been in.

First, we took all the weight off the top of the truck, including eight fuel cans, one inflatable boat, and eight surfboards. Then our rescue-crew chief Greg Long and his team began digging on the high side to level the truck out a bit. When they were done, I climbed back in, strapped myself down with surf-rack straps because the seat belts were locked from the incline, and braced for the worst. I put it in 4-Low, remembering from experience to always steer down the incline to keep it from rolling. I got the “all clear” from the crew as they hung on the high side by the tow strap to keep it from rolling.

“Here goes nothing,” I thought. I felt some traction and steered down the hill, and the Hunter climbed right out of the cobblestones and found level ground. The crew was stoked, and the search went on.–Brian Conley

The morning haze holds tightly, refusing to give in to the rising sun. The new swell, thick and angry, continues unloading down our shallow slab shelf with relentless consistency. Everybody scatters in their own directions–some to get a better view of the lineup, others wander off to their morning duties, a few crawl back into their vehicles to get warm and catch up on lost sleep. The tide is still too high, causing our wave to move a fraction too far toward the rocks. Having studied and surfed the wave in nearly every imaginable condition for over two years, I know better than to paddle out now.

Back at the car, Timmy Turner is fighting, not with his brother this time (from whom he still has a black left eye), but with his cold, wet, dirt-filled wetsuit. He is determined to win as everybody looks on, amused at the sight of him tripping over his feet and cursing the soggy rubber.

I am too far away to warn him as he runs down to the tiny keyhole jump-off that we use when the waves are small. Attempting a jump from the same place on a day this size is suicidal. Timing is everything, and Timmy’s is as far from perfect. Slowly staggering across the urchin-infested rocks, he is swept from his feet and washed into the oncoming set. I get to my feet and watch as he makes every attempt to distance himself from the jagged shoreline, only to be pushed further back by each oncoming wave. Five more waves ensue as he is dragged down the point along the rocks, finally into deeper water, passing mere feet in front of me.

Composure regained, Timmy waits impatiently out the back. Having only surfed the place once before, he refuses to be intimidated. The first set approaches and he lines himself up … way too deep. Spinning around on the first mutating multi-face wave of the set, he barely gets to his feet before being ejected downward into oncoming traffic consisting of more jagged urchin-covered rocks. Four more waves on the head, and he passes right in front of me again. This time he turns around and gives me a smile and a wave. I stand up and walk back to my car, laughing. This is the kind of surfing the kid lives for.–Greg Long

Timing plays such a critical part in everything we do, and for me there’s always the constant pondering if the timing is right. I just tell myself, “Yep, always on time, because this is where I am.” That usually comforts me and saves me from an internal argument that leads down a dead-end street. But I call bullshit on myself, too, when it’s obvious timing was off–like when I get to the beach and the wind has just started, or I get to a party and all the ladies have just split.

But I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason, and when timhe surf zone. Then suddenly the weight of the truck collapsed the bank and put the Hunter in a near-roll position. I quickly stopped, and we ever-so-carefully climbed out of the rig to keep it from rolling over. We were all a bit worried; it was definitely the most critical position the Hunter has been in.

First, we took all the weight off the top of the truck, including eight fuel cans, one inflatable boat, and eight surfboards. Then our rescue-crew chief Greg Long and his team began digging on the high side to level the truck out a bit. When they were done, I climbed back in, strapped myself down with surf-rack straps because the seat belts were locked from the incline, and braced for the worst. I put it in 4-Low, remembering from experience to always steer down the incline to keep it from rolling. I got the “all clear” from the crew as they hung on the high side by the tow strap to keep it from rolling.

“Here goes nothing,” I thought. I felt some traction and steered down the hill, and the Hunter climbed right out of the cobblestones and found level ground. The crew was stoked, and the search went on.–Brian Conley

The morning haze holds tightly, refusing to give in to the rising sun. The new swell, thick and angry, continues unloading down our shallow slab shelf with relentless consistency. Everybody scatters in their own directions–some to get a better view of the lineup, others wander off to their morning duties, a few crawl back into their vehicles to get warm and catch up on lost sleep. The tide is still too high, causing our wave to move a fraction too far toward the rocks. Having studied and surfed the wave in nearly every imaginable condition for over two years, I know better than to paddle out now.

Back at the car, Timmy Turner is fighting, not with his brother this time (from whom he still has a black left eye), but with his cold, wet, dirt-filled wetsuit. He is determined to win as everybody looks on, amused at the sight of him tripping over his feet and cursing the soggy rubber.

I am too far away to warn him as he runs down to the tiny keyhole jump-off that we use when the waves are small. Attempting a jump from the same place on a day this size is suicidal. Timing is everything, and Timmy’s is as far from perfect. Slowly staggering across the urchin-infested rocks, he is swept from his feet and washed into the oncoming set. I get to my feet and watch as he makes every attempt to distance himself from the jagged shoreline, only to be pushed further back by each oncoming wave. Five more waves ensue as he is dragged down the point along the rocks, finally into deeper water, passing mere feet in front of me.

Composure regained, Timmy waits impatiently out the back. Having only surfed the place once before, he refuses to be intimidated. The first set approaches and he lines himself up … way too deep. Spinning around on the first mutating multi-face wave of the set, he barely gets to his feet before being ejected downward into oncoming traffic consisting of more jagged urchin-covered rocks. Four more waves on the head, and he passes right in front of me again. This time he turns around and gives me a smile and a wave. I stand up and walk back to my car, laughing. This is the kind of surfing the kid lives for.–Greg Long

Timing plays such a critical part in everything we do, and for me there’s always the constant pondering if the timing is right. I just tell myself, “Yep, always on time, because this is where I am.” That usually comforts me and saves me from an internal argument that leads down a dead-end street. But I call bullshit on myself, too, when it’s obvious timing was off–like when I get to the beach and the wind has just started, or I get to a party and all the ladies have just split.

But I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason, and when timing seems off, there is usually a reason for it. For instance, you get to the party too late, and all the ladies have split; well, maybe there was some new hot, stinky nasty in town who would have been jockeying you down, ready to pass on her vicious strain of herpes. Glad to have missed that one! Or say you get to the beach to greet the wind; well, maybe otherwise you would have taken off on a nuts slab, gotten pitched onto dry reef, and broken your femur. The possibilities are endless.

I think signs pop up to let you know when you’re right where you should be. If it weren’t for the faulty wiring between the battery and the alternator in Timmy’s Jeep, keeping the battery from staying charged and requiring constant charges by Conley’s truck, the timing on this trip would have been much different. We wouldn’t have stayed at Hotel La Pinta in Catavina on the way home and had a classic night drinking Santo Tomas Vino Tinto. We also wouldn’t have stopped in El Rosario to get the car fixed and eaten at Mama Espinosa’s, where there was only one other table occupied during the repair time. It took us a couple minutes to realize it, but in the same little restaurant in the middle of Baja was none other than one of the greatest legends in the surfing world–Pat Curren, with his new child and the child’s mother. We paid our respects, he took off, and we just looked at each other and said, “Yep, timing is spot on, boys.”–Rusty Long

timing seems off, there is usually a reason for it. For instance, you get to the party too late, and all the ladies have split; well, maybe there was some new hot, stinky nasty in town who would have been jockeying you down, ready to pass on her vicious strain of herpes. Glad to have missed that one! Or say you get to the beach to greet the wind; well, maybe otherwise you would have taken off on a nuts slab, gotten pitched onto dry reef, and broken your femur. The possibilities are endless.

I think signs pop up to let you know when you’re right where you should be. If it weren’t for the faulty wiring between the battery and the alternator in Timmy’s Jeep, keeping the battery from staying charged and requiring constant charges by Conley’s truck, the timing on this trip would have been much different. We wouldn’t have stayed at Hotel La Pinta in Catavina on the way home and had a classic night drinking Santo Tomas Vino Tinto. We also wouldn’t have stopped in El Rosario to get the car fixed and eaten at Mama Espinosa’s, where there was only one other table occupied during the repair time. It took us a couple minutes to realize it, but in the same little restaurant in the middle of Baja was none other than one of the greatest legends in the surfing world–Pat Curren, with his new child and the child’s mother. We paid our respects, he took off, and we just looked at each other and said, “Yep, timing is spot on, boys.”–Rusty Long