A trip into Baja is a rite of passage for the Californian surfer, like an adolescent tribesman from Tanzania being sent to hunt down his first antelope. The day a surfer returns from his first south-of-the-border expedition without adult supervision, they’ve graduated from “gromhood.” To make a Baja journey to Isla Natividad is to ask for all of the best and worst things in a Mexican adventure. Encountering these elements is what makes a Baja trip the rite of passage it is.
After making your way through the maze of crowded streets in Tijuana, the landscape begins to open up. Beyond Ensenada, you’re really in Baja. The desert expands, and the highway gets lonely. Through the twelve-hour drive, more than the cacti and road signs will be foreign. Baja is, after all, part of Mexico. And Mexico really is another country. You can try out what you were supposed to have learned in Spanish class, learn that Mexican food is different down here (no burritos), and even try using their currency, the peso.
Use them to pay for the boat ride across the channel. When the road ends at Punta Eugenia, you can get a fisherman to take you over to the island in his panga for the right price. Just make sure to hold onto your boards and food as you bounce through the swells on your way to that floating sliver of land in the distance. The afternoon wind and ocean spray will pelt you constantly during the half-hour ride.
“It sure looks barren,” you notice as you approach. It’s small (about four miles long by one mile wide), low, and sparse. The boat drops you near the village where a few hundred fishermen, lobstermen, and their families live.
There’s an easier way to Isla Natividad—by small plane. In fact, many who fly in don’t even realize it’s possible to drive and boat there. Flying in, however, isn’t as smooth as it may sound. The same northwest winds that open up the waves blow sideways across the graded dirt landing strip, making for an exciting landing.
At the end of the landing strip is where you’ll find what you came for—the waves. Nowhere do offshore winds define (and sometimes over-define) the surf like on Natividad. The beachbreak is groomed into heaving peaks. The best wave on the island wraps around a sand point to the north—a freight-train right sand point that runs a serious barrel. You don’t come here to do turns, unless they’re in the form of subtle adjustments inside the tube. And you might as well bring a backup stick, because it’s shallow and the hard sand bottom is unforgiving.
Like much of Baja, the water’s chillier in Natividad than north of the border. But don’t sweat getting on it at dawn. You’ll be surfing the east side of the island (facing the mainland), so everything’s reversed. This means that mornings are onshore, and the rest of the day is offshore—a lazy surfer’s paradise.
You’ll wish you could spend the whole day in the water, though. On land, gobs of flies and crawling bugs will turn you into a mental patient, dust from the incessant wind will cover everything, and the heat will bake you. Although the waves are heavenly, Isla Natividad truly is a wretched place to camp. Plenty of water and a high level of tolerance are necessary to stay sane while on the beach.
Even centuries ago the Spaniards found Baja a harsh place. From the day they landed, it took them over 150 years to finally get a permanent settlement down. But then, if this place weren’t challenging, it couldn’t be the vehicle by which a youngster grows up.