Nothing Goes According To Plan In Baja
Airborne Adventure—And Near Disaster—Aboard The Billabong Clipper During Last Winter’s “Big Wednesday” December 5th…
The Billabong Clipper at Palomar Airport In Carlsbad, CA.
Last winter I got invited to go on a trip aboard the Billabong Clipper—a 1950s era G-111 Grumman Albatross seaplane. With the “Swell Of The Winter” looming in the form of a big, purple blob below Alaska, it was game on. We had an all-star crew consisting of Billabong’s “Adventure Division”, Peter Mendia, Shane Dorian, Dave Rastovich, and South African bru Damien Fahrenfort. Piloting the aircraft was veteran Baja pilot Mike Castillo. Oh, and I can’t forget about Transworld SURF photographer Seth Stafford— although we did forget about him for a moment while stranded offshore in the fog…
Cardiff Reef December 4, 2007 as seen from above
Huge rip current at Blacks Beach.
The beginning of the clip shows us taking off from Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, CA, where the Billabong Clipper calls home. Shane Dorian had been on the plane before, but the rest of us were new to the rumbling machine and were a bit nervous and excited at the same time’—the waves were gonna be firing somewhere and we had the ultimate access!
San Diego skyline December 4, 2007.
Then the fun began…after a scenic cruise down the coast, we landed in Ensenada, checked in with Mexican officials, and headed further south yet.
“Oh yeah, we’re gonna score!”
Landing at a remote airstrip at SoloSports on Punta San Carlos, the big plane immediately sunk into the mud—apparently it had been raining. As Rasta put it in the clip, “It’s pretty obvious what the situation is,” as he pointed out the plane sitting idly on the dirt runway. Digging the plane out took hours, but Rasta, Seth, Mendia, and me got in a fun SUP session in front of the plush camp. It would turn out to be the best surf session of the trip…
Veteran Baja bush pilot Mike Castillo digs the Billabong Clipper out from the Mexican mud while the surfers (including myself) sat around and drank beer.
Day two were fired up and just about to take off (the plane was now freed from the mud), when a massive fog bank totally engulfed us. “Wait it out” was the call, surely the fog would burn off soon, right? Wrong. We sat for hours on the runway, swatting at flies and catching occasional glimpses of the now peaking swell through the fog. It was bombing and some of the world’s best surfers could do nothing but sit and wait for the fog to lift. It was excruciating.
After what seemed like an eternity, the fog lifted and the plane took off. Spirits were high as we scoured the coast (check that left we flew over—it was easily 12-foot Hawayan style). During this spot check, the one dilemma of traveling via seaplane became apparent—you end up checking everywhere and flying in circles because you think the next spot may be better.
Loaded up and ready to rip…too bad the weather had other ideas.
We eventually settled for Cabo Colonet, a pointbreak that juts four miles straight out to sea. Normally I wouldn’t name the spot, but there’s a harbor the size of Long Beach terminal going in there and that wave is gonna be a goner soon here. Adios Cabo Colonet. Anyway, we landed the bird (more like skipped over several ten-foot swells launching us twenty feet into the air) in the channel after seeing sets freight-training down the point for what seemed like an eternity. Anchored over ½ mile from the waves, a long paddle was the go.
Right when we got to the lineup, the evil fog completely engulfed us again and you couldn’t see more than ten feet when it was at it’s thickest. This is the part of the clip where I’m sitting on top of the plane cursing the fog, the plane, and life in general. It fu—king sucked at that point.
We probably should’ve surfed here instead of buzzing around for hours.
We had lost our photographer, it was freezing cold, and were looking at sleeping (or trying to) in the plane as it rocked incessantly in the ten-to-twelve foot seas. Did I mention that the plane had six inches of water in it? At one point, Rasta got all excited and shouted “I love this shit!” as it seemed everything was going to hell. I’d never seen Rasta all amped like that. But he was right; it was kinda fun in an adventurous way.
Eventually Shane pulled an Eddie Aikau and went to find Seth, but was unable to locate him in the fog. Soon after though, we saw a little figure swimming slowly toward the plane. At first I thought it was a seal, but lo and behold it was our missing passenger! He’d swam about a half mile in cold, sharky water.
“Dude, this guy’s gun keeps hitting me in the shoulder!” Shane Dorian on the flat bed truck courtesy of the Mexican military.
With everyone aboard, we got out of there just before dark, but again, the fog fingered us and we couldn’t land at the base camp in Punta San Carlos and we had to land at a military air strip near El Rosario. The Mexican military were on u like flies on shit and after a few somewhat tense moments (this is the prime drug smuggling route), the dude in charge started speaking perfect English (he was a Texas Longhorn alumni) and we explained our situation. Loaded into the back of a Mexican military flatbed truck, we were all freezing cold but stoked to be on terra firma. After a much-deserved dinner and cold beer, we crashed in a little hotel, and believe it or not, Rasta and Shane’s room was showing the movie, The Fog. Suffice to say, I’m down to go on the plane anytime, especially now that we’ve figured out what not to do…—Justin Cote
Billabong Team Manager Chris Heffner guides the big bird back home.
South African ripper and Mexican Adventure Division survivor Damien Fahrenfort looking happy to be back in Cali.