White-knuckled and with aching backs, we clung to the ski as it pounded over wave after wave, our faces drenched with salt water and our eyes raw from sun and wind. We’d been hammering through waist-high wind chop for more than six hours—more than 100 miles—and were all beginning to question what exactly we’d been thinking.
But then again, we hadn’t come here to f*** spiders—a fact that we continuously reminded each other of whenever one of us would lose motivation. We were here to find new waves, and sometimes that means cramming three guys onto the back of a jet ski and slogging a sixth of the way down the Baja peninsula, only to reach your destination and find it walled out and windblown—an endless expanse of nothing, trying to pass itself off as a wave.
For years, my experiences in Baja looked nothing like this. Instead, like most people who head down the world’s third-longest peninsula in search of summertime south swells, I always went to the same reliable lineups—and those waves are pretty easy to score.
Sure, you have to know the right swells to chase, the right size and direction—but once you figure that out, it’s almost always a slam dunk. That’s because the small handful of known spots that break on south swells (outside of Cabo, of course) are relatively consistent and predictable, and enjoy all-day offshore winds.
These factors, of course, are the very reason the waves are well-known and frequently trafficked. But with predictable perfection comes a shitload of surfers, and it’s finally gotten to the point where an escape to Baja doesn’t really feel like much of an escape at all.
Instead, it sometimes seems like all of Southern California has relocated to the same one-mile stretch of coast to surf the same handful of point breaks—and surfing with a hundred Orange Countians isn’t the reason I started coming down here 20-years-ago.
Fortunately, outside of the small handful of popular, predictable surf spots with all-day offshores, the rest of Baja is practically empty. Of the 806 miles of coastline stretching from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, there are 800 or so that are virtually never visited, let alone surfed.
There are a number of reasons for this of course, not the least of which are the incessant NW winds and lack of easy access. But for those willing to go a little bit farther and forego a guaranteed score, there’s a lot of potential for being alone—and, on occasion, even for surfing alone.
Over the years, Tyler Reid and Johnny “Jungle” Barton have spent a fair amount of time off the grid. They love a sure thing as much as anyone, but they also like to get away from it all, to be alone in the desert and put in the hard yards for a shot at unearthing something new.
The three of us had been scouring Google Earth for new sand bars for years, mapping out swell angles and dialling in logistics, looking at wind patterns and deciphering sand flow.
We knew that checking the spots on our list meant sacrificing a swell or two, but after years of procrastination and putting off the punt in favour of guaranteed barrels, we finally decided it was time to bite the bullet.
The fact that we’d been scoring nonstop swells in Mexico for the past two months made it a bit easier to set off for points unknown.
We spent a week checking a dozen spots—launching the ski at first light, scouring the coast for waves and surfing them if we managed to find any, then driving six hours to the next setup, just in time to set up camp and wait for the next swell to fill in.
After seven days of swell and thousands of miles of driving, we’d found a grand total of two new waves—one a barrelling sandbar half a kilometre long, the other an ultra-shadowed, waist-high peeler that would be perfect for a log, but that was a bit too small for much else.
The rest of the time, we bounced and bashed our way along the peninsula, checking around corners and peering through binoculars. We were sunburned and salty, exhausted and annoyed, often tempted to give up the search and hightail it to the nearest sure thing.
But the sure things on our map only exist because someone, 60 or 70 years ago, decided to drive away from their sure thing and find something better—or at least something new. After riding their coattails and surfing their discoveries for most of our lives, it was finally our turn to do the hard work. In other words, we didn’t come here to mess around.
On the seventh day of the trip, with the last of the swell fading and a total of six hours of surfing under our belts, we turned the truck north and started the long drive home. We were in unfamiliar terrain, doing 75mph across one of Baja’s many salt flats, when suddenly we were stopped short.
In front of us, the faint track we were following disappeared into a salty mud bog, the kind that can bury your axels and leave you stranded for days. The bog was 300 metres wide—shorter than some of the waves we’d seen during the trip—and on the other side we could see our hard-packed track disappearing into the setting sun. We hesitated for a moment, weighing the risk of getting stuck versus the hours we’d have to backtrack if we turned around. Finally, Tyler dropped the truck into four wheel drive and hit the gas.
No spiders were f*****.