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Baja Surf Safari - 1971

by Georgia Tanner

Baja Surf Safari

Forty-three years ago there were no internet surf reports and roads in nearly all of Baja California were dirt tracks. Craving wildness and waves, eight members of the San Onofre Surfing Club planned a two-week trip to the Five Malibus: Punta Blanca, Punta Cono, Punta Maria, Punta Diablo and Santa Rosalillita [now part of the Seven Sisters]. It was August of 1971.

“Boredom arises not so often from too little to think about, as from too much, and none of it clear nor clean nor simple,” wrote John Steinbeck. Escaping that “too much” is one reason my friend Phil and I return to Baja. Our supplies weren’t exactly simple; laid out, they took up half the living room floor. They included the Lower California Guidebook (a.k.a. The Baja Bible) by Gerhard & Gulick, Baja Surf Safari Donde No Hay Doctor, 20 extra gallons of gas, oil and filters and brake fluid, water, bread, peanut butter, ice chests, surfboards, diving and fishing gear.

At 6 a.m. on Wednesday August 11 we met the other members of the caravan--Jim, Pat, and Laurie in one 4WD vehicle, Jim C., Steve, and Tony in another. After stops in Ensenada for gas, ice, and Carta Blanca, we headed south.

At El Socorro, the first surf stop, Jim C. saw his brother Jack’s van parked by the beach and we all descended on him, interrupting his siesta. Jack and his 110-pound war-veteran companion Smoky were easily coaxed into joining us on the trip.

El Socorro was hot and glassy, with small well-shaped waves. Jim and Phil caught the pelican who had been hanging around as if asking for help--his beak had been tied closed; in pursuit of fish, this one may have landed on a fisherman’s boat. While the men wrestled with the pelican and cut the cord, Steve and I surfed the lefts. Other members of the party went underwater for cockles, enough to fill a bucket.

After a gas stop in El Rosario and a chat with Señora Espinosa at her cafe, we drove another dusty hour. We made camp where the barren coastal terrain joined the interior country of cirio and cardon. Not even nine of us could do in all those clams.

Baja Surf Safari

The morning of August 12 found us grinding our way up La Turquesa grade. We continued through country that is a desert naturalist’s delight. No sign of life other than plants growing out of rocky soil. No sign of Brock, either, who is lost, according to a sign north of El Arenoso.

3.8 miles beyond El Progresso we turned right on the “coast road,” listed by Gerhard & Gulick as an “alternate” route south. And we thought the main road was bad! We negotiated rocks, mud holes, and a coastal section crossed by deep arroyos. When we reached our evening camp at Los Morros, all surfers grabbed their boards and rode small shifty waves inside Acme Rock. The moon and stars came out, and surf made blue-green flashes on the reef. We laughed and drank and savored clams popped open one by one over the coals, and the only reminder of civilization was a satellite moving through the stars.

By 7:30 a.m. we were on our way to Punta Blanca, the first of the Five Malibus. Multiple dirt tracks forced a road-consultation stop and a cold beer to wash down the dust. We took a wrong turn anyway and had to backtrack. Finally, Punta Blanca. We set up camp and rode some lazy shorebreak waves. A coyote scouting for pismo clams at low tide showed us where to dig. The next day’s find was even better: big black abs. At sunset we gathered inside Jim and Pat’s “house” made of burlap bags sewn together as a windbreak. Dinner was melt-in-your-mouth abalone in butter and wheat germ, along with Jim’s french-fried pismo clams.

Baja Surf Safari

In spite of salt-water baths and bad roads, we lived in wild luxury. On August 16 Phil and I took a long walk south. The rising heat of a salt flat invited us to go for a swim. We found a tide pool among rough volcanic rocks and settled in carefully among the sea urchins. It was dreamlike freedom to walk along endless coast without a sign of human life.

The next day’s surf remained small and the misty outlines of points beckoned us southward. As we were packing to leave Punta Blanca, a light rain settled the dust.

Punta Maria was our reward for the punishing roads. We found a campsite facing east toward a coastline that curved into the lines and shadows of the southern peninsula. Tiny symmetrical waves broke on a crescent beach. Four of us put on wetsuits and went diving. We saw halibut, corvina, perch, crabs, and dozens of Baja Surf Safari horned sharks that hid in the eelgrass with their tails sticking out. Big lobster were out walking. I grabbed one that threw me off with a powerful kick, but Jim, Jack and Phil brought up enough to feed us for days. We had lobster burritos, lobster omelets, lobster kebabs, lobster a la carte, and finally, with the addition of perch, clams, canned tomatoes, mushrooms, and zinfandel, a once-in-a-lifetime bouillabaisse.

The next morning I volunteered to wash dishes, since Smoky has a reputation for not using soap. He thought I was stealing his job--take a swim, he said. So I grabbed my board. From the water I could see Smoky shining the pots with his shirt. No doubt he has a secret Baja dishwashing routine.

Supplies dwindled to warm beer and canned food. We planned to leave August 21 and follow the coast road south, then turn inland for gas at Punta Prieta. The lack of a swell disappointed the men, but I was happy to ride perfect small waves. Beauty is a big part of surfing for me--the beauty of resting on a surfboard surrounded by liquid radiance, waiting for those fleeting moments of freedom from the gravity of the earth.

We vowed to return soon for more weeks of a life that was “clear and clean and simple.”

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