Surf The Baja Waves
By Alex Navarro
Welcome to Los Cabos, Baja Sur, the perfect place to have fun surfing all types of waves at very different kind of spots, and then go back to the hotel or home with the sweetest memories and most unforgettable times. For example, today I caught a super nice left wave at my home break in San José del Cabo called La Bocana, or also called The Estuary (El Estero). This wave is a river mouth wave, beach break with peaks going both right and left. I have been going there for twenty years and I love it because it feels very exotic as there are not a lot of people at the beach or surfers usually, plus you get all the views of the estuary with all its beautiful birds like geese, ducks, pelicans, ospreys and many many more, and with the Sierra La Laguna mountain range in the backdrop too.
After that great session, I went to the Municipal Market in downtown San José for a nutritious breakfast. Inside there is a "loncheria" room with a few loncherias which are like little restaurants. I talk more about the dishes at these loncherias in another little piece I wrote within this issue of DESTINO, so please check it out too. Today I ordered a fish fillet with rice, beans, green salad and tortillas. It was very delicious and the perfect food for easing the hunger after surfing. The waves were awesome because we received a very nice southern swell. Yesterday I was surfing at the same spot and during a lull between sets I overheard a local surfer speaking to two foreign surfers about a great man and surfer named Mike Doyle who passed away peacefully last month. The local surfer knew Mike pretty well and was saying how in his older years, Mike grabbed a boogie board even after surgery and would get in the water. And he would tell his friends "I just can't stop."
I met Mike a few times when I first arrived here. I would run surf tours to Acapulquito Beach, also known as Old Man's, and also surfed there in the early mornings and I would see Mike surf that wave. I never got to know him well, but let me tell you a little bit about what I have heard and read about this wonderful man. He was from California where he had an amazing surfing career and moved to San José del Cabo in the 80s to pursue his artistic side and live a more tranquil life. In his younger years he won many important surf contests and was 2nd in the World Surf Championships. He is in the Surf Hall of Fame, and he made the first shortboard with Don Hansen and the first softboard with Tom Morry, as well as inventing the monoski for snow and the 100 mile per hour resistant hat for extreme water sports. He established the Mike Doyle Surf School at Cabo Surf Hotel in 1998, which still runs strong today. Mike was a renowned surfboard shaper and one of the famous stories about him was that he sold Gidget her first surfboard, and that he was also a surfing stunt double actor in the popular movie also called Gidget.
Mike also wrote a book and was a great painter and a superb waterman. He won many Paddling Championships and opened an art gallery when he moved to Baja. He was involved in the surf business and his company sells high quality softboards, fiberglass boards and stand up paddleboards (SUP) of which he was an innovator, designer and creator since the beginning. For me, Mike is an inspiration and fantastic example of living life in the waves. Keep hangin' loose Mike in the celestial wave! There is so much more Mike achieved in his life and you can read all about it on the web, as well as finding his book to read. Mike is a great example that surfing and the ocean are wonderful and really make people happy and helps live fun and fulfilling lives.
Now, let me keep telling you more about the local surf breaks, surfing in general, and about learning to surf. You can find the location of the surf spots in the maps section and also within the activities section of this magazine. But I will review them here, add some other ones, and make a brief comment on them.
LOCAL SURF BREAKS
Starting on the Pacific Ocean side and from northernmost the breaks are:
La Pastora - it has a sandy beach and rocky point with peaks. There are usually more right waves than lefts. Also, usually the best time is early morning before the wind starts. This beach is in Las Tunas town very near Todos Santos. Definitely not a beginner wave.
San Pedrito - round rock bottom with mostly rights, but has an awesome steep left with the right direction swell. This wave is near the picturesque and agricultural town of Pescadero. When you arrive, you will get a feel of Hawaiian nature as you pass the tall grass and coconut trees on the narrow corridor on the way to the beach. This is a very uncrowded beach and is an intermediate and advanced wave. Great for camping.
Cerritos Beach - this is the perfect spot to learn to surf and take surf lessons. The sand bottom beach offers the ideal wave for beginners and in the outer break the waves peak left and right and also there is the pointbreak which serves a huge right on big days. The surf schools on the beach are all amazing, so your experience is guaranteed no matter who you choose. Cerritos also has amazing food and drink choices too. If you’re staying in Cabo and you want to explore the Pacific side, Cerritos is a must.
La Curva - a little south of Cerritos near the town of Migrino is La Curva. A lot of local surf contests are held there. This is a deep-water right point break with large rocks. Great camping site with very little people and surfers. Great wave but for more advanced surfers.
Monuments - on the tip of the Baja Peninsula is Monuments wave. It's straight across from the famous arch. This is an amazing left. It has a reef and rock bottom with many tricky large and small rocks on the entry. This spot is for intermediate and expert surfers. Monuments is one of my favorite waves because I am goofy, which means I ride with my right foot forward on the board, therefore when I am riding a left wave I am facing the wave. Cabo has mostly right waves where a goofy rides a wave with his/her back to the wave.
Acapulquito - also called Old Man's, this wave is in an area called Costa Azul, within the town of San José del Cabo. This is the wave where I learned to surf and where Mike Doyle's Surf School is located. This is a great wave for learning because it has a soft face and is quite long. It breaks mainly right, but has a great left that is shorter but steeper. It has a sandy and rocky reef bottom. This is a very crowded break that can hold a lot of surfers. Most surf schools go here, Cerritos or Pescaditos.
La Roca - also within the Costa Azul area, just a few yards north from Acapulquito is this very fun and radical wave that breaks both right and left and is a favorite of intermediate and advanced surfers. Very rocky bottom with an easy take off spot next to the main rock.
Pescaditos - right next to La Roca is this very friendly wave that is also popular for learning to surf. It has a nice smooth lip and face for easy take offs and pretty deep water to avoid hitting the bottom. It can break left or right. You can park in the Costa Azul arroyo just 50 yards away.
Zippers - also park at the arroyo to go to this wave which is right in front. This is the wave where the Pro locals from San José go. It is a fast and steep right wave with tube potential. It has round rock bottom near the beach. This is an iconic wave of Cabo that has held many Pro contests.
La Bocana – or The Estuary, is on the outskirts of San José and it's a river mouth, sandy bottom with right and left peaks. Maybe I’ll see you there as it is my home break. It’s a pretty long walk from the parking lot.
Shipwrecks - this wave is on the East Cape and is about forty minutes from San José. This spot is very popular for camping, and the wave is very fast. It is a right point break with some rock bottom mostly surfed by experienced surfers.
Nine Palms - about 20 minutes north of Shipwrecks is this magical place with a very long wave mostly ridden by long boarders. It is a right point break wave with reef bottom. The wind picks up in the day very often at this beach, so is it usually better early or late.
Punta Perfecta - like its name says, it this is the perfect point. I rode this wave on a great day and I understood why they call it Punta Pefecta. It can have huge peaks that go left and right with very steep and tall faces.
There are a few other waves in the East Cape like La Fortuna and even Los Frailes breaks on a special swell, but the ones mentioned above are most of the breaks in the area.
To finish, I would like to share some thoughts on surfing and surf lessons. I hope this helps motivate you to try surfing if you have never tried it. Plus, the really cool thing about Cabo as I mentioned is that we have great surf instructors and surf schools that offer the best lessons and equipment. My intention here is just to give you some preliminary information so that if you decide to reserve and take a proper surf lesson with an instructor, you will have some fundamental surf concepts already reviewed. Again, the best spots for learning to surf are Cerritos beach on the Pacific Ocean side, and Costa Azul in Cabo (Acapulquito and Pescaditos). Both areas offer a great experience and the best guides and schools. Some general suggestions prior to doing a surf lesson are to get a good night sleep, eat nutritiously and light, stretch or do yoga, and do a few squats, sit ups and pushups.
Basically, a surf lesson can be divided into three parts: ocean environment, theory and practice. In ocean environment you learn and go over the environment you will be surfing in. For example, type of surf break, wave and beach, swell and ocean conditions, entry channel to wave break, currents and rip tides, hazards, reefs and rocks, type of bottom, other surfers and their surfboards, and sea life in the area. In theory you go over your equipment and its parts, and the actual theoretical surf lesson on land where things are explained. And in practice you perform some surfing techniques on land, go in the water with your surf instructor, and try catching waves by doing what has been taught to you.
Going a little more in detail, the type of surf break could be a point break, beach break, sand break or a reef break, etc. The wave could be a right wave or left wave, or an A-frame (or peak) that goes both to the right and to the left. The size of the wave is also considered. The conditions could be low, medium or high tide, with tide coming in or going out, with glassy water or choppy water, and no wind or low or high wind, etc. There could be a small swell or a large swell coming from the south or the north or northwest, depending on the time of year, and the weather conditions like storms or hurricanes near and far away.
Continuing, the parts of a surfboard are the nose, the tail, the bottom, the top (or deck), the rails, the rocker (which is the curvature of the board), the stringer (which is a wood strip added for stiffness and strength), the fins, the leash, and the traction pad on some surfboards. Depending on your height, weight and fitness, your surf instructor will select the correct board for you. Here you will execute some techniques on land like: paddling technique and positioning on board, pop up and surf stance. Most likely he or she will select you a longboard or foamboard. You will also go over the famous turtle dive which is used to pass a wave that breaks on you when you are using a longboard or foamboard. On the other hand, the duck dive technique to pass waves will be used when surfing on a shortboard as you progress in your skills and abilities.
Maybe now is a good time to briefly go over what types of surfboards exist. The main ones are the shortboard also called thruster, the fish, the funboard, the hybrid, the gun, the longboard and foamboard (softboard), which are the ones that are usually used for learning as I have mentioned above. Furthermore, after waxing the top of your surfboard, attaching the leash to your ankle and putting on your surf gear and protection like a rashguard, wetsuit, surf cap, sun protector, and even surf booties sometimes; you will then enter the water with your instructor after reading the swell, waves and environmental factors like other surfers, rocks, etc., as also mentioned above. Now you will be guided by him or her and start doing all that you have learned during the lesson like paddling, turtle diving, positioning to catch a wave, catching a wave (take off, drop and drop in), riding a wave (balance/positioning), eventually making turns on a wave, and finally finishing a wave or falling off safely. Many times your instructor will grab your board from the tail when you are paddling to try to catch a wave and give you a precise push and steer you in the proper direction as well, and this is a great help in achieving the take off to catch and stand up on your first wave.
Let’s review some things and add other basic points of a complete surf lesson:
General safety: ocean environment. Learn about the beach you will surf and its potential hazards. Wave size, general conditions, type of bottom, currents, riptides, etc.
Know everything about your equipment and using it: learn the parts of a surfboard and practice some techniques on land so that you can control your surfboard in the surf. Check the condition of your leash.
Paddling technique: how to balance on a surfboard while paddling. Find your proper positioning when you paddle the surfboard from a belly down position.
Standing up on a surfboard: proper technique, take off, drop, riding stance, arm position, how to stop the surfboard in a controlled manner, how to dismount off your surfboard and how to fall off safely which is usually landing flat on the water (parallel to the water).
Turning the surfboard: how to complete single and multiple turns on the face of the wave from a standing up position by using the rails of the surfboard. Learning the bottom turn.
Types of surf breaks: identify the types of surf breaks.
Identifying rideable waves and positioning to catch a wave in the best possible spot and time: learn to read a wave, learn to identify the peak, learn where to position yourself. Some parts of the wave are the peak, the face, the lip, the bottom, the back, the close out, the foam or white wash, the tube or barrel, the line, etc. Waves can be measured in feet or meters, and are usually measured from the back side.
Sitting on a surfboard: how to turn the board from a sitting position in order to position yourself to catch a wave. Balance on your surfboard from a sitting position.
Paddling out into the line-up: read the surf break, know where to paddle out into the lineup (past the breaking waves), practice techniques for getting through breaking waves like the turtle dive. Know where the entry channel is.
Surfing etiquette: be able to identify who has priority, learn the priority system for riding waves, understand what to do when you don’t have priority, learning how to keep yourself and others safe.
Being a smart surfer: know your limits and be able to recognize conditions and/or surf breaks that are or are not suitable for your ability level.
You will learn all of this initially with your surf instructor, but over time you should be able to keep learning to surf by yourself. Surfing is a great challenge and for sure one of the most difficult sports to learn, but the rewards are like no other when you catch a wave. And also the cool thing about surfing is that you can do it with your family members and loved ones. The other really cool thing about surfing is that when you go surf you also get some beach time to hang out and set up an umbrella and enjoy the sand and sea.
Make this visit to Cabo perfect and unforgettable by starting to learn how to surf in this magical surf town! And to all the friendly surfers vacationing in our surf town, I wish you epic waves. Thanks for your time and thanks for visiting! And thank you Mike Doyle for your good vibes forever. Surf's up infinitely!