Tripping Fins: Baja

We left Cardiff at 5:30am, quick 30 minutes to the Border and it’s a whole different world. We stopped to check the first beachbreak south and found gorgeous shoulder high, glassy peaks breaking in the thickening fog. We knew the water temp had dropped significantly at home and we knew it’s always colder down here.

Suited, we walked down the cobblestone street as light poured through the old archway. Yeah, it was cold. June ice cream headaches with stunned fingers and toes. But the bending bowls! Oh those bending bowls. A reinforcing south swell was joined by a touch of NW windswell to provide hollow rides all along. We warmed a bit chasing the peaks in out of fleeting rip currents as a thickening fog swallowed the coastline. Wind picked up side offshore and we departed, heading south. A vibrant fogbow illuminated the beach as we meandered south again.

With no plan for the rest of the morning, we picked a random spot on the map and headed down a winding road scribbled across the prominent peninsula. Reaching the end of the road, we found a beautiful cove, a small town and a long street market. And lastly we found the star of the show: La Bufadora! An impressive blow hole, tucked into a fold of the coast. Every surge of swell entering the Cove focuses into a small crevice in the cliff, blasting water and rainbows hundreds of feet into the air.

La Bufadora!

We drove to our rental just in time for a siesta before some glassy waves in front of the house at sunset. There is something very special about checking the surf from the roof deck then walking out of your abode, to the sand and into the Ocean without ever losing eye contact with the sea.

We had a delicious dinner at one of the fine local restaurants on the cliff with some proper Mexican hydration the locals called Tecate. Followed by astrophotography on the deck, we slept well.

We woke at dawn the next morning and groggily checked the surf. Glass. Not a single breeze or breath of wind. Chest high peaks with a few bigger sets graced the sandbars out front. Of course the water temp hadn’t come up so we gutted up for the chill. But once again, chasing fun peaks kept us warm. As the sun rose over the hill, a deep fog settled in. All of the sudden we weren’t just witnessing a fogbow, we were inside the fogbow. Vibrant colors refracted out the fog and we hooted in excitement as the combo swell kept producing glassy bowls. 

We hadn’t seen another surfer since we’d been down but out of the fog a guy paddled out and caught a couple fun waves. We started chatting and it turned out that like Swell Lines staff, the guy is a special needs educator in North County San Diego…cheers to summer vacation!

We moved to a different rental down the beach and when we arrived, the very sweet owner, Cathy greeted us with her squad of delightful Mexi-Mutts that she rescues. She showed us around her gorgeous house full of amazing stained glass and stone-work.  She also offered us a unique amenity that more rentals should offer: puppy time with a new litter she recently rescued. Everybody could use some puppy time in between sessions of tube time.

The sun was high and the peaks remained glassy so we went to the beach out front. After a solid round of beach paddle ball, with a nice sweat going, it was time for a swim. Air temperature in the mid-80s…water temp feeling like mid-50s. Rising tide pushed the wave energy inside and provided more fun, invigorating waves.

Get out of the sun, siesta time. Then towards sunset, we were watching the waves thinking about an evening swim. But the sky was cloudy and the wind was up a bit onshore. It didn’t look enticing. Then a set of wave clouds formed over the horizon. We had to go swim and just to add a little spice, we only wore trunks. Even the deep bone chill was worth the few barrel visions and fun waves we caught before heading to dinner still shivering. A shot tequila warmed us from the inside while enjoying a Radiohead sing along on the deck of the rental while the Ocean sand backup.

The surf remained glassy and fun the next morning before we packed up and headed north. A record-breaking one hour border wait and we were home with wetsuit rashes, fatigue and a joyful haze. Another successful, simple adventure across the border…we should do that monthly.

Chris Kalima underwater takeoff World Bodysurfing Championships

Porpoise: The Underwater Takeoff

The way by which a bodysurfer enters into relations with each new wave can open up a range of options or significantly limit them. Once you have mastered your takeoff I would suggest mixing in the porpoise to experience bodysurfing differently. This maneuver is not only beautiful to observe, but a sensory delight.

The aptly named maneuver has been around a long time. Judge Robert Gardner wrote about the Underwater Take Off in his 1972 classic The Art of Body Surfing. He writes, “The underwater take off is another rather spectacular and popular technique-but a lot of good waves have been lost by people who don’t know how to do it properly.” This maxim holds true today.

I can remember first seeing some old timers doing it at a State Park beach. As the wave approached, their bobbing heads submerged and they would punch through the wave face as it began breaking. This was new to me and I was left in awe of their ability to put their bodies exactly where they needed to be without being able to see the wave breaking in front of them. This is the same thought, I suspect, many gawkers have when they catch a glimpse of the porpoising bodysurfer for the very first time.

The standard porpoise takeoff begins as the wave is approaching. Rider will swim to the spot and then turn to face the beach. Just prior to the wave’s approach, the rider submerges diagonally to the water’s surface drawing arms above the head and fins in a ready position. As if there were a wall to push off from, the rider then pushes/pulls at the precise moment the wave’s energy has reached them. To the uninitiated, it will be surprising just how easy it is to utilize the swell of energy beneath the wave’s surface. Once the rider’s body is moving in the right direction and at a speed congruent to the wave it is almost a feeling of the wave taking over. There is a sweet spot behind the surface of the breaking wave where the Ocean pulls the rider along. In the traditional porpoise take off the rider uses this energy to burst through the face and then continue their ride in whatever manner they wish.

There are, as always, variations on this maneuver. Some bodysurfers milk the underwater action until the last possible second before breaching as the wave is breaking. If you attend bodysurfing competitions, you’re like to see bodysurfers porpoising in the middle of a ride. Occasionally you’ll see a rider breach in a reversed position as they submerged.  It does take practice and skill to master these moves, as each requires utilizing the wave’s energy perfectly so as not to squander a good wave.

As you explore new riding techniques stay safe and have fun. Expect that you’ll mess up a few waves and with this technique especially, you’ll go over the falls once or twice before you get the timing right. It might be a good idea to try this first where you can push off the bottom to gain speed easier. Obviously this puts you closer to the ground when you come bursting out of the wave, so prepare accordingly.



Chasing the Weasel

By Jason Hackworth- @SuperBiscuitSC

There’s a spot on the Westside that’s well known as being one of the last holdouts of true, old-school localism; the kind of place where if you’re not a Westsider, or friends with them, you probably shouldn’t be out there.  When it’s working, it’s one of the best tubes in town, and every local pro, ex-pro and general ripper will be on it, sitting amongst a small pack in a very compact takeoff zone.  Although it shows up in magazines and Surfline quite a bit, it’s never explicitly named in print, to my knowledge… one mag of note even did a feature on it in the 90’s, dubbing it “Weasel Reef”, so for the purposes of this story I’m going to go with that.

I found myself staring at it the other day, leaning against the wooden fence that acts as a railing on the edge of the cliff.  The direction was a bit off, it was smallish and kind of blowing sideshore. But it was definitely working.  And there was no one out.  No one else even watching it.

I had swam out there once before a few years ago, but when I got to the peak it shut off completely.  I found myself treading water for 20 minutes before giving up and heading home.  Now as I watched another set barrel messily over the reef, I found that I was a little nervous… it wasn’t so much that I wanted to go but I felt that I had to go.  Otherwise, I’d probably be kicking myself for the rest of my life.  I had just eaten a hamburger and was fairly hung over… so I wasn’t quite feeling one hundred percent.

Suiting up and grabbing the MiniMother and the UDT’s I had recently acquired in a trade, I started back toward the cliff.  A couple of cars away from mine was an oversized black SUV, with tinted black windows and various stickers.  I felt my UDT’s bump against something on the car, and there was a slight rattling sound.  I turned around as I walked, surmising that the fins must have bumped into the trailer hitch that was protruding from the back of the vehicle.  Seeing that there was no damage, I moved on.

“Hey yo!”  I heard a few seconds later.  Rounding the corner of the truck came a younger guy whose look kind of fit with his vehicle- oversized white shirt, baseball cap sitting too high on his head, white socks pulled up past the hems of his low hanging shorts, neck tattoos.  

“What the f###, you just hit my car and walk away?!?”  He said, raising his arms in the air in a threatening fashion.

“Sorry man, I think my fins accidentally bumped into your trailer hitch there.”

“So that’s what you do?  Just hit people’s  cars with your f###ing fins and just walk away?”

“It was an accident… sorry man.”

He huffed and puffed a little more, and then turned to get back into the truck, still muttering and cursing to himself.  How he thought that the Malaysian rubber UDT’s could have possibly damaged his steel trailer hitch I have no idea, but he was certainly angry about it.

The altercation had actually served to distract me from my nervousness, and I turned and continued toward the edge of the cliff.  Still nobody out.  I slowly picked my way down the steep rocks, eventually jumping off of the last one onto the sand.  Walking toward the other side of the cove, I picked my swim spot just south of where the peak was and walked in, gearing up with fins and camera once I had cleared the shorebreak.  I took my time swimming out to the peak; never having caught this place before when it was breaking, I wanted to get a feel for it and not take too many on the head.  I also found myself turning to scan the cliff from time to time, expecting to see people with boards coming down the rocks.

“Oh shoot… this place is super shallow!”  I had moved to tread water and I came across the rock shelf reef not 4 or 5 feet below the surface. Watching the gurgles and boils in front of the incoming set peaking just outside confirmed this.  Given my condition, I decided to err on the side of caution and remain just at the edge of the reef for the time being.

The first couple were too walled, so I swam over them.  The next one had a nice corner however and I began to swim in an arc a little deeper, getting into position.  The first drop was quick and bouncy from backwash off of the cliff and after riding for a couple of seconds the barrel threw over me and pinched shut. I swam under and through the back.  

On two more, I was able to pull in; I thought I was going to make it out of the first, but it pinched shut on my head and I got rolled for a bit.  The second was bigger, with a jacking, steep entry.  The MiniMother held its edge, as it always does.  This one had the crazy drop but less time in the tube as it closed out…my wave selection there had been a bit lacking.  My next was another steep drop to a long ride almost all the way in, but no barrel.

Resting at the peak for a bit, I saw the group of groms clambering down the rocks with shortboards.  Another set was approaching, and I swam for and caught the second wave, driving down the line until the end section closed out over me, leaving me again almost all the way in.  That was enough for me… I wasn’t in the mood to jockey for position with the groms, and decided to call it a day.  Back on the beach, I leaned against a rock and watched it for a while, soaking in the scene and in disbelief that I had just scored Weasel Reef to myself for a half an hour or so.

After negotiating the rock climb back up, I noticed that the black SUV was still there, this time with a familiar smelling smoke emanating from it.  I approached the open drivers side window and saw its occupant with sunglasses on now, and sporting a big smile.

“Hey man, just wanted to say sorry again about the trailer hitch thing.”

“Ah it’s cool” he grinned.  “I was up in Tahoe yesterday snowmobiling with my friends, and on the way back someone nailed the back of my car, you see that big dent there?  Anyway, I got back late, and missed my court hearing, so I guess I was just all pissed off about that.”

“Ah, yeah… well, that’s understandable.”

Back at my car, dressed, and wrapping my wetsuit in a towel, I see my new friend get out of his truck and start walking towards me.  As he gets close, he holds out an unopened can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“A little beverage, bro?  Always good after the salt water and a boogie session.”

Still a little hung over (and slightly confused about the boogie comment) I hesitate for a second, then find myself reaching for the can.  “Uh… for sure, man.  Thanks!”

“Have a good one!” he says, returning to his truck.

The Pabst is kind of warm… but as I lean on the hood of my car sipping it, taking in the view of West Cliff Drive and the passing pedestrians, I figure it’s a pretty fitting way to wrap up an afternoon of chasing Weasels.


With My Son

I still dream.

Empty, aching bends of coastline

Emerald water pulsing

and every set as perfect as the last.

But in my waking hours

a different vision has revealed.

I trim his nails

and sing him to sleep.

All of 30 inches

And full of dancing,

My new dream will grow

With sand tween his toes

And salty air filling his small lungs.