Sailing to Baja

Posted by Summer Nelson on

Believe it or not, in the era of spot check cameras, there are still mystical rare surf spots shielded from main road access in California. Seea’s resident sailor and salty off-road Baja adventurer Summer Nelson heard that the right swell direction would be hitting a few favorite points and enlisted a crew to come along for the ride by trimaran

The calls to the Seeababes went something like this, “Are you comfortable sleeping on a boat?” “What’s your threshold for surfing in chillier waters?” “How do you feel about being in a teeny inescapable deck with up to six people for days at a time?” Leah Dawson, Makala Smith, Karina Rozunko, and photographer Nick LaVecchia not only crushed the test but were frothing at the chance to ride these mysto waves.

Here, Summer shares her trip diary of hunting by boat for peaks along the coast to Baja.  

All photos by Nick LaVecchia 

From left, Summer Nelson shows Karina Rozunko how to navigate. 


By Summer Nelson 

My older brother Jeff is always up for an adventure and rarely has work conflicts. It is maddening. He’ll call me at like, 11:00 AM on random weekdays. I curse, “Can’t he just text like a normal person?! I’m working!” It’s usually to invite me to some fun activity that I have to graciously decline because I WORK like a normal human. I should be flattered that I’m the one people reach out to when they want a gritty old-school adventure, but this time I was hesitant.

This past summer I had been generally busy. My husband Micaiah and I had over-planned our weekends with my daughter and two step-daughters: camping in Sequoia National Forest, going to Baja for surfing day trips, sailing to Catalina. It got to the point where all I was fantasizing about was a weekend at home gardening and reading.

But here was Jeff, telling me how fun the waves were going to be down in Mexico that weekend. There was set to be a break in the weather too, from foggy and gray to sunny and 80 degrees. Jeff lives on a 35-foot sailboat and spends his summers working as a Harbor Patrol at Catalina Island and his winters captaining yachts to and from different locations around the world on behalf of their owners. 

Reasons I shouldn’t go to Baja:

  • I have been really overwhelmed.
  • ...and recently promised myself that I would try to do less and “poco take it easy.”
  • SEA SICKNESS is a weakness of mine.

Reasons I should go to Baja:

  • We could take the Seeababes and have some fun surf sessions.
  • You only live once! Who passes up stuff like THIS??

So there I am, with our Chevy van absolutely stuffed to the top with sleeping bags, tents, surfboards, swimsuits, wetsuits, Seeababes, driving south. The AC is broken and it’s 94 degrees, so we have all the windows open. The noise of the wind whipping through the van becomes our soundtrack since it drowns out the radio music. Karina is so hot she wears just a yoga bra under her denim overall shorts. She complains that the restorative oil she put in her hair won’t wash out and she feels like it’s dripping in her eyes, so ties it up in a bun. It looks super formal and amazing as a side effect. We laugh, talk about surfing, boys, relationships. The usual.

The plan was to meet up with my brother at a campground on the beach that evening, feed him (since at this point he had already been bouncing around that area surfing for about a week and was low on food and water), spend the night on the beach, get up before dawn, shuttle everything onto the boat, and take off for a good spot 12 miles away. It will take us 2 hours to get there because the average sailboat speed is only about 6 miles per hour. Not the fastest way to travel.

As we grilled chicken and corn on the cob over the fire, my brother finally came stumbling out of the darkness, wet and hungry, much later than the planned meeting time because his motor had gotten wrapped up in some seaweed, which meant he had to stop to get it untangled. He dropped anchor off the shore near the camping spot and kayaked ashore in the dark, getting soaked in the surf in the process. We stood around the fire eating and talking about the surf he had been getting over the past week.

Jeff had left his roomy inflatable zodiac at Catalina so we had to shuttle back and forth through shore break on his two-person kayak in the pre-dawn moonlight. Each girl had a bag, at least two boards, and an iPhone they didn’t wish to get wet. Makala and Leah put on their wetsuits, threw their backpacks over their shoulders, and knee paddled out to the boat on their longboards. That is some confidence right there! One wrong move and all of their clothes for the trip would have been soaked. There’s not exactly a washer and dryer on the boat unless you count dish soap and the wind. The rest of us shuttled out on the kayak. Boards were dragged by the leash behind us or paddled out. It was hysterical. 

Next thing I know we are underway. Jeff goes down to the galley to make some coffee and I am at the helm keeping an eye out to dodge kelp beds for fear of the tangled undersea jungle getting caught up in the propeller. I feel happy. Karina and I are looking at the GPS map together, talking about staying in a depth of about 100 feet to avoid the kelp patties. The surface of the water is glassy and the sun is warming us. The conditions are as good as you could ask for. After a couple of hours of watching the coastline drift by we started to see waves breaking from behind. It can be hard to tell how big a wave is from the back but you can pretty easily get a sense of the shape. We could see that they were peeling clean rights.

As we approached the point that we were planning to surf at, the first thing we noticed is that there was NO ONE OUT!! Nothing is more thrilling than getting to surf good waves alone. We were looking at a glassy, waist-high, right-hand point break with not a soul in sight. At this moment I finally felt really excited. The effort of packing and planning and getting everyone there was over and it had worked! There we were, living what people daydream, going on an adventure, scoring uncrowded waves – it was really happening! To see us get ready to jump in the water at that moment would break every preconceived notion that “girls take a long time to get ready.” Within minutes, suits were on, sunscreen applied, boards waxed, and we were paddling from the channel over to the point. 

During the course of the morning, we shared the point and surfed until we couldn’t lift our arms anymore. A fog bank rolled in close to lunch time, which gave us all an excuse to take a break. The girls bundled up after having a sandwich back on the boat and nestled into little spots on deck where we napped and chatted while still being able to keep an eye on the surf. 

As the afternoon progressed, the wind picked up and blew the fog away but it was ruining the surface texture and the high tide was killing the waves. We decided to go ashore and explore the beach while keeping an eye out for the wind to calm. As the afternoon turned into early evening, the wind died down and the tide started to drop. The conditions suddenly switched again. The size had picked up to almost head-high sets and the waves were reeling across the reef with the tide having drained out. The conditions had done another 180-degree turn and the girls were on it. This time they opted to wear wetsuits because of the cooler early evening temperature.

 

I decided to skip the session and get dinner started. Down in the cozy little gally I was working on black beans, brown rice, and tacos, topped with avocado and tomato. Every five or ten minutes I could hear Jeff up on deck hooting for one of our crew getting yet another long right. After a few times, I couldn’t stand not being able to see what was going on, dropped what I was doing and scampered up the steps just in time to see Leah cranking a bottom turn around a section of white water and using her speed to drive back up the face of the wave and pivot in a perfect top-turn, throwing an arc of spray out towards the sky ablaze with sunset colors of red and purple. We howled our applause, and it felt like somehow even that session alone would have made the whole trip worth the effort.

The girls surfed until the last possible moment of light that evening and then paddled back across the channel to the boat. Once everyone was back on board, rinsed off, and bundled up in dry clothes, the six of us gathered in the cabin to eat. We squeezed in together passing food around the table, drinking boxed red wine, reliving the waves of the day—Makala’s barrel, Karina’s nose ride—it was one of those times that felt long and glowed with warm light from the lantern. Our world felt comfortably tiny and being in the present moment was the only place we could be.

MORE SALTY ADVENTURES: 


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