Blue Crush has a lot to answer for.
On the drive over the border to Mexico, at the start of a week long surf camp in Baja, it’s freezing cold and we’re packed tightly into the cabin of a truck with four strange men. The owner of the camp is a man of a large laugh but few words. In the back there’s our Hawaiian raised instructor, a motorcross mechanic and his father in law. As we cross into Ensenada the father in law pipes up and asks the silent crowd; ‘do you think customs would mind if I brought a half decaying dolphin back over the border?’
It was about that point that I started to wonder what I’d gotten us into.
Back in February, The Hungry One was pretty surprised when I floated the idea of going to Mexico to learn how to surf. I had my motives. The largest was a drifting instinct that the best way change gear from the certainties of routine, to a default headspace that welcomes adventure was to muffle our doubts while our bodies got busy learning something new.
After a week four hours south of Tijuana, in a camp of cabins, a casita, a dining room, a small bar, three hammocks, two dogs, and a long point break over rocks- I’ve learned a few things.
Here’s a smattering.
A carne asador taco ten minutes outside of Ensenada was one of the best ways to assuage any concerns about what we were doing. For roughly a dollar each we got a soft corn taco, topped with chopped flame grilled steak that’s been marinated in coriander, onion and chilli. Add some guacamole and radish and eat it with a habanero that’s been soused in orange juice then griddled. The habanero is like a hot rake that scrapes across your tongue. Eat one and for a while, that’s all you’ll think about.
Most conversations should involve a reference to the tides.
It’s a good way to get things started. Or to fill a lingering space.
Pop ups are the king of all.
If you can’t do it on land, you’re sure as heck not going to be able to do it in the water while you’re moving. For the first three days with both feet facing forward, toes splayed to the sides I looked more like a squatting bear than a slanted gazelle. ‘Pop up!’ ‘Pop up!’ was the soundtrack in my head. ‘Grrr’ was what everyone else heard.
With some early morning sessions stretching the plane-taut hamstrings from the viewing platform it started to happen more naturally. Soon I was dreaming about it too. Paddle paddle paddle. Stretch up. Swing. Pop. Balance. Stand. Surf… fall.
Balance involves muscles you never knew you had.
The best way to find your balance, it seems is to practice. And when you’re not in the water, practice involved early morning sessions on an Indo board. An Indo board is an instrument of torture known to pilates instructors, physios and surf instructors.
It’s like trying to balance a skateboard on a rolling paint tin. Squatting on it and shooting hoops while standing on it is a whole other kettle of fish. Muscles you never even knew existed soon start to quiver.
Literally. Trying to get a full steamer and booties off would be easier with a plunger to hand. The water in some areas of Baja is still bitingly cold in mid summer. So full, 4-3 wetsuits are the go. Wrestling with one of these is like going three rounds with a sucking snake that just won’t let go. It should be noted, that nobody, bar Luke Perry, looks good in one of these.
Sometimes there are no waves.
Even in a place where the point break is one of the longest you’ve heard of, and can on a normal day be ridden for up to 70 metres, Neptune can turn his back. On those days you’ve got two options. One is to chase after little burps you see in the water. Except paddling furiously only to fall off the back of something that paltry feels a little like sprinting for a bus and having the door close as you reach the stop. So instead; take refuge in a hammock. Or to take some time out with Blue Crush to perfect the art of dropping phrases like ‘double overhead’ casually in dinner conversation.
Beer tastes good.
I’ve never been much of a beer drinking girl. Ever. But when tiredness starts tugging at you like an undertow a cold ale can be pretty darn soothing. During the week I got pretty partial to drinking a Mexican ale called ‘Victoria’s. And not just because I liked being able to say at the end of a session; ‘I think there’s a beer up there with my name on it’.
Surfer’s march on their stomaches.
Well, mostly they lie on their stomaches. But if you’re stomach’s full then the board doesn’t feel quite as stern against your abdomen. A week of eggs, pancakes and beans for breakfast; sometimes with tortillas, which get folded like a napkin in your right hand to help push the food onto a fork. For lunch it was fresh seafood; sometimes crab or shrimp; sauteed with chilli and garlic, with salty red rice. At night it was sometimes habanero chicken, beef tacquitos, or barbequed ‘trip tip’, rare, with white corn and salad. And guacamaya hot sauce on everything.
Don’t blow horns at the beach with Australians in the water.
You can tell me again and again that there are no sharks in Baja. But when I’m 70 metres off the shore, there’s a black seal cavorting around next to me, and someone up on the bluff starts blowing a vuvuzela for shits and giggles, there aren’t many Australians who wouldn’t start looking around wild eyed for the telltale signs of a ‘man in a grey suit’.
It’s important to learn how to fall.
Sure, getting up is important. And the feeling of riding a wave 50 metres along the bay, coaxing more joy out of it’s two foot of steam is thrilling to the tips of your toes. But finding a way to dismount that doesn’t involve colliding your head or hands against jutting shallow rocks is pretty important. So the day that you find a way to slowly crouch back down again and sidle to your stomach, ready to turn around, paddle out and do it all again is one of the sweetest. And when that doesn’t work; there’s nothing wrong with falling on your butt.
It’s important to carry your own stuff.
If you can’t take care of your own stuff, you can’t really play. Learning how to carry a nine foot board down and up over sharp, mossy rocks, in a head wind kind of hurts. But when someone sees you do it and then calls you a ‘trouper’; it’s the sweetest feeling of them all.
Don’t drop in on your husband.
It’s just not nice. You’ll probably only do this once
Surfers are really great people.
The four men who came to Baja with us are some of the kindest, gentlest and most surprisingly earthly and spiritual folk I’ve ever spent time with. And if you really love the ocean, maybe it makes sense that you’d be interested in claiming a dolphin skeleton for your trophy wall back home. Maybe.
It’s good to get out of your head.
There is nothing I’ve found yet like the thrill of popping up and finding yourself walking on water. It’s impossible to think about anything else, except for how much fun you’re having- and how you can find a way to keep doing it.
I’m never going to look like Kate Bosworth on a surf board.
But I sure can have a good time trying.