By Kate Neal for Destino Magazine
When the Beach Boys famously sang of sun-drenched afternoons spent riding waves, followed by late nights of relaxed bonfires on warm California beaches, the underground surfing culture was just beginning to surge into a worldwide social phenomenon. Soon, California was known as much for the swells as for the stars, and, geologically speaking at least, just a hop-skip-and- a-few-waves to the South, Baja California Sur was cut from the same turquoise-blue and sandy- white cloth.
It was no surprise to see vagabond surfers venturing down the West Coast of Baja Sur after hearing Sailors boasting of their feats when stopped over at the Southernmost tip of the Mexican state in the late 1950s. The years that followed saw small surf camps and colonies popping up and down the coastline, although the region didn’t truly thrive until the 1980’s when a boom of development hit the “Tip”, adopting the slogan “What happens in Cabo, stays in Cabo” long before Las Vegas called it their own. Today, campsites, casitas, and even luxury surf resorts for all levels of experience are an easy find, as modern day wave riders concede that their pioneer fathers really knew their stuff.
Cabo San Lucas has the distinction of being at the intersection of two great bodies of water, The Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. It is this convergence that allows year round surfing in the area, with a south swell in from the Sea of Cortez in the spring and summertime, the waters warm and the days long, and the Pacific Ocean bringing in a north swell, landing cold waves on the shorter days of fall and winter.
“For the beginner, surfing lessons are bound to save a person a lot of time and possible injuries,” offers local legendary champion surfer Mike Doyle, who, in the 1960s, worked as a stunt double in movies such as Gidget and Once Upon a Wave, while simultaneously holding down consecutive world titles. After all, there is a lot to be said for false confidence when venturing out to ride upon the spine of a very wet beast that you have no immediate control over. Besides, instruction has the innate ability to humble those who may otherwise hold fast to a belief that they can just DO what they want to do, and that is the kind of attitude that can seriously harm a person.
Doyle’s school, Mike Doyle’s Surf School, located in Cabo Surf Hotel in San Juan del Cabo offers not only instruction from experienced and well-trained surfers, but a perfect beach on which to practice. Known as Old Man’s, this right point-break, with powerless waves and a flat rock and sand bottom, is ideal for beginners.
“And when you’re ready to venture out,” Doyle continues, “Don’t be afraid to ask the locals for advice about rocks or riptides, but be humble and respectful when doing so.” In other words, know your capabilities. It is true, as Tourists we are asking for insider information, looking to crowd their sweetest of spots and expecting them to accommodate to our degree of experience. Being aware of this and adhering to a level of respect for those who actually inhabit the area is a big step in learning the best places to surf in Baja Sur, lest you be directed elsewhere as a result of an arrogant query.
Local surf enthusiast Tony Mendoza offers his thoughts on conditions in Los Cabos, by reminding surfers to be alert at all times. “Sometimes conditions can change fast,” He says. “You want to be paying attention to what is going on. A couple of seconds can be the difference between two very different outcomes.”
Currently, we are seeing more and more surfers as recreational interest increases, while, geologically speaking, new surf spots don’t just pop up out of nowhere. These factors can lead to overcrowding during high season, often seeing up to 40 people out at a time, creating stress and tension. Again, awareness of not only your own surroundings – where you are and where you intend to ride, but how you may possibly play into the line of another surfer, is key to a safe and fun time.
All said, respect and humility are important in every aspect of surfing- from lesson one to actually riding a swell, and everything touched in between, and that fact seems appropriate. The very real possibility of danger, after all, is an omnipresent counterpart to fun in this recreational sport. Solid instruction paired with a respect for other surfers – locals and tourists alike, a strong appreciation for the ocean and the power of her waves, and an innate balance of confidence and humility, will make for a great day of surfing, no matter the skill level.
The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson was quoted once as saying that on the beach you can live in bliss, while just years prior, poet E.E. Cummings said, “For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always ourself we find in the sea.” Marrying the two wisdoms – one born of bushy bushy blond hairdos and the other of bohemian rhetoric, truth can be found, and both bliss and self- discovery are at the ready in the white sands and turquoise waters of Baja California Sur