Remote deserts. Crystal clear waters. Empty sand-bottom point breaks, reeling hundreds of metres across the bay… Many of us dream of setting out on an off-grid surf adventure, but actually doing so is another matter. Fresh from a trip into the remoteness of the Baja peninsula, Beth Leighfield recounts a tale of washboard roads, nomadic surf communities and days spent surfing without seeing another soul.
The Road To Nowhere
We began planning our adventure through Baja early last summer. We had just graduated from university and emerged into the post-graduation, what-do-we-do-with-our-life-now stage. Fresh out of lockdown and with no jobs lined up, the attraction of a remote surf adventure proved too powerful to resist. As cliché as it may sound, our motivation for the trip lay around the discovery of perfect uncrowded waves. On reflection, I now see that we discovered much more. A desire to simplify living, returning to our primal state of needs over wants with an embedded connection to nature.
Baja California is a 1000-mile-long peninsula, located just off mainland Mexico. Famed for its secluded right hand point breaks, located hours from civilisation, the landscape is a rugged mixture of desert, sierras, and canyons. From our research, a robust and reliable rig, capable of managing some pretty tough off-roading, is a must if you want to be able to access some of the most remote surf spots in Baja.
We found our truck, Gerry (1995 GMC Sierra), whilst searching through some local second-hand dealerships. Despite the previous owner adding a few interesting modifications that left me feeling like I was driving a monster truck, it ticked the boxes for our adventure. We spent the next few weeks converting the back of Gerry into our new home, with a solar system, bed set up and roof racks. We quickly discovered that our biggest problem was going to be storage. Long hours were spent discussing how to store enough water and food to survive off grid in the desert for 10 days. Closely followed by how many cervezas we could fit in the fridge.
Six weeks after arriving in Mexico, conversion complete, we were ready to hit the dust and wend our way to the Baja coastline. In order to avoid some ‘hot’ country e.g. Cartel territory, we opted for the longer route of driving via the US to get into Baja. After crossing the border at Tijuana, we began our search for waves. The first few weeks was a steep learning curve of truck camping and navigational disasters. We quickly learned that google maps is not to be trusted and there’s no such thing as too many bungy straps for an off-road drive. After a few weeks around the populated Ensenada area, we pushed south in search of the remote sand bottom point breaks Baja is famed for.
As we turned off Highway 1 (the only highway which travels the whole peninsula), the road instantly deteriorated. Dusty, washboard tracks which vibrated the whole truck became the norm as we settled in for the next few hours. Conscious of breaking the golden rule, don’t drive at night - a mixture of semi-trucks hurtling down Highway 1, cattle freely roaming and dodgy cop encounters don’t mix well - we hit the gas and bounced our way towards our destination. As we pulled up, the light was fading fast.
A small community of surfers were camped around the bay. Not the empty line up we were hoping for but, after a long day of wrong turns, soft sand, and washboard tracks it felt comforting to meet some friendly faces. Later that evening, sitting around a campfire, we shared tales of our different experiences in Baja. Throughout our trip, it’s these moments that I have grown to really appreciate. People of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, coming together to share their story, all united by a common love and connection with the ocean.
"The set up felt like a dream … Catch a wave. Surf it 200 meters across the bay. Walk back up the beach only to repeat again and again and again."
The following morning, we woke early in anticipation of what was to come. Head high waves peeled across the bay, groomed by a light offshore breeze. The set up felt like a dream… A 20-meter paddle out from the beach to the take-off zone. Catch a wave. Surf it 200 meters across the bay. Walk back up the beach only to repeat again and again and again. With no phone signal and the distractions of modern life removed, we quickly settled into a new daily routine; driven by the elements with nature providing our stimulus. Our month here was perpetually filled with fishing, surfing, and cooking. We surfed this wave at all tides, winds, and swells. In the middle of the desert, it almost began to feel like we had created a new community and home for ourselves.
Nonetheless, we embarked on this trip to explore the most remote, isolated areas of Baja and the pull of the unknown soon drove us onwards. We had spoken to some Baja old timers, they told us tales of a right-hand sand pointbreak, which had the potential to produce minute long rides. The spot would be the furthest we had travelled into Baja’s wild west. A two-hour drive quickly turned into a four-hour 4x4 off-road mission. Just as our fuel gauge started to wildly dip, a large crescent shaped bay loomed in the distance. Pulling off the track, we drove along the beach until we reached a small, deserted fish camp sheltered by the headland. A couple of fishermen were packing up a panga. They informed us the lobster season had just finished and so we would be completely alone. 50km from the nearest town, nobody for miles. It felt slightly unnerving, but also exciting. Coyotes roamed the beach. Dolphins played in the surf and whales breached just beyond the bay. Low tide provided the opportunity to find dinner. With clams hiding in the tide line just beneath the sand and mussels covering the rocks. The wave itself was small, never getting above waist high. However, the minute long rides soon made up for that. Providing sections for long nose rides, and smooth cutbacks. We lived here for four beautiful days until the swell began to fade, and our minds turned to the journey south.
Living nomadically across the Baja peninsula, surfing some of the best waves of our lives. Surrounded by nature. Stripped back living. A humbling experience. Baja provided an opportunity to reflect on our priorities, and question what we truly need to be happy.