“Oh, shit!” were two of the first words that came out of my mouth after crossing the border at Tecate. Just 15 minutes south of the Estados Unidos and la policía already had us pulled over. I might add that they weren’t in the wrong either, having caught my friend and me pissing on the side of the country highway. As the designated Spanish speaker of our group of three, I got the delight of getting us out of the situation.

Two cops in polarized sunglasses approached our truck, asked me to get out, looked me in the eyes, and said (in Spanish), “You show up in Mexico and urinate in public on the side of the road. This is a great indecency. A great indecency! What exactly are you dedicating your life to?”

His question caught me off guard. I find it hilarious now, but at that moment I was just a panicked gringo trying to get to Ensenada.

“You’re right,” I replied. “This is a great indecency. Tell me how you’d like to proceed.”

His partner searched the cab for alcohol and drugs, but all he found were Oreos and car parts. We were fortunate he didn’t ask to open the door of our pop-top camper where he would have quickly found a half drunk bottle of whiskey that we had enjoyed the evening before at San Onofre, in addition to (according to its packaging) a “high performance crossbow.” My buddy had thrown it in while packing at the last minute as a “funny thing to bring.” It wasn’t.

“We’re going to have to take you to the station to settle out the paperwork and fine. Your friends will have to wait here with your car.”

Dozens of scenarios played out in my mind.

“What if we settled the fine here instead?”

They looked at each other (they’ve done this before), then asked me, “What do you think is a fair amount?”

“How about 50 bucks?”

“50 for one piss. 100 for two.”

Just like that, most of my money for the week was gone, but it’s still the best hundred bucks I’ve spent in a while. It got us out of who knows what and back on the road towards a promising south swell that was due to hit in the morning.

We left Ventura for Baja for the same reasons most everyone goes: empty lineups, pristine point breaks, long dirt roads that (ideally, although all too rarely) drop you at said breaks, and the allure of seeing the unpredictable unfold. On a more personal note, I needed a break from life on land, which had been wearing on me after losing one close friend to Covid, and another last year in a freak shark attack south of Santa Cruz. For those of us who are grieving, the sea becomes our refuge. To quote Dave Rastovich, “It’s our own private church, our own private temple. It’s soothed pains that are real. [Surfing is] not just play. It’s not just this silly thing we go do. It’s more meaningful than that.” To me, Baja promised open landscapes and seascapes, a place to experiment with healing.

The first south swell arrived as predicted, and we had no other priorities but to hit all the spots that caught it. We scored racy rights at San Miguel our first morning then followed tips out of the Baja Bible (also known as The Surfer’s Guide to Baja California) to Punta San José. We were directed there a roundabout way, which required crossing multiple private ranches owned by rancheros who insisted on Tecates (a terrible beer that tastes amazing in Baja) as payment for trespassing. “You gringos tear up my roads with your motorcycles. I’ll need 6 Tecates from you.” The roads were hairy and steep, and required a lead foot to get over with the camper weighing us down. It took three times longer than expected, but eventually we got to the bluffs at Punta San José where we started our fire with gasoline and kept it going with dead agave plants under the light of a full moon. Mellow rights offered an ideal logging session in the morning.

“You’re leaving right when it’s about to start firing?” That was the voice of Mox, a salty contractor/surfer who’d grown up in Venice during the time of the Z Boys. He’d since landed at Punta San Telmo, a right point break that got good at high tide. We’d been waiting all morning for it to rise, but the dreaded onshore wind was picking up just in time for the perfect tide window. The “w” as I had started to call it–anytime you say “wind” it does exactly what you don’t want it to do–had ruined most of our afternoon sessions, and almost sent my longboard cartwheeling off a cliff early in the trip. Mox convinced us to stay, and we got our best session there. Head high rights lined up perfectly for 200 yards through the cove, and even the “w” let off.

After an eight day wave-chase without showering, we decided it was right to go out for dinner at the nicest hotel in Ensenada. Our salt- and sun-blasted faces got a double-take from the concierge, but our I&R button ups had us looking permissible enough to get service. It was one of the best meals of our lives. Get the lobster enchiladas.

I always come away from trips like this appreciating the importance of creating margin in my life. We’re most creative and engaged when we have the time to allow our thoughts to run freely. Lately, back home at C Street, I’ve been thinking about the beauty of the curl–that holy space where the wave is breaking, quite literally where it's giving its last breath. Surfers can only move forward by staying in its hold. The death of a wave lifts us up and brings us into a dance. Maybe the death of my loved ones will bring me into a more meaningful life if I’m willing to face it and make the drop.

What exactly are you dedicating your life to? I just want to live in the curl.

Words by Matt Stockamp

May 24, 2021

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