Sunday, May 29, 2011

This website has moved - the new address is

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Baja on my mind... Part 3

The Mountain Surfing Blog has moved. To read Baja on my mind... Part 3

Please click here to go to the
NEW Pow - Surfing Site

Saturday, February 21, 2009

...Baja on my mind part 2

...With our one extra gallon of gas we rolled out of our camp located high on the cliffs above the break to route-find our way down the northern Baja coastline. We were roughly a 3 hour drive west of Hwy One. Our goal was to go south down the coast and come out again down by Santa Rosalita. This section was a first for all of us so we knew the trip would not be completed without some unexpected twists. We left camp after a glassy morning surf session. Heading into the afternoon our sunset drive was filled with miles of scenery and scenes that can only be seen in remote Baja. The unmarked roads are gnarly enough and the characters you meet on them are as genuine as it gets. At a small fishermans camp at Punta Morro we exchanged names, met most of the family and asked and received directions going south in both spanish and english. We gave out some cold beers and then got back on the road(s) with our heads full of directions and cans full of cerveza.

That first day of driving turned into a moon bright night and then as concentration dimmed we found ourselves lost and driving down a few dead end roads and some roads that "just didn't feel right..." so we got smart, stopped, camped and awoke the next morning in a beautiful desert valley just a short distance from the "coast" road we thought we wanted.

It had been raining lightly on and off over the last few days. It never rains that hard - that often in Baja but when it does rain it turns that hard red dirt into slick-ass mud. Mud that cakes your tires and loads them so badly that it is worse than driving on ice You can barely walk on it without falling on your butt. Our Toyota 4runner sports 35"x12.5" mud tires and Detroit differential lockers so we were managing the stuff fairly well but my brother's VW bus was a little sketchy and having some traction issues. We drove carefully until I was towing my brother around a sandy beach stretch. I decided to drive towards the area of a small puddle. It seemed harmless. The area around this puddle ended up being a sea-silt bog from hell. This thing ended up sticking the 4runner and VW van axle deep in sea sludge and we were steadily sinking. After realizing that we were really stuck and we were not driving out of it we got busy. We unloaded all the gear to lighten things up. Out came the hi-lift jack, the come-along and the shovel. It took all the tricks in the book, a bunch of precise rock placements and a few choice words to get unstuck and out of that mud hole, but of course we did it. There was no other option!

No more forward motion

Yes, I towed my brother into a mud hole!

Family bonding time

Hi-Lift Jack - don't get stuck without one

Not your average mud hole

At camp that night we all noted that Patagonia owner Yvon Chouinard always says something like "an adventure doesn't start until something goes wrong." We camped at a nook on a cliff next
to the heaving pacific that we never would have stayed at were it not for that mud. Our cerveza supply had been drank, traded & given away by this time so luckily Andy had some vino tinto he uncorked for the tired celebrations that evening. The next day found us on that slick baja mud I now call "red ice" and we feared further silt/mud bog situations that looked imminent according to our crude but effective maps. By the time we arrived in a pristine coastal valley with visible red ice on the road for miles skirting an expansive mud/silt area we were getting worried about our gas levels and the prospect of having to tow the van and/or get stuck again so we flipped around the point to do a surf check. There we found Mike. Mike owns a lot of land right there and he told us about the Wild Coast conservation group, their efforts and his personal donation of lands to the group. His place was simple and sensible. He had the basics on hand for 3-4 months of surfing, sunning, wildlife viewing and no doubt seeing many old Mexican friends and meeting wandering, needy surfers like us. Mike uncorked one of his gas containers and let me have 5 gallons. When I tried to pay him for it he told me "No, it might be me who needs it next time." He concurred that our proposed coastal route could have some rough, nasty, slick and potentially mud boggy flats and arroyos. And the surf had gone flat so there was not much point in taking the longer, riskier coastal way. So he pointed us east in the direction of another road that would lead us up and over the mountains and drop back down to Hwy 1.

My kind of place

Mike's Pemex

That next 40 miles took us about four to five hours. An amazing tour through canyons, cordon cactus forest, palm fringed oases, rough-cut red-mud laden road grades and mountain peaks with expansive views of the pacific ocean to the west and the mountains and desert of Baja in all other directions. It was out there and it was great. By the time we hit Hwy One I was running on fumes. I put the extra gallon of gas in, we toasted roadside with some Bailey's, flagged a travelling windsurfer down and got directions towards the closest gas. We found out that we had hit Hwy One about 15 miles north of El Crucero and you can get gas there from the back of a Toyota pickup. The guys use the old school metal gas cans and a chunk of rubber tubing . They get the siphon started with their mouth (think gargling gas) and you purchase the gas in 5 gallon units. Both my brother and I filled up. The guys were stoked because we filled up their pockets with pesos and they loved our red mud covered Toyota as well.

Baja Family

Made it!

Andy left us in El Crucero. He had to drive north for a ski rendezvous with the KAVU Elements Tour crew in Colorado and New Mexico. It was raining again and we were heading south towards the 28th parallel and the bustling town of Guerrero Negro. The first hotel as you come to G Negro is on the right. We decided to check it out. We were so tired by this time. We had been camping for the past 11 nights over more than 1,500 miles with about 200+ of those miles being off road. We needed showers and a bed. I also needed a cold cerveza so I went directly to the hotel cantina for a Pacifico. I ordered two and was quickly introduced to Manuel the bartender and Ken from Garden Grove, Ca., the only other guy in the place. Manuel and Ken were old friends that visit when each is in the others country. They were great company, very generous and full of stories. Jyl and Hailey joined us after a while and we talked for hours.

Parallelo 28

After a good nights rest and some reorganization and washing of the vehicle we artfully dodged the roadside tourist registration building and went into G Negro for supplies. Soon we rolled down the skinny little road known as Hwy One towards Baja Sur. The truck drivers are truly amazing in Baja. They are great drivers but it is still disconcerting when they fly by you just inches away. Many of the dual trailer trucks would crowd the edge of the road so badly! It seemed almost miraculous at times that the trucks did not slide off the steep shoulders when taking a tight turn or passing another slower vehicle. Of course they do have a wreck every now and then but overall their driving is pretty amazing. The crazy people are definitely the bike tourers. They ride on no shoulder through congested towns and through hot, un-peopled desert stretches. The truck drivers are incredibly respectful of the cyclists I have noticed and I am sure the cyclo-tourers greatly appreciate that. There is a fair amount of drinking and driving down there and the road was built in the early seventies. Riding a bike down the side of it is something I will never do. More power to the folks who do.

That night found us in Mulege on the Gulf of California. We went out to a late dinner at the rustic El Candil restaurante and then camped. At daybreak we were back on the road heading south. This day would be a long day of driving. We made slow time due to the fact that a travelling carnival was on the road with us. They were heading to La Paz to set up. There were about 30 trucks and trailers in their caravan. Every time we would stop to get breakfast, gas or whatever we would have to battle our way back around these guys. We finally arrived in Todos Santos late in the day about 8-10 hours after our departure from Mulege. We set up a quick camp and slipped into a restful sleep.

Photo: Todos Santos in the distance

Photo: Locked, loaded, lifted

Photo: Todos Amigos Inc.

Time to surf. Although we had some decent waves up north it had been relatively small except for one session of just overhead peelers off the point. The trip had been great so far. We had definitely packed in a lot of adventure and lobster by this time. But we were jones'n for surf. Rolling out of camp early paid off for the first two days as we scored some small but nicely shaped beachbreak and a session at La Pastora. Then it went flat... Since we were staying close to Todos Santos I was able to check the online surf forecasts at La Esquina cafe easily. I saw something coming from the SW and decided we should go to a place we had surfed the previous year. We knew it was going to be a zoo at all the breaks in or near TS due to it being Christmas vacation and having been flat for a week. It was very warm in the air and water temperature and the sun was blazing. We knew it was time to move so we stocked the cooler and headed north to our new friend Armin's house for a Christmas eve party with the neighbors. The Cota's are a very generous and lively Mexican family who own much land north of TS. They fed us well and shared bottles of mezcal, tequila, anejo rum and Pacifico. I learned a new term that next morning... "Muy Crudo!" Meaning "Very Hungover!"

Photo: Casa de Armin

Our departure time from Armin's casa stretched later and later into the day as we did what we could to temper the previous nights damage. When we finally left it was afternoon and we had a long ways off-road to drive. We were going to find our way north through a giant land preserve along un-marked, un-named "roads." We would end up using the Baja 300 race-course whenever we could find it and lots of good-guesses and gut feelings to retrace our previous years trip to a reeling left-hander that we called Tortuga Reef.

Photo: Back road sign

After a late night roadside camp out in the middle of nowhere we made it to Tortuga reef around noon. The place had totally changed since the previous year when we had scored it going off. All of the sand had been stripped away and much more of the reef was exposed and the break was messy, unorganized and blown out. We headed back down the beach a few miles to camp out of the wind below a point we had passed earlier but not before scoring a dozen or more oysters straight off the reef for dinner that night.

Photo: Baja fresh!

The wind was blowing hard onshore when we setup camp and went to sleep. The next morning it had turned around and was going straight offshore into a building swell. Time to surf.

As with most of my Baja sessions, this trip, I was the only one out. The waves were small but punchy, warm and fun.

Baja Sur - beachbreak right

I surfed the beach break right in front of our tent three times a day.

Tube - tuck

On the morning of the third day we met Carlos and Emily. They had shown up the night before in their Toyota pickup for some camping and surfing. We talked together and I listened to Carlos tell of a hollow wave just a ways north. Later that morning I paddled into some decent surf further up the point. After lunch we fired up the truck and rolled up to what I will call Flesh Eating Reef. Here is what we got that afternoon.

Carlos ruled this shallow, hard breaking Baja reef. Here he is deep in another barrel.

Another view of Carlos in the barrel. Yes it is really that shallow.

That's me paddling into a little spitter. Should have been deeper... & standing

Me again flying along the reef.

Carlos flying

Carlos loves the Mexican green room

The afternoon glare was intense and so was the wave

What a payoff it was. A couple of days of clean, crowdless surf. My arms and body were getting tired! So when I got knocked off my board in a barrel and Maytag'd onto the sharp ass reef I knew I should paddle in. But, I didn't until the second time it happened and I noticed the blood in the water. I nursed the injury with a little Hornitos and Pacifico and we all had some post session laughs.

Bandages y Ballenas

In the next post: surf video from Baja Sur y Norte will be added as we head back down south to the international peace zone then high tail it north to eat mas langosta, get stung by a scorpion and surf another swell.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Snowing heavily... Baja on my mind

Living 3,500 feet above sea level has its advantages. It comes in the form of copious amounts of snow falling from the frozen heavens. But while I wait for this stuff to cover up last weeks tracks I simply cannot help but drift to thoughts of my most recent surf trip to Baja, Mexico with my wife and daughter. The trip did not feature the greatest waves ever caught but it did allow us to meet some of the nicest and most genuine people we have ever met. So while I sit here in laptop-land watching it switch outside from gently falling flakes to torrential dumpage I will post up some pictures and words to describe a month long adventure down the Baja peninsula in our heavily modified 1990 4wd Toyota 4runner.

Getting out of your northern latitude location is sweetest when you ca n leave before it actually starts snowing for the season. The pro snowbirds know this. And I only discovered it for the first time this year. We left Sandpoint the day b efore the storms rolled in and pounded down over 5 feet of snow throughout a month long period. However, Our trip down to California was weather-less. No problem car-camping in Nor. Cal and nothing but a few raindrops here and there to make the roads slick. Sunshine and dry, warm weather is driving made easy. We made it to Encinitas in 2 days, picked up our new handmade Syzmanski surf boards from Brian and cousin Todd at Fins Unlimited. I ordered a 6'8" squash tail thruster and a 6' 2" single bump quad fish. I also ordered Jyl a birthday board, a 6'4" fish. It is her first board and she was stoked to get it under her arm. My brother Andy also picked up a new handshape from Brian S., a 6'8" thruster with thinner and narrower dimensions than mine. Andy was driving his 1980 VW Camper Van on the trip so we loaded up the two rigs, shopped big at Trader Joe's and h eaded south.

Photo: Andy picks up his custom board & says "Hell yeah!"

Photo: The family quiver

The first night was classic baja style with a late arrival into said country and then a hilarious last minute shopping trip at the Wal-Mart in Ensenada to late night off-road drive into Punta San Jose. Waking there the next morning we found some small surf all to ourselves with the hustle and bustle of the fishing and boat repair going on at the bottom of the steep runway down the cliffs all the while. And we had the well graffiti'd "campg round" outhouse to ourselves.

Photo: Here I sit all...

Photo: Small but glassy J-y-l Sunrise

Photo: Andy new board prep

We were ready to get south and down to the Valle de los Cirios for some remote camping and surfing. Of course everything in Baja takes longer than planned and we ended up staying at Punta Baja that night after some extra-curricular, off-road route finding we decided to do until we ran into the nicest group of Mexican beach goers at the bottom of a coastal canyon. They ended up being workers at the Pemex station in town. We gave them a few cold ones and said thanks for the directions. They must have had a laugh and scratched their head when they saw my brother's 2 wheel drive VW bus down there in the rocks and sand. He definitely rallied that thing. Back up the Baja 300 offroad course we went until finding the now known easy to find Punta Baja...

After a windy night of sea spray and the anticipation of some good surf we awoke to more wind, sea spray and the local dog vying for falling food scraps. After meeting some nice pescadores and other locals we rolled up and back out on the road south. We pr ocured more gas that morning but never enough we later realized. Same thing goes for the cervezas. A few hours later after a couple of wrong turns we were at the spot. A point that sticks way out that pretty much catches whatever swell is out there. And it so happens that same point offers nice wind protection. So we traded cervezas por langostas with the ultra-cool fisherman and their families and surfed our brains out with new found friends Todd and Brian. Pretty much Baja heaven with 3 nice breaks to choose from, endless lobster tail and icy-cold beer to sip in the sun.

There is always a sign... if you don't look too hard

(below): Andy & Hector haggle

Andy Lobster Fever

Photo: Volkswagen with a view

All total there were 4 of us surfing there over the next 3 days. My 3 year old dau ghter Hailey got in on the surf action as well riding her new "custom" boogie board and looking
way cool in her new/used B ody Glove wetsuit. She was stoked and didn't scream too badly when I actually pushed her into the little inside waves. She dug all the lobster too. Her mom, Jyl, was on her first ever (as a surfer) surf trip as well. She loved it and got out on her new quad fish every chance she could. She progressed throughout the trip and is now looking forward to more surfing in the northwest and beyond. It was really fun to see a mom and a daughter learning to surf and play in the ocean together. I think it will give us a great family pastime for years to come.

Photo: A stoked 3 yr old

After the surf died down and the wind started to do its thing on we went down into the area known as Valle de los Cirios. Luckily we had scored some extra gas before leaving from Brian and Todd because we were actually only carrying about a gallon and half extra, between the two vehicles... to be continued

Monday, February 9, 2009

The blog is now ON

What is mountain surfing? I first have to ask myself that since I know that is probably what anyone else who stumbles onto my blog will ask. I don't really know for sure. It was just something I came up with when the blogger program asked me for a name of this rag. Not a very exciting answer, I know, but the truth nonetheless. I suppose if I were pressed and put on the hot plate to explain I could further explain. But only under duress! Ok, I give in... this blog is an attempt to share two sports that are related but take place in (usually) distant places.

The first sport that will be written about here is surfing which takes place in the oceans of the world and most everyone knows of and many have tried. I will be writing about trips and soul-sessions as well as equipment, history, innovation and more. I started surfing at a young age while growing up in San Diego, California. I was really into it and basically lived surfing up through my college years. But then after opening my bike business in Sandpoint, Idaho I became a pretty serious mountain biker in the summer and telemark skier in the winter and just kind of strayed away from the surf thing. That lasted for about 15 years! Thne last year I bought a new 6'10" Quad, spent a month and a half in Mexico with my family and have been pretty pre-occupied with increasing the size of my quiver and scoring good waves since. I am now hwhat is known as an inland surfer since I live in the mountains of Northern Idaho. So when I am at home in the mountains between trips chasing the swell up and down and all around the Pacific coast from B.C, Canada to B.C., Mexico I am staying fit and having fun doing what I call mountain surfing. It is also know by many other names as some call it snow-skating, pow-skating and some around here even call it chillerdecking. There is a company who have coined the term "no-boarding" and many simply just call it riding strapless. At any rate the other sport that will be on display here is kind of new, but not exactly, and pretty damn exciting.

I used to write quite a bit and always enjoyed it and now when I am at home in the mountains I suppose I should try to write more again about things I really love to do and that are always on my mind like surfing is... so mountain surfing just kinda makes sense... at least for the moment.

At times I find myself trying to explain to a new surfer friend met on a Mexican beach the thrill of riding a strapless board down a snowy mountain and vice versa trying to breakdown the essence of surfing to a friend who expertly handles any alpine snowboard terrain. Oftentimes, they just kind of give me a blank stare. This is probably most true when trying to give fellow surfers the feel for ridinga strapless sno-board. I think most non-riders probably look at the strapless boards as a novelty, I know that I did at first. But once I tried it my first impression was WOW! I thought this alot like dropping into a wave. Much more than snowboarding is. On the strapless board you are committed to picking a line and do not have bindings to fall back on. Surfing is so similiar. Either you make it or you fall. I only started riding strapless in the mountains last year after much encouragement from Chiller Decks founder, owner and all around hell-man Marc Edmunson and I now look forward to doing it much more than my old loves of snowboarding, skiing and telemark-ing. It allows for a lot of adventure, freedom and expression and spontaneity much like surfing does. It turns any snow laden terrain into a fun challenge and it keeps a person in tune for when riding the waves.

This mountain surfing blog will house text and images that try to capture the fever of untracked, less traveled places that allow everyday athletes to pursue their passion in a strapless fashion.