We came into Scorpion Bay and the town San Juanico at two in the morning under the light of a full moon. It was our first time entering an unknown anchorage at night. A bit nerve racking but it worked out. After a few hours of sleep the sun woke me up and I went on deck to see what’s about. First, we anchored in a good spot. Second, there are waves. I can see their small peaks peeling right over the sandbar. Nothing big but after being skunked in Abreojos anything rideable lightens my heart. We’re about two-thirds of the way down the Baja Peninsula but the water is still in the low sixties. Sleep can happen later, on with the wetsuits! I have always loved my wetsuits. It’s my super hero suit that gives me the power to play for hours in the beautiful cold Pacific blue. I got my first wetsuit for my eighth birthday. It was a fight to get that wetsuit on, I’d tug and squirm for twenty minutes to pull it over my heels and pop my hands out of the sleeves. Not anymore, neoprene has come a long way since the 80’s. Today’s wetsuits are super stretchy and a snap to get into, some don’t even have zippers, you just climb in through a doubled folded neckline. But I like having a zipper, getting out of these no-zipper suits is like getting out of a strait jacket.
So on with the wetsuits! Load the boards and people into the dingy we’re off. On shore, the smell of sunscreen, neoprene and surfboard wax mixes with the salt air as we walk up the beach. The smell of something dead drifts about too. Boards in hand we head into the sea, shuffling our feet to scare off stingrays. In deeper water we’re on our boards, arching our backs to give our arms the freedom to pull us through the waves and into the lineup.
A “lineup” is a group of people waiting to catch waves. I imagine there was some magical time in the past when surfers would actually lineup to catch waves, one person after the other. If you stayed out long enough you even got a chance for a really good set wave. In Santa Cruz this mythical sharing of the waves must have gone out of style at the same time as tie-die shirts because today it’s every person for themselves. Waves are a finite resource that is in high demand. With so many people vying for them two methods of getting your fix have evolved, there is the “get the hell off my wave or I’ll slash your tires” method and the passive aggressive “I’m going to slowly paddle my way into the perfect position and pretend I simply happened upon this spot at the exact right moment even though you’ve been waiting here since the last time I took your wave” method. It’s sad to say that in California if you want to surf on good waves you’re going to have to employ one of these two methods. It’s come to this because surfing is a drug, from what I hear it’s like heroin, once you’ve had the feeling you want it like you want air. This is especially true when you get into the second trimester of your surfing life.
I think of surfers as being in one of three trimesters. The first trimester consists of learning to surf. In this phase you’re timid, simply trying to figure out where to be to catch a wave, when the exact moment is that you can pop up to your feet, how you need to stand on the board so you don’t pitch pole feet over head, and finally, learn the subtle movements needed to steer the board down the wave and dodge the other folks in the water. All this while hoping your tires don’t get slashed.
The second trimester is all about getting your fix. It’s a period in which you jones for the feeling of seeing a beautiful wave marching its way towards you, turning and digging your arms into the water like you are digging yourself out of your grave and into a few seconds of heaven. This is the phase that overwhelms the mellow easy-going mentality of a surfer on land. We enter the water with ideological intentions but then we are out there and the waves are sooo good and there are so many other people and we just… can’t… seem… to … remember… what was I thinking, share this precious resource? Hell no! Get off MY waves! I’m just as guilty as anyone, I’m not proud of it but it’s the truth. And recognition is the first step to the third trimester.
The third trimester is the final stage of surfing. By this time a surfer has realized that a few moments of relief are not worth hours of turmoil. These surfers are patient and kind, they smile at you and ask how you’re doing. They say things like, “wow, this wave looks amazing, I think you’re up,” and “man, that was a sweet wave you just got!” When third trimester folks outnumber the second trimester folks the whole scene changes, the air is cleaner, the water is warmer, the waves are better. Even the second trimester folks mellow out.
Of course, if you make it through the third trimester you’ll stop surfing all together and simply sit in bliss beneath a tree or write a “how to live” book that will become famous once you die. I gave up on obtaining that stage long ago, I’d rather wallow in the mess of being human and enjoy the surf.
As we paddled out in San Juanico we were greeted with, “Hi there! You two are stoked you paddled out, the waves are great… What are you’re names?… I’m Kevin and that’s Rocky, ___and Megan… All right! Two Megan’s in the water… here comes a good one, Megan you’re up!”
Kevin teaches woodshop in Santa Cruz and Rocky is a personal trainer. These two guys are definitely in the third trimester. We had to force them onto waves. It was always, “Let’s get Megan into this one!” (other Megan was in her first trimester), “Jonah this one is for you… beautiful wave!”, “Go Megan!”, “Party wave!” And when they did take a wave they were a joy to watch. These guys are elegant surfers; feeling the nuances of water in motion and molding their board to fit its contours just so, stepping to the back of the board to turn like a telemark skier, then cross stepping to the nose to dangle their toes over the glassy face of the wave. Working with the sea to conserve effort and maximize fluidity, like pelicans gliding on a cushion of air just an inch above the water. A sweet sight.
San Juanico is a sleepy beach town two-thirds the way down the Baja peninsula. Its long sandy beach starts in the west, gracefully arches around the front of the town and stretches far to the south. Beyond the beach and to the east, large plateaus elongate the landscape and add to the feeling that everything must go south from here.
The locals make their living catching fish, octopus, abalone, and lobster, depending on the season. After being anchored for a day, two of the pangeros (fishermen) came over to say hi and check us out. They were returning from their octopus traps with a bin filled with forty or fifty octopus. I feel sad seeing octopus being caught. They are intelligent creatures whose lanky arms, fluid motions and general plasticity make then quite loveable. When I see them underwater they look at me like they have ideas about who I am, like they are considering whether or not we can be friends. They always decide that someone so clumsy can’t be trusted but at least they consider it.
It’s interesting to notice which animals I become attached to and which I don’t. Sheephead are a species of fish I have an attachment to. They are such friendly and jolly fish, the males with their big buckteeth and bright eyes, and the females with their demure pink good-girl faces. They are a tasty fish but I can’t get beyond my joyful judgments to catch them for dinner. But I’ll kill an urchin and feed it to a sheephead. Urchins just don’t grab at my heart like sheephead and octopus do… perhaps it’s their large number of spines and the lack of two big eyes. But I do appreciate urchins, the same spines that make them less loveable than the soft transmogrifying skin of an octopus also make them a fascinating facet of evolution. And they have DNA and ribosomes and little tentacles with suction cups and pincers… and they are so different than us, and yet, they are alive! That alone makes them amazing because life is amazing. And it makes them loveable because life is so loveable… I’m just not the one who loves them. I love the octopus and sheephead. So when I see a big bin of octopus going to market I feel sad. But the two pangeros in are stoked and show off their catch with pride.
San Juanico is also a tourist town for other local Baja towns. The beach is often full of Mexican families camping on the beach and enjoying the vistas, sea and sun. And, of course, it’s a fabulous surf spot, which draws in the gringos. It hasn’t been completely gringofied because of the long trek to get out here but the availability of wifi and good pizza are signs of the inevitable. But there’s no gas station yet! So I think it’ll keep its “out there” charm for some time yet. Of course, you can buy gas here, you can fill up at a local shop that brings gasoline in by the fifty-five gallon drum. I don’t believe diesel is available though.
We stayed a week, surfing in the morning and evening, doing a little freediving and spearfishing and taking it slow in between. The hardest part of the week was keeping the magnificent frigatebirds from pooping all over the boat. They are the worst, perching on the top of the mast and spraying their liquid acid poop all over the sails, dodger and deck. Not so magnificent. But we love boobies! We made friends with a brown booby who decided that Orion was the best thing to ever show up in San Juanico. It landed just behind our dodger one day and Megan fell in love and named it Double A. It didn’t seem to be scared of us at all. We simply walked around it when doing things on deck. Then we noticed it was pooping all over some really important boat parts and items that we didn’t want ruined. So we tried to get it to move. At that point we learned that it really wasn’t scared at all, wouldn’t shoo for anything, and had a serious beak to use to let us know this fact. We were finally able to move it by sort of pushing it along with our boat hook. When it flew off it just flew in a big circle and landed on Orion again… and again… and again. So we changed our tactic and nudged it along to the bow where its poop was easier to clean off. Amazingly it got the picture and stayed on the foredeck… all week! Double A would leave in the morning about 8 and return an hour before sunset to perch on the bow through the night. He became a part of our daily life. We looked forward to seeing him and calling out, “Good morning Double A!” and “Good night Double A!” And he brought a smile to our faces so we didn’t mind cleaning up his poop. It was mid-day when we lifted anchor to head south from San Juanico. We were ready to move on but we also felt sad because Double A was out and about. Hopefully he didn’t feel abandoned but we’d understand if he didn’t visit us next time we’re there.
Bye, Double A! You’ll always be our favorite boobie!