I will launch the tour for my new book, Surfing the Border, on Saturday January 24th in Coronado and Imperial Beach. I will be speaking and signing books at the Coronado Library Winn Room from 2-3pm and then from 5-6:30 pm I’ll be at the Pier South Resort in Imperial Beach. Should be a blast!!
My kids filmed and edited this little video on our recent trip south of the border that includes their little buddy Josh.
But there was swell. It was just a matter of finding a sheltered corner of San Sebastian’s Bahia de la Concha that would provide a respite from the stormy conditions.
“Dad, there are waves breaking in the river,” said Israel excitedly as we drove past the Rio Urumea on our way to the beach. “It looks just like the entrance to Mission Beach when it gets big.”
I was with my two sons, Israel and Daniel, and my French cousins, Vincent and Margaux. With a base camp at a campground just south of Biarritz, we had decided to cross the nearby Spanish border and spend the afternoon surfing and sampling the cuisine of San Sebastian, population 430,000, considered one of Europe’s premier culinary capitals.
“You almost can’t find bad food in San Sebastian,” said Esteban of the Pro Surf Shop in the French surfing village of Guethary.
As I headed south along the seaside route along the Playa de la Concha, in our blue Renault mini-van, we could see waves breaking at a little headland that divides Concha from Playa de Ondarretta.
As we passed the point, we could see 2-4’ lefts were breaking. Just a few people were out. “Let’s get out there,” said Israel.
For the next hour or so, the boys and Vincent and Margaux enjoyed the semi-closed out beachbreak waves in the company of local groms. I took photos from the malecon above, where a parade of well-dressed tourists and local residents, or donostiarras, as they call themselves in Basque, strolled by. The Basque name for San Sebastian is Donostia.
On the other side of the point, was a shorebreak, where local bodyboarders rode waves that bounced off the rock and high tide and mutated into an ugly giant ogre of a barrel. The boys and Vincent rode a few waves with a couple of visiting Australian bodyboarders.
They got pummeled.
Later that evening we ate a bevy of delicious mostly seafood tapas at a bar in the Parte Vieja. Scores of bars and restaurants play host to the tourists who flock to the tiny cobblestone streets of San Sebastian’s old quarter each summer.
The next day after our epic session at Guethary (see last week’s article), we headed to the fabled seaside village of Mundaka, located east of San Sebastian.
Recently ranked the 11th best wave in the world by Surfer Magazine, Mundaka is a perfect left point that used to be a stop on the ASP World Tour. Former World Surfing Champion Tom Curren told Surfer that he actually considers Mundaka to be the best wave in the world, “Because it’s the best I’ve seen yet.”
I had surfed Mundaka back in early October 1983 at the age of 19 when I was a UCSD undergraduate spending a semester at the Complutense University of Madrid. I had taken the overnight train from Madrid to Bilbao and caught bus from there to Mundaka.
As the bus rounded a curve along the route that follows the Ria Guernica, I caught a full view of the point. Perfect 6-8’ offshore waves were peeling down the point.
A few minutes later I literally almost jumped off the bus, left my gear with an Aussie camped out in the town plaza, and paddled out for a session of beautiful warm-water point waves.
I didn’t expect it to be as good this time. But with a swell running, I figured we would catch something. As we passed the same point where I had first caught a glimpse of Mudaka surf 28 years earlier, the boys spotted the lineup and the surf. “It is going off,” said Israel.
While it was far from perfect, with 3-5’ semi-glassy surf, the boys spent about three hours surfing sand-bottom hollow lefts with a small crowd of locals. I surfed for a while and then retreated to a local café with a great view of the lineup to drink strong Spanish coffee.
The boys later joined me for lunch. As they devoured their giant bocadillos and surveyed the beautiful harbor and peeling waves, Daniel said, “It was crowded, fast and perfect. I can’t wait to come back.”
I can’t either.
My sons made this second video of their recent Mexico surfing adventures with their buddy Josh.
My groms made this video in sloppy mid-morning surf in Oaxaca.
From my IBPatch Southwest Surf Column of April 27, 2011:
There is a lot of speculation these days on whether it is safe or not to travel south of the border. To ease concerns and dispel some of the myths, Surfline recently did an interview with me, Sean Collins and Gary Linden on how to stay safe while surfing and traveling in Baja.
Due to the ongoing drug war in northern Baja, the justified concern over safety for traveling surfers has meant that those of us who cross the border find a lot of uncrowded waves. More importantly we meet lots of friendly people, camp on white-sand beaches with perfect waves, and enjoy the warm, clean water.
Lots of IB surf families are veterans of Mexico—and especially Baja—travel. The Johnson surfing clan, Daren, Terri and Josh, took a trip with a couple of extra IB groms over Spring Break.
“Baja was fun,” said Terri. “On the way south, the guys stopped at the Wall and Conejo (Terri flew down). Neither place was epic. The Wall was flat and Conejo was windy, though they did get a few waves at Conejo.
“Then we surfed a few days in Todos Santos where it was peaky and fun – water was warm and clean. Spent most of the next week on the East Cape where we caught loads of waves with warm water and surfing in trunks. Coming home Daren and the boys surfed Scorpion Bay and Alejandro’s. Small waves but the groms still had fun.”
According to Terri, “I saw more sea turtles of all sizes on the East Cape than I’ve ever seen down that way before. Even had a big one pop up right in front of me as I was paddling into a wave at Nine Palms.”
I am looking forward to taking a family surf safari with the Johnsons to the fabled point breaks of Oaxaca in June. Should be a blast.
Daren and I both share the same philosophy about surfing with our children. We both know that we are lucky to have even a chance to spend so much fun time with them now. Because in a few years they will be grown up and off on adventures of their own.
Last year Daren and I sat on an East Cape beach watching our sons surf perfect right point waves. I nodded in agreement as Daren said, “I have as much fun watching the boys ride waves as I do surfing.”
The Merrills—Steve, Julie and Cheyne—are also hardcore Baja vets. Expert fishermen and surfers, Steve and Cheyne are as likely to score great waves and big fish. Their Spring Break expedition to the Cape Region landed both.
“Steve and Cheyne caught some great surf in San Jose del Cabo,” said Julie. “We did not have time to surf the day we arrived, but over the next two days, there were six-foot waves coming in at regular intervals. For three hours each day, between around 12:30-4:00, there were only six guys out, and that included Steve and Cheyne in the line up.
“On the third day the surf was flat and blown out so we made our way to the East Cape and checked in at Rancho Leonero, a fishing resort,” Julie reported. “It’s very quiet there and very laid back, much different from the hustle and crowds of Cabo San Lucas.
“We took a panga out the next day and caught bonita, cabrilla, pampano, and yellowtail. The hotel cooked our catch for us and we shared it with as many people as we could. It tasted incredible and we ate until we couldn’t eat another bite. Already we are talking about our next trip to Baja and have already started planning our summer road trip. Can’t wait!”
So what are you waiting for? See you in Baja!