At even the most remote spots in Baja, the chances you’re the first one to surf a break are low, but with an empty lineup and not a building in sight, you can get the full surf-pioneer experience within a few hours of the California border.
The variety of surf experiences you can have in Baja runs the entire spectrum. You can ride your first wave on a longboard with the Pescadero Surf Camp or you can win US$50,000 for charging down an 18-meter (60-ft.) face at Islas Todos Santos. The saturated breaks along the northern beaches from Rosarito to Ensenada can feel like extensions of the localized and aggro scene in Southern California. Those willing the walk to the next point or drive a little farther can quickly fall off the known surf map and find their own mecca.
Perhaps the biggest threats to Baja surfing aren’t the fleets of Honda Elements or the longboarders poaching waves on the outside but the accelerating development along the coastline and the drive to close off beach access along both sides of the peninsula.
There are more than 75 named breaks along the Pacific coast, across the corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, and up the lower East Cape. Some, of course, are more accessible than others. Which region you choose depends on the time of year, your surfing ability, and how much time you have. Some of the top surfing destinations in Baja include the coast near Ensenada, Islas Todos Santos, Scorpion Bay, and the beaches near Todos Santos and El Pescadero on the West Cape.
There are more than 25 known point, reef, and beach breaks around the cape alone. Stop by the Costa Azul Surf Shop along the Corridor at Playa Costa Azul or in Todos Santos for a map with descriptions of the breaks or buy a copy of the incredibly detailed Surfer’s Guide to Baja California, by Mike Parise.
Water temperatures on the Pacific side are only slightly warmer than in Southern California until you get south of Bahía Tortuga. In fact, at Punta Banda near Ensenada, the water is actually colder than in San Diego, due to the proximity of the California Current, which causes an upwelling of colder waters from below. You’ll need several millimeters of neoprene to be comfortable in temperatures that range from as high as 21°C (70°F) in the early fall to the 10–11°C (low 50s°F) in the spring.
The southern Pacific coast warms to highs of 24°C (about 75°F) in the fall and drops to 15–20°C (in the 60s°F) in the spring. The Corridor gets even warmer, with temperatures often exceeding 26°C (80°F). A shortie-style wetsuit works well in these warmer waters.
Experienced surfers bring as many boards as possible for their Baja expedition, plus wax and a patch kit for repairing dings. A cooler and first-aid kit will come in handy as well. Surf shops in Ensenada and San José del Cabo and at Playa Los Cerritos in El Pescadero, near Todos Santos, sell boards, apparel, and accessories.
Airlines have made it more expensive these days to fly with your quiver; but a few allow surfboards for free. Check the going rate before you choose a carrier. Renting a board sounds pretty good when checking it costs US$100 each way. For longer trips, buying and reselling a board while you’re there is another option.
Baja Surf Adventures (BSA, toll-free U.S. tel. 800/428-7873, www.bajasurfadventures.com) runs a surf camp in Northern Baja that welcomes novice-to-advanced surfers. Other surf camps are located in El Pescadero (West Cape) and Bahía Magdalena.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition