From my previous 27 trips to Baja, I had developed a checklist. Upon landing, the checklist would be immediately put into effect; pass customs, grab bags, get taxi, get food, establish a home-base, and pick up surfboards from Juan and Carlos. Check, check, check.
The first week flew by and I checked off each item along the way. Eight days into the trip, the waves at my home-base dried up so I decided to go on a short scouting mission. Upon returning from a waveless expedition up north, Juan and Carlos jokingly jabbed me knowing my search would be a wash. While joking, their jabs landed hard. It was my 28th trip to Baja and I hardly knew the faces in the water. I started to realize my checklist had prevented me from making real friends, even in this familiar place where I often received a local’s discount.
I had a week and a half left to my trip and decided to crumple my checklist and let go of the agenda. I was determined to spend my remaining time getting to know the real locals, Juan and Carlos. With my new found freedom, I learned more about their personal stories. They are brothers, husbands, and Carlos is expecting his first kid. As we shared our stories and connected more on the beach, a swell finally picked up.
Carlos and I paddled out together and there was an evident change in his demeanor. His comedic and playful disposition had hardened into a stern focus. “Use the three palm trees onshore and the outside rock to your left, otherwise you’ll go into the rocks,” Carlos explained.
I was the first to drop in, the wave was clean. I grabbed my rail and dragged my hand across the glassy wave. As Carlos gave me a hoot, I hit a bump, my fins popped out of the water, and I got slammed. Surfacing, I took a quick breath while another wave crashed overhead, then another. Collecting my board, I paddled out of the impact zone. As I made my way to the shoulder, Carlos came ripping across a wave, smirking. He was undoubtedly going to get a stand-up barrel.
Meeting back in the line-up, we laughed at my fall and built stoke around Carlos’s bomb. Eventually, my chance of redemption arrived. Sticking an airdrop, grabbing rail, I was in it. Just as the wave was about to barrel, I was underwater spinning and tossing. My board was in two. Carlos wasn’t far from where I signaled I was okay. Back on shore, I began collecting pieces of the board off the beach where I found Juan. He laughed, then offered me his board and sent me out again.
In no time, I was back at it, right next to Carlos. “Maybe the third time is the charm, huh?” We both laughed. The next wave came and Carlos stuck the drop and took it to the beach. Now alone, I let a few waves pass reflecting on the relationship we had developed over the past few years and how suddenly over the past week, it had evolved into genuine friendship.
As the next wave approached, I took the drop and glided over the surface of the wave. Tucking into a short barrel, I made it through the inside section and back to shore where Juan and Carlos were waiting to grab some celebratory dinner. We huddled around cheap beer and tamales out of the back of an Astro van and laughed about the epic turn of events.
The swell continued for another day and then faded out just as I boarded my flight. I watched through the tiny window as my friend’s home dissipated under clouds. I was already looking forward to my 29th trip with no agenda or checklist to get in the way.
About the Author: Dalton Johnson is a photographer and writer enamored with helping others design their lifestyle. His ultimate goal is to rewrite the American Dream by inspiring others to design their lifestyles through rigorous introspection to consciously consume experiences instead of things. Follow more of Dalton’s adventures at @daltonjohnsonmedia
Check out some of Dalton’s favorite gear for roadtippin’ here.