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One Man’s Reflection of Two Separate Great White Shark Attacks

 

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

It’s no secret that surfing comes with its lists of risks. From drowning, bacterial infections, reefs and rocks, jellyfish and stingrays, crazy locals, to random freak accidents, the list can go on and on… There’s even rogue dolphins who miscalculate their beautiful leaps onto the unsuspecting surfer. Ouch.

But none other than one of our most widely whispered topics, SHARKS, are more associated with the risks of being a surfer.  Royce Fraley, a long-time surfer based in Occidental, California, is incredibly aware of this risk and has encountered our infamous grey suited landlord not once, but twice in the chilly Northern California waters.

“In both situations, it’s amazing how your brain kicks into a ‘fight or flight mode’ real quick,” said Fraley. “You automatically want to believe it’s not happening to you, but it is. All these thoughts happen within milliseconds.”

Like jelly to peanut butter, sharks and surfers go hand-in-hand by reputation, sans, well, let’s hope tastiness. In fact, based on my personal conversations, one of the most cited reasons why folks decide to not surf is because of our association with our oceanic toothy counterpart.

But consider statistics—for the average surfer who is in the water maybe not every day, but most days and is floating in the ocean for an extended period of time, what is the actual risk?

“No one plans to paddle out and hit a rock,” said Sean van Sommeron, Founder and Director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, California. “Of course, every time you paddle out, you’re taking a risk. The statistics on shark attacks on surfers is very low on the list of possibilities. Surf board accidents are much higher on the list.”

Surfer Magazine did a lovely and realistic calculation for California surfer folks and concluded that California surfers have a 1-in-25,641 chance of being the victim of a fatal shark attack.

We’ve heard it all before—“you’re more likely to get struck by lightning.”

But sometimes lightning can strike twice for those special outliers, although they are few and very–VERY far between. For Fraley, who has logged more than 40 years of surfing around the world, charging double-overhead mysto reefs smack dab in Northern California’s “red triangle,” a little “brush” with our toothy landlords may be expected. However, for Fraley, not once, but twice did he pay rent and came out relatively physically unscathed.

Royce Fraley charging in Northern California. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

No hesitation or barrel dodging–Royce Fraley charging in Northern California.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Northern California’s got a reputation among the salty-haired to mean two unpleasant things with one tempting caveat: cold and sharky…but lots of uncrowded spots! For Fraley, 10 is a crowd and spots are most often protected from wanton commercialization by thick blooded locals, that is if the break and pirate-like foggy coastline doesn’t scare you off first.

I got to know Fraley over the interwebs and he shared both stories of his attacks, which were covered by the SF Gate in 2006. More than 10 years has passed since his latest attack in 2006 and I was curious to see how he still manages to charge the crazy Northern California surf.

First Attack: September 1, 1998

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California. Photo by: Patrick Parks

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California.
Photo by: Patrick Parks

A smallish surf day brought Fraley and a few of his good friends to surf Russian River, a spot located north of Bodega Bay, which is known for beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife and draining barrels. The trio were the only people in the water. Just as Fraley’s friends caught a few waves towards the inside, Fraley laid down on his board to rest from paddling along the sandbar.

Out of nowhere, he was launched around four-to-five feet into the air and disappeared into a giant burst of whitewater.

“If you took both palms of your hands and slam them on the hood of your car as hard as you can, that was the sound of this incredible impact,” said Fraley.  “All I could see was whitewater all around me.”

Luckily, after that shocking launch, Fraley landed perfectly on his board in the water. The nose of the shark left a half-inch imprint on the bottom of Fraley’s board, even leaving behind a little skin.

“I think that shark was very surprised it hit something that was so damn hard, which was my fiberglass surfboard,” said Fraley. “That strike was like an ‘okay, I’m going in big time’ attack.”

After he landed, Fraley did not hesitate to paddle his 6’10” Campbell Brothers pintail towards the beach, his friends waiting on the sand, when he saw the water close to him swirl and watched as the shark drew up alongside him and chase him in.

“All I saw was the shark’s back and it’s dorsal fin,” said Fraley. “His dorsal was parallel to me and I was like ‘are you kidding me?!’ And before I knew it, I was in super shallow water and the shark just turned off.”

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Once he reached the beach, Fraley collapsed while his friends quickly checked him for wounds. A little shaken, Fraley and his friends decided to conclude their session with much needed tequila shots and local Indian cuisine to celebrate his most interesting, rare and harrowing encounter.

“If you’re tracking the shark, it will be eyeing you, too and eventually it will take off,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, director of the California State University, Long Beach’s Shark Lab. “If you lose track of the shark, the first place you should look is behind you because that’s what a predator, like a shark, will do–they’ll move out of view.”

Dr. Lowe explained they often see this tactic while tagging great white sharks off of Southern California’s coastline. The smaller, more juvenile great whites are more easily scared off, however, the bigger guys and gals will often move off to the side and sneak up from behind. Dr. Lowe recommends that if a surfer loses track of a shark, to do a 10-second count and look behind. Sharks can identify an animal or person’s head and might often consider the surfboard’s nose as a person’s “head,” therefore recommends a surfer to also track with their board, too.

“If their prey know they can see them, there’s a chance that the predator won’t be able to take them down and may get hurt in the process,” said Dr. Lowe. “Your surfboard’s ‘head’ will make them sense they are being watched.”

Second Attack: December 10, 2006

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A pack of dolphins catches waves in Northern California. Photo: Royce Fraley

Eight years had passed since Fraley’s Russian River encounter, and surfing was still on his to-do list. Fraley was itching for an evening session at Dillion Beach at a spot the locals like to coin as “the shark pit.” About 1,000 yards off the beach awaits a perfect and incredibly long A-frame peak that used to produce 3-500 yard rides in the 90’s. The spot is still filled with it’s fair share of big wave action as, according to Fraley, they will often see Mavericks crews and tow-in folks cruising the out-to-sea style lineup. If the location doesn’t make you flinch, then maybe a nice long paddle over the deep channel will.

“At this point, I had been surfing this spot for 15 years, had done this many times before,” said Fraley. ” It was a beautiful sunny December evening, right after a storm. A big set came through and I caught a couple of waves, which pushed me over into the channel.”

With the increasing swell, Fraley took his time getting back to the lineup, pacing himself for more waves. He rested on his brand new 7’6″ big wave board and as he was gliding over the channel, the water around him began to boil like a cauldron, the right side of his board lifted out of the water and Fraley rolled off the board.

“It was almost like the shark was a submarine surfacing,” said Fraley. “His bottom jaw hit the underside of my board and I started rolling off as the shark bit down.”

Fraley felt a sting in his right  hip as the shark dove down with Fraley’s 10-foot big wave leash wrapped around it’s mouth. As Fraley instinctively grabbed ahold of his board for flotation, the shark dove even deeper beneath the surface with Fraley in tow. In the time spent below the surface, he experienced a gamut of emotions beginning with strong denial, anger and pain–to acceptance.

“There’s a part of me that accepted what was happening, I felt peaceful,” said Fraley.  “Right when I felt that, I bumped off the side of the shark. It felt like someone pushed my whole right side up against a school bus.”

Royce shows relatively minor cuts after his attack. Photo: Royce Fraley

Royce shows relatively minor cuts and board damage after his attack.
Photo: Royce Fraley

When Fraley reached the surface, incredibly shaken, he paddled towards a surfer, who immediately paddled away from him towards shore, and Fraley was left to make the long paddle on his own. A lifeguard, Brit Horne saw the commotion and quickly came to Fraley’s rescue where he found three imprints from the shark’s teeth on his right hip, which did not require stitches.

The University of California, Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab estimated the great white shark Fraley encountered to be about 15 feet long and weigh about 3,000 pounds.

“Not all bites may be predatory, sharks may be sending signals saying ‘you better back off,'” said Dr. Lowe. “Surfers often don’t even know the shark is in the area, and the shark hits and takes off. We just don’t know what the motivating factors are prior to those bites and it’s very rare that people actually witness those behaviors happening, so we have no context.”

Post-surf/attack session, instead of tequila shots and yummy food, Fraley was greeted with a barrage of news media at his front door when he got home. Even Good Morning, America! wanted an interview, but Fraley preferred to keep the news media’s often jarring sensationalism out of his evening and simply reflect on the greater lesson.

Reflection

"The shark pit" looking good enough for a surf. Photo: Royce Fraley

“The shark pit” looking good enough for a surf.
Photo: Royce Fraley

Since his latest shark attack, Fraley has had time to contemplate his extremely rare attacks. Although from time-to-time, he understandably experiences a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Fraley still manages charge big waves, but, seemingly remains more vigilant and paddles out with friends, on most days.

“The biggie for me was to actually go back out at the same spots,” said Fraley. “I had that need to be around other people and even now, I’ll be surfing any spot and sometimes I have a mini-panic attack, It’s almost like PTSD, but I usually tell myself to calm down and breathe and that definitely helps.”

Even still–it certainly hasn’t deterred him from charging full NorCal swells. In fact, he and a few friends will often search for lonely peaks along the less traveled areas of the north coast.

“Since the shark attacks, it really made me look at the way I carry myself and the way I am with others,” said Fraley. “The sharks taught me to get over myself, be humble, be considerate of others in and out of the water, to have a reverence for every moment you have, and to get over your own bullshit.”

Similar to how Native Americans often associated these experiences with predatory creatures, Fraley relates to this school of thought and sees both encounters as blessings.

“That’s how I have to look at my situation,” said Fraley. “It taught me to have a little bit more respect for yourself and life. It helped me realize how precious things are. So much of our society is ‘dog-eat-dog’ when we should be giving waves away, hooting someone into waves–bottom line: don’t be freakin’ selfish.”

Another Royce NorCal nugget. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Another Royce NorCal nugget.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

 

Confess: How Does the Ocean Make You Feel?

Sometimes no words can describe how it feels to be in, near or on the ocean. There are times where one simple word pinpoints it all. Conversely, the ocean experience has produced many essays, books, poems, songs, art and even scientific studies. Like individual personalities, our ocean experiences are often unique and special.
In one word, I found out what the ocean means to some of my agua-junkie pals.
Mahalos to my friends who shared their photos and words!
"Wet."-Rob Grasska
"Wet."-Rob Grasska
"Wet."-Rob Grasska
"Alive." -Bekah Baylock
"Alive." -Bekah Baylock
"Alive."-Bekah Baylock
"Tranquilo."-Josh Baylock
"Tranquilo."-Josh Baylock
"Tranquilo."-Josh Baylock
"Home." -Devyn Hartnett
"Home." -Devyn Hartnett
"Home."-Devyn Hartnett
"Present."-Jen Castelo
"Present."-Jen Castelo
"Present."-Jen Castelo
"Life."-Lucho Soto
"Life."-Lucho Soto
"Life."-Lucho Soto
[dt_fancy_title title=”Confess:” title_size=”h3″ title_color=”title” separator_style=”dashed” separator_color=”custom” custom_separator_color=”#00dfef”]

How does the Ocean make you feel? Share your photo and include the hashtag:
#TheOceanMakesUsFeel

Sponsor-less? Derek Peters Takes Care of Business

I’m sure after the four days this video went live on Surfing Magazine’s web site, Southern Californian ripper Derek Peters has since received numerous contacts from sponsors of all caliber. And if he hasn’t, I’ve lost faith in the surf industry.

Tales of a Back Paddling Player

My new 'home' break.

My new ‘home’ break.

Last night my precious evening sessions commenced in front of my newly established home in San Clemente.  As soon as I parked my car, with one eye on the sunset, I pulled on my wetsuit, grabbed my board and booked it down the street as fast as my legs could carry me.

 My first evening session–at home.
That’s right…I walked down the street to surf last night and couldn’t be more thankful.
 For once I can literally call a spot “my home break” and mean almost all aspects of it…except…it doesn’t really feel like “home” just yet.
While bobbing around the lineup waiting for a wave, the break seemed unusually crowded for a Monday evening.
Combine the time change, northwest swell and people who live in the general area who had the same idea as me while twiddling their thumbs at 4:59 p.m. and you must get:
The Locals, I thought.
And it should be noted these locals have definitely been here for a while, as they knew every ebb and flow of this shifty beach break barrel and rode every wave like a seasoned pro.
I CONFESS…while paddling out, I lost my board and kooked out in front of the lineup.
Yay, score: me: 0 locals: 1
IMG_1484
Praying that no one saw that blunder, I made it out to a lineup of 10 guys.
Aggro guys.
Strangers with whom I have yet to be acquainted.
Well, I thought, I’m a friendly gal, surely these guys will welcome—
Ah shit, one just back paddled me.
Again, maybe they’re just warming up to—
Damnit $%#@er dropped in on me!
<Repeat this cycle four more times before I paddled to a different peak>
Ugh.
Nevermind, I thought as I peered at the setting sun shining over the worn-out butterflies painted on my board.
Hmmm…on my next board, I think I will have one of my artist friends paint a flaming skull or…a pirate with a knife it his mouth…dolphins with mohawks…or maybe an overly busty mermaid?
Can you spot the fin in this picture?

Can you spot the fin in this picture?

Overheard in the Lineup: “Dude, how’s that chick…was Katie her name?”
“Oh yea, yea, she’s good, I guess. Hey! Did I tell you about Maria?! We were at this party and this other chick bee-lines it for me! I was like woa…then she said ‘How come you never call me?’ I’m like ‘Uhhh…blahblahblah'”
I tried to not listen, but one can’t help to overhear the conversations these guys were putting out in the otherwise silent and peaceful evening. And I couldn’t help but grimace at the thought of two poor girls getting played by some guy sporting a Captain America wetsuit who constantly back-paddled me.
Maybe I will keep those butterflies on my board. In fact maybe my next board should be all pink with some form of glitter and unicorns with which I can scout out the back paddling player and take his waves, too. Regardless if I make the waves, he will remember my board like I remember his conversations: loud and annoying. :)
Despite conversations and aggressive testosterone behavior, I know I belong out there just as much as Capt. America and his clan.
For now I’ve found myself in the middle of a testosterone pit …a minority ..a newcomer.
…Is there a term for the guy version of a “sewing circle?”

2013 Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles

When it comes to wave quality, Lower Trestles has been the SoCal benchmark for decades. Photo:  Jackie Connor

When it comes to wave quality, Lower Trestles has been the SoCal benchmark for decades.
Photo: Jackie Connor

It’s that time of year, again!

The 2013 Hurley Pro will showcase 34 of the world’s top surfers plus wildcards Dane Reynolds and Mitch Crews at California’s most coveted peak, Lower Trestles. From September 15 through the 21, The Hurley Pro is stop number seven on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour. These surfers will carve, boost and annihilate their way to the top for a chance to win prize money, a bad ass trophy and valuable ASP points. The overall small surf that has prevailed for the past three weeks might make the beginning of this comp interesting, however a bit of south swell is forecasted for the final days…for now, it’s about gettin’ creative out there!

Who’s in-it-to-win-it this year? Who’s on your Fantasy Surfer team?? :)
11-Time World Champion, Kelly Slater. Photo: Jackie Connor

11-Time World Champion, Kelly Slater.
Photo: Jackie Connor

I’ve got my eye on San Clemente local all-star and comeback-kid Kolohe Andino. Ever since Andino was a grom, I watched him sky-rocket to the top of NSSA, onto the world tour and then disappear out of the lime light as quickly as he came. But after days of YouTube video clips and watching him tear up the pitiful peaks at crowded Lowers in-person, I think he’s just getting warmed up. Stretch your knuckles, journalism peeps, it’s gonna be a bumpy write.
And of course there is the 11-time world champ, Kelly Slater, who’s dominated this event for the past three consecutive years, one of which was his 50th win of his professional career…will Kelly make 2013 his fourth in-a-row? He certainly can pull out all the stops, especially in those final minutes. As for Sunday, Sept. 15th, we will see Kelly paired with Brett Simpson in heat six, said an ASP article.
Kelly Slater throws some spray at the 2012 Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles. Photo: Jackie Connor

Kelly Slater throws some spray at the 2012 Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles.
Photo: Jackie Connor

Or what about wonder-boy Gabriel Medina? Every time I’ve seen him on a wave on Lowers, he destroys the left with airs and combos that make my eyeballs spin in their sockets.
Who will meet in the final? Parko/Kelly? Andino/Florence?
Time, waves and skills will tell.
These stipulations about the 2013 Hurley Pro are based on no inherent facts about these athletes other than what I’ve observed. Call it what you will, but I’d really love to hear YOUR opinion more than mine! Rep it in the comments!
2012 Hurley Pro runner-up Joel Parkinson may not have won the final heat, however he went on to become the 2012 World Champion. Here, he shows why he's World Champ. Photo by: Jackie Connor

2012 Hurley Pro runner-up Joel Parkinson may not have won the final heat, however he went on to become the 2012 World Champion. Here, he shows why he’s World Champ.
Photo by: Jackie Connor

See you peeps on the opening and final day! I will be covering this for San Clemente’s Patch.com, so for opening and final day tweets, you can follow me!
Instagram: @jackiecmonkeee
Can’t make it down to Trestles? Watch the live webcast here!

Interview: Rob Rojas

Professional StandUp Paddleboarder and San Clemente local Rob Rojas.

Professional StandUp Paddleboarder and San Clemente local Rob Rojas.

In recent years, StandUp Paddleboarding, a.k.a. SUP, has become quite popular when the surf goes flat. The sport has seemingly grown into its own subculture ushering in race and relay competitions and, of course, a new form of surfing to our oceans and breaks. Professional StandUp Paddleboarder and San Clemente resident Rob Rojas has taken this sport to a new level in the racing realm and does not hesitate to ride some waves, as well. However, when surfing on his ginormous board at his local break, his attitude remains old school and summed up into one word we can all take a page from: RESPECT.

His repertoire demands it and his actions show it at his local breaks.  So turn up your Aretha and take some notes:

How did you get into StandUp Paddleboarding?

I’ve been around the ocean all of my life…the whole stand up thing came around some time in the early 2000’s. I saw people doing it in the harbor and remember trying to figure out how to get a board and the prices back then were just sky high. I ended up buying a board from a friend. It wasn’t even a SUP, it was just a big longboard.  I bought my first board during the summer of 2006, when I first did SUP. That summer I did an event for lifeguards and we basically did a surf-ski paddle competition from Dana Point all the way down to La Jolla. SUP was the last leg of it.

How far is it from Dana Point to La Jolla?

It was about 50 miles.

Ever since then, you were hooked?

I thought ‘wow this is pretty cool’ and I was pretty much hooked after that 2006 competition. At first I just wanted it as a means of working out and having fun…that sort of turned into a racing career.

What drove you to race in competitions?

I’ve always been a competitive person. I really enjoy the whole racing thing with SUP and the whole idea of standing up and paddling. All of a sudden, I find myself in races and that competitive drive just kind of set in. You just want to be the first one to cross the line…you’re not always the first one, but it’s still that competitive drive to always go out there and do your best.

What kind of races do you participate in?

I’ve raced a lot of local California races.  I’ll do long distance races. One of my main sponsors is O’Neil and they have a race series in Tahoe, for example, and it’s a three-race series. So I’ve raced anywhere from Lake Tahoe, the Cayman Islands, Peru, New York City to Manhattan Island…I definitely travel all over…even Utah..The race scene is pretty much all over the place.

Rob Rojas and his SUP race board.

Rob Rojas and his SUP race board.

What’s your favorite race?

I got to say the race I look forward to the most is the Island Waterman Relay. It’s a race from Santa Barbara Island to Catalina Island off the coast. It’s such a cool vibe and cool event. It has such a waterman vibe to it. And it’s always near the opening of lobster season, so this past year I woke up, dove, got a little lobster and jumped on the escort boat. We hauled butt out to Santa Barbara Island and raced back. You’re just out there in the middle of nature and in the middle of the ocean, it’s just incredible.

Do you have a favorite spot?

For paddling in general:  hands down my favorite SUP spot would be Mammoth Lakes. There are no races up there, but you’re just up there by yourself and it’s extremely quiet. There have been times where we take family vacations and I just get some altitude training. It’s amazing.

Have you ever tried surfing on your SUP? What do you think?

Yea absolutely, I love it! I grew up surfing in San Clemente. I’ve always loved surfing, but a lot of the big breaks get crowded when the waves are good. Our society is getting more and more crowded, but the cool thing about stand up surfing is you can surf waves that are normally not populated by regular surfers.

You can explore a little bit more and look for a spot where there’s nobody out. For me personally, I want to get away from people when I’m surfing, I don’t want to surf in a pack. You have a gazillion really cool surf spots and that’s the cool thing about it. You don’t really have to be around a ton of people to SUP surf.

What’s your take on the tension between the SUP and surf crowd?

It’s definitely a free ocean…but I think it’s all about respect and there are certain rules you got to follow. When you’re surfing, you got to understand right-of-way.

 I like to do things like sit down on my board…lower myself in the water… It looks less imposing. I let a few sets go by and I’ll call out sets for the guys.  As a stand up surfer, you’re six feet above the water, so you can see sets coming.

If I’m with surfers, I want to be least imposing as possible. Nothing will anger me more than a guy that’s just out there doing laps…just paddles out, sits right on the peak, catches every set wave, comes in, just keeps doing laps and loses his board and basically kooks out and pisses everyone off and ruins it for the rest of the standup community.

When you get out there, you got to respect the people that were there before you. There’s room for everybody. Bottom line:  it’s all about respect.

For more about Rob’s training and how he got into SUP, check out this cool video!

Amazing Baja…Round Two

That’s right.

Only a day after I flew back from Cabo/Baja Sur, a couple of buddies and I turned right back around at 4 a.m. on New Year’s Eve to score more epic surf sessions somewhere VERY south of the U.S./Mexico border.

This time we took a very well-endowed truck and ended up in one of the most desolate areas in the western hemisphere. Nothing for miles, not even a single person in sight.

I'm SO not telling...

I’m SO not telling…

I’m not going to elaborate too much, as there are a few article possibilities in the works. I did, however, create an extremely cheesy but fun video about my trip.

You can watch it here.

Baja Sur, solo

The sky exploded with color on my birthday, Dec. 27, 2012.

The sky exploded with color on my birthday, Dec. 27, 2012.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, had their apprehensions about my solo trip to the small town of Pescadero in Baja Sur, Mexico.

I heard it all:

You’re gonna get lost.” (Most realistic)

You’re gonna end up in a body bag.” (Really?)

You’re gonna get hacked up into small pieces and end up in a body bag buried in the middle of the desert.” (My personal favorite)

“You should write a will.” (Nice.)

Though my family and friends were adamantly turning my vacation into another sequel of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I refused to succumb to fear. In fact when they said these things, I only wanted to prove them wrong that much more. Though I really appreciated the legitimate concern, I didn’t want to change my schedule to nice “safe” Hawaii, nor compromise any part of my plan, especially after I was told I’d end up in a body bag.

This was going to happen. Screw fear.

Ready to G-O!

Ready to G-O!

Aside from 90 percent of my surfing done alone, I’ve camped for five days along the Big Sur coastline in 2009 along with another trip to Hawaii in 2007. I was calling this a mild introduction to the wide world/rabbit hole of travel.

Stoked on my birthday sunset!

Stoked birthday girl

   Reality didn’t set in until I stepped off the plane in San Jose del Cabo. Though the terrain looked like a familiar extension of southern California, sans houses and mini-malls, it still felt far away. I did it, I’m here…okay, now what.

Local donkey was a rescue...if you didn't have food, he didn't like you.

Local donkey was a rescue…if you didn’t have food, he didn’t like you.

After marveling at the first stamp in my passport, it occurred to me the next step was to find my rental car, among the flurry of time shares and vacation package sales reps salivating at the airport’s exit…Then and finally, onto Pescadero off highway 19…where ever that was.

It was Christmas Eve and I thought I had a rental car. Not so.

Despite the fact that I booked with the ironically named Advantage rental cars online, they said they did not have me on their reservation list. <Insert obvious ‘Advantage’ knee-slapper pun here.>

After an hour of crocodile tears and shameless claims for refunds, they rented me a car for a pretty penny. Several hurried signatures and multiple broad maps later, I jumped into my car as fast as I could. They told me to take the road through Cabo San Lucas and turn right at a bull ring. Some guy smoking pot told me to take the toll road, but my mind was made up. I sped through the early evening dust to find highway 19 before the sun set. And the sun did set…right as I became thoroughly lost in Cabo San Lucas.

Should’ve listened to the pothead.

In the states, you get at least a three mile warning before you find your turn-off. In Mexico signs (including stop signs) do not matter. They might appear or they might not. This was evident as I almost t-boned a city bus while driving thru a very non-Americanized area of Cabo in the dark on Christmas Eve.

I ran into back alley dead-ends and skidded around random scurrying dogs. Hertz’s bright yellow emblem burned like Harry Potter’s Voldemort scar on the back of my rental’s trunk while sets of eyes followed my blonde noggin and pasty complexion. Anxiety balled up in the back of my throat and for a second, I considered the possibility of spending the night in my car on the side of the road.

After asking “Donde esta highway 19?” over and over to various convenient store clerks, random passerbys and gas station attendants, I eventually found my highway.  Taking a deep breath, I stared at my only company, my borrowed surfboard bag, which was propped up in the passenger seat before speeding off into the dark desert. If surfboard bags could talk, this one might know what to say as it’s seen many destinations, such as India and South America, thanks to my well-traveled buddy Sean’s severe travel bug.

Sand crabs galore.

Sand crabs galore.

Half way through, I thought. I’m almost there, I can do this.

Outside of Cabo, there are no lights for anything except the Pemex gas stations. Darkness surrounded me while semis barreled past me, my eyes peeled for km 64 and a Pemex station.  Despite these set-backs, my faith never faltered. I knew everything was going to be alright.

The point on Christmas day, 2012.

The point on Christmas day, 2012.

I could hear Sean echoing in the back of my mind:

“Accept the fact that you’re going to get lost, Jackie,” he said as we carefully mapped out every step of my route the night before. “It’s just part of traveling. Besides, it’s not an adventure until you get lost.”

This was the mellow part of the road to my hotel...however, you don't need  four-wheel drive.

This was the mellow part of the road to my hotel…however, you don’t need four-wheel drive.

Eventually I found my way to the hotel through a couple of drunk local surfers who led me down a dark dirt road. At this point, my dwindling faith hung by a thread, the only legitimate sign about these locals was the wave drawn in the dust that caked their truck’s rear window. Nevertheless, they guided me and didn’t hesitate to invite me for drinks.

“No, gracias,” was my immediate response.

“There’s going to be waves tomorrow! Come surf Cerritos, chicaaa!” they chimmed while hanging out the truck windows.

 Sean was almost as worried as my parents and demanded some form of contact when I arrived. His was the only number I wrote on paper for an emergency (my cell phone was null-and-void for multiple reasons). If there was ever an emergency, I knew he could be down there faster than any government agency. He knew exactly where I was and said if I didn’t contact him in 48 hours, he’d start driving. And he was serious. So, in order not to ruin his family’s holiday, I managed to call him via a nice San Diego couple’s cell phone laughing about the experience thus far.

After thanking God multiple times, my tension finally eased as I fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves that pounded the shore outside of my casita at the San Pedrito Surf Hotel.

Christmas morning at the San Pedrito Surf Hotel, Dec. 25, 2012.

Christmas morning at the San Pedrito Surf Hotel, Dec. 25, 2012.

Five days solo in Baja Surbring it on.

Merry Christmas, Yakie. Lights out.

As dawn crept over the mountains, I woke up to a chilly off-shore breeze. It was Christmas day and the point was well overhead. Surfers arrived in droves with longboards, shortboards, fish and SUPs. Though it was quite the crowded spot, I didn’t mind. The water was clear and 77 degrees with off-shore breezes combing the swell. With my board underarm, I plunged into the ocean to commence my vacation. The swell did not dip below shoulder high in my short five day trip.

I quickly made friends with locals, ex-pats and fellow travelers in the water.

My breakfast on Christmas day...hit the spot after a surf.

My breakfast on Christmas day…hit the spot after a surf.

Two days after Christmas came my birthday and I decided to surf Cerritos, a peaky sandy beach break. While surfing, I met two sweet fellows, Robert and Michael—brothers from Northern California— who immediately adopted me as their own. They did not hesitate to share their fresh food and tequila with me as well as take me on a tour of Todos Santos, a cute artsy town that sits right on the Tropic of Capricorn.

HA- how ironic…I meet a bunch of Capricorns locals around my very Cap. birthday. And we partied on the Tropic of Capricorn.

Belazul Swimwear fashion show, Dec. 27, 2012.

Belazul Swimwear fashion show, Dec. 27, 2012.

That evening we all returned to Todos Santos to check out one of the premier events, the annual fashion show, featuring local bikini line Belazul Swimwear fashioned by Todos Santos local chica, Joella Corado. Her husband, Kurtis, gave me a heads up about the show the day before, so when I announced my plans to my new-found friends, they quickly obliged to join.

My friends from Northern California: Robert and Mike and the best scallop and mango salsa creation with watermelon/tequilla.

Robert and Mike and the best scallop and mango salsa creation with watermelon/tequilla.

Between the colorful and tasteful fashion, bikinis and belly dancing and after party with a healthy supply of drinks and dancing, I decided this was the best birthday I could possibly have. And- none was planned. Not to mention an amazing sunset…who could ask for more?

My new motto: Plan to make no plans.

The guys and I accidentally left one of the truck windows down during the party…nothing was missing. Either there was a shamrock up my butt or the stereotypes are extremely far-fetched…but once outside of Cabo, I never felt unsafe in Baja Sur.

On my last day, a new swell had arrived and the point was firing! All types of people were on it early. However, the water temp did not compensate for the Aussie who shoved me off a wave. After the rude awakening, I made a valiant effort for more waves but soon resolved that reality was waiting for me at the airport and I still had not eaten a fish taco.

Fish Taco/Airport > Crowded Point

And God help me if I missed my flight…my next adventure had me turning right back around days later and crossing the U.S./Mexico border, again, with six boys.

Next Destination: Parts unknown 

Objective: Uncrowded waves

Sean, no doubt, was twiddling his thumbs til I arrived, his bags already packed.

Solo or not, I’ll be back, Baja! Count on it!

San Clemente

Dreamin’ Again…

Photo by: Sean Jansen

The sun outside my office dissolved behind a roof of stratus clouds and the night quickly crept in today. I miss my daily over-dose of vitamin D.  Although the surf has been scarce this season (and convieniently occurs when I’m off work), I can’t help but feel the swell future will be brighter.

After starting a new 9-5 office job, I’ve had to make some adjustments to my schedule and have never appreciated the ocean as much as I do now. Any inkling of swell sends me into a ravenous fury of excitement and frustration to plug each of my toes into the sand and then the Pacific rather than a stale pair of black heels. The suits I get excited about are my wetsuits and bikinis.

A little summer surf sesh in San Clemente.Photo by: Sean Jansen

A little summer surf sesh in San Clemente.
Photo by: Sean Jansen

November was a mellow month for surf in southern Cali, it seemed, and I couldn’t be more obliged. Had it been firing, so would my newly proclaimed bosses…and by their standards, it would’ve been my crazy ass for disappearing to places unknown. Despite this I still am planning on disappearing to parts unknown soon, but for now (and the majority of the time), hello beloved weekends and random “sick” days!!

Here’s to plenty more tales from parts unknown and weekend warriror days!

To check out more of my friend Sean’s amazing surf/nature photos, click HERE!