Baja Road Trip ~ SUP Style
The magic of Baja is that you can often experience the total of its harsh, serene, hot, cold, beautiful and dirty nature all in the space of a single day. This was my fourth trip to explore the Baja Penninsula but my first time taking on the adventure from the stance of a Stand Up Paddleboarder (SUP’er). Like a modern day Cortez, my roadtrip warrior/boyfriend I conquered the 1100 mile round trip from Northern California to Northern Mexico but without all the bloodshed and malaria and within a slightly shorter timespan. With limited space, two very different body types (me being 5’2, 120lbs / he being 6′, 180lbs), the extremely variable weather of Baja and the desire to enjoy long distance touring, down wind runs, surfing, SUP yoga, open ocean swell and nature viewing we had to choose our gear wisely.
With a little help from the boys at Clavey we decided on a Riviera 10’6″ and the Surftech B-1 bomber board. And even though there has never once been an instance where somebody has had something stolen off there car in Mexico we thought maybe we’d just play it safe and carry our stand up paddleboards in a Thule SUP Taxi Locking SUP Carrier (good call).
Both boards worked great for our longer distance paddles of three plus miles of open ocean paddling with decent swell and wind chop conditions. For surfing, we both took turns on the Riviera 10’6” but on the flats and in the swells Chris felt considerably more comfortable (being the heavier and less experienced SUPer) on the Surftech B-1. Me, I enjoyed my fitness and Yoga routine on both boards, but probably more so on the Riviera. Among the reasons we chose those two boards for this particular trip is that A) Chris is hard on his equipment like Kim Kardashian is hard on me holding down a meal, and B) If need be, we could afford to replace the Riviera without dipping into our retirement. Overall, both boards performed beyond our expectations and we were more than pleasantly surprised to find the B-1 was truly indestructible.
Mangroves of the Open Eyes
Although well known mostly by surfers for it’s right point break when the swells wrap in from the south and west, Punta Abreojos is a part of Baja that most travelers never see. With fifty-two miles of paved road from Baja Highway One to Abreojos you might think it would be a fairly popular destination. However, as the road dead ends at the town, if you don’t want to go to Abreojos, well then, you don’t want to go get on that road. The town itself is a sleepy little fishing village that survives solely on the lobster industry. And just south of town is an extensive mangrove estuary. This trip was my first visit here and it quickly became one of my favorite places. I have never seen such diversity and quantity of bird life! I would take a road trip just to spend time camping and paddling among the plethora of birds: hundreds of juvenile Little Blue Herons, flocks of White Pelicans, White Ibis and so much more. That evening, with the sun setting and a table filled with local oysters, lobster and beer, Chris and I were a couple of very happy campers.
Bahia Concepción, a 43km long bay nestled in the Sea of Cortez, is truly one of the most magical places to paddle in Baja California. The water here is a crystal clear azure blue. There are short hikes from the white sand beaches to explore the surrounding palms and red rock mountains. It’s the perfect rest spot on day two of driving down and I like to spend at least two nights camping with the almost year round RV community and taking the time to swim, snorkel, clam and kayak out to the island.
An oasis surrounded by date palms and serenading songbirds, San Ignacio is the gateway to one of Baja California’s most active whales watching lagoons. One of my favorite locales, on this particular trip I was interested in exploring the fresh water lagoon with my stand up paddleboard. While the lagoon may be short it still managed to offer up some of the best birding highlights from the entire trip! I saw: Blue-footed Boobies, Xantus’ Hummingbirds, Vermillion Fly-catchers, Orange-crowned and Mangrove Warblers, and hundreds more. That evening we enjoyed a mouthwatering dish of shrimp simmered in garlic and butter while walking around the historic old town and mission.
Loreto – Puerto Escondido Harbor – Rattle Snake Beach – Isla Danzante
The hard to find Rattle Snake Beach is one of my favorite camping sites in Southern Baja and offers a great escape when one has had their fill of pueblo life in Loreto. To get there you take the paved exit for Puerto Escondio fifteen miles south of Loreto, and then take the first right onto the dirt road that meanders to down to the beach. Most of the winter RV visitors we met were from Canada, Wyoming, and Utah and had been nestling into Rattle Snake Beach for 3 to 6 months of the year for the last 8 or more years. We found a perfect tent site on the south end of the beach, with dramatic views of Isla Danzate and the Sea of Cortez in front and the Sierra Giganta behind us!
In the morning we woke to the lapping of calm water and a bird orchestra playing exotic songs. We SUPed north to Puerto Escondido, a beautiful natural harbor protected from the northeast winds. This was a great spot to enjoy one of my favorite aspects of stand up paddleboards – the point of view. Because you’re standing five to six feet above the water instead of sitting on it, you don’t get the reflection of the sky off the water preventing you from seeing everything all around you. And this morning was a great example of that. We paddled along the shore and gazed at hundreds of porcupine fish resting in clusters on the sandy bottom. We then watched damselfish and trumpetfish darting about the underwater rock gardens of the intertidal zone. And once in the harbor we enjoyed paddling near a small patch of mangroves and over shallow sand flats with spotted eagle rays swimming below us.
This unique desert oasis is nestled among the ancient orchards of mango and palm with spectacular views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and its white sand beaches. Blessed with the most favorable climate in Baja Sur, Todos Santos is a true haven located on a little mesa just to the west of the Sierra de La Laguna mountain range. Here we were greeted with warm hospitality, hot peppers and ice cold beer. After three weeks of camping, we thoroughly enjoyed the modern conveniences of our rental house and had a blast getting pummeled in the surf on our SUPs. My favorite day in this little Mexican Paradise was going to the fishing camp to launch our SUPs and paddle to Pirates Cove, where we swam with sea lions, practiced surfing on the mellow waist high waves and snorkeled by our lonesomes in the nude.
All in all it was an unbelievable four weeks tripping along Southern-Southern California. And while Northern California has lots of great things going for it, you
probably won’t find me snorkeling naked off the coast anytime soon.