Mid January. The breaking point of the Tofino winter. When your wetsuit-pasty skin refuses the obligatory 6mm of never quite dry neoprene, your fingers assume “claw” before the first paddle through icy salt water, and you get an ice cream headache just contemplating a duck dive, there’s little choice but to board a plane somewhere, anywhere, warm with waves. And in mid January this year, seven fortunate girls were able to escape one of the toughest parts of Tuff City and join together for the first annual Surf Sister’s staff, friends and family retreat in Baja, Mexico.
Let me set it up. Basically it was an especially generous offer we couldn’t refuse. Jenny Stewart, fearless leader, gave Surf Sister staff an all expense paid week in Todos Santos: a luxury home, daily Kelly Rettinger yoga classes, and nightly-cooked, elaborate, organic “family dinners”. Thanks Shani! (There was also something about a constantly stocked fridge… but as some may be familiar with, there is no preparing for the voracious appetites of surfer girls). Oh. And waves. We were promised waves. In fact, according to the surf forecasts, we were promised more swell than we’d know what to do with. What else were we to do but shake the mothballs out of our bikinis and head south for some sun and surf?
A surf trip is one thing. An all girl surf trip is something else altogether (okay, okay, a couple of lucky guys sneaked in somehow… stowaways in the luggage, perhaps). Do you have any idea how much toilet paper a full house of girls go through in a week or two? Or the number of dripping wet bathing suits you have to fight your way through to get to the shower? No, but seriously, it was the crazy potential of having such a big group of kick-ass chicks with all the time in the world to really focus on what they love to do, catch waves, that really hooked me. The idea was just wacky enough to work.
I’d personally never been to that part of Mexico before, and had no idea what to expect of the waves surrounding Todos Santos. But I can tell you what I’d heard to expect, what other more seasoned travelers had come to expect: three foot to six foot (average) playful, peeling waves breaking shallow on rock-reef. And then I can try to explain the discrepancy between what I’d thought I’d see and what I saw that first morning, driving to the break, where, literally miles from the beach, we could see the big sets breaking white against that never ending desert landscape. Like seeing Long Beach for the first time (remember?). Takes your breath away. Only it wasn’t just from the sheer beauty of it, but the power, the sheer force of it. I can tell you I was nervous and excited. And I don’t think I was the only one. Luckily we found a suitable distraction from belly butterflies in the drive itself. It took all the morning effort we could muster to stop our heads from banging into the surfboards tucked into the intricate system of rope and handles we’d mickey-moused to the interior of the rental van. Try to imagine fitting seven surfers and their gear into a mini van and you will understand that our attention was divided. (The ding repair necessary for what happens in the water is bad enough. Ding repair necessary for getting your board from the house to the beach over pot-holed, Mexican dirt roads is brutal). We knew the wave was working especially well, and that we’d arrived, not at the peak of the system, but at the rise of it… the best was yet to come.
That first day, the big sets were close to double overhead. In days following, the surf got to arguably triple overhead with estimated 18 foot wave faces. The sheer number of snapped leashes and broken boards was testament. Very heavy. There were days you could call epic and then there were days when you’d want to reconsider the word. I don’t think I’ll use the term loosely again. And most of us came sorely unprepared, with boards too small to perform in the sizable surf. There were definitely days when the best most of us could do was to stand on the beach and take snapshot after snapshot of waves with a disposable camera that seemed like a good idea at the time but will never be able to do them justice, just for proof. (Seriously. Don’t believe me? I’ll show you. I’ve got pictures). Of course, it wasn’t too big everyday. In fact, we scored many days of really excellent, pumping surf. I’m not going to go on and on about waves caught, or this or that specific session because it simply doesn’t translate well to words, but I will say that were some really good waves caught by girls with bigger balls than you. Enough said.
Lack of time, convenience of situation, and consistency of surf kept most of us happily making the rounds between the three popular Todos Santos breaks. There was something for everyone, close to perfect rights peeling forever, thumpy hollow lefts and gentler, more forgiving beach break (for when you just wanted to go surfing, not play keep-away with a death by drowning). There was even a sunset session or two when the wind died off beautifully that would have been a perfect longboard wave (had any of us brought one).
When the surf was not working as well as we’d come to expect, a smaller group of us made the decision to drive three hours away to a more remote surf spot on the word of countless traveling surfers who told us, repeatedly, that we had to go there. It proved to be one of the sweetest days of the trip. The beach was a Salvador Dali painting, with the overcast sky melting into the grey water, contrasted by the expansive desert landscape of rolling dunes and windswept brush. The shore was littered with giant lobster parts and unbroken seashells. The surf was even more surreal. Set after set of absolutely perfectly shaped waves working in all directions. Lefts and rights, point breaks, reef breaks and beach breaks; there was literally something for everyone. We caught it on a small day, about waist high, when most of the surfers camped out there were busying themselves with other forms of distraction (the most memorable being a guy fishing off his longboard, riding a wave to shore with catch and rod in hand). But the potential that place had for exceptional surf was clear. We needed more than a day, but it was definitely worth the trip.
Of course it wasn’t all babes in bikinis catching wicked waves in the sunshine. We didn’t come back unscathed. A big part of surfing includes paying your dues and at the surf sister staff trip this included toes crushed by the thunderous boulders moving up and down the shore bank with each coming wave, legs bloodied by caught-inside reef rash, and a couple good workings we’ll never forget. Missing the drop and caught, yet again in the “washing machine” of the curl, I can remember thinking “hmmm. I am a little uncomfortable at how long I’m being held under the water for.” It was enough time to form that full thought and to decide that for all it’s restrictions, added buoyancy was a definite positive feature of the full wetsuit. And that was only the dues paid for being in the water. Let’s not even talk about dues paid for drinking the water…
A surf vacation is all about the waves, but even surf sisters need to dry out a little between sessions. Todos Santos is a happening little tourist town with great restaurants, coffee shops, and storefronts to check out in the day, and bars, clubs and the occasional live music show to check out at night. Believe it or not, a large group of Canadian surf chicks can really shake up a Mexican disco or two. There will be no naming of names or pointing of fingers, but cervezas were consumed… sometimes in excess… They say every action has its consequence. Let me just say there was plenty of action. It wasn’t quite Canadian Girls Gone Wild, (sorry to disappoint) but I’m smart enough to know it has no place in print. (If you’re really curious you can ask the 12 year old surf-sister-in-training for the juicy gossip. The finer details escape the rest of us). But don’t get me wrong, except for a couple fine indiscretions, we all in all managed to stay on the program.
So to sum it all up it was surf, sun, surf, sleep. Repeat. Pretty simple, really. And what better way to spend January in Tofino then on a Surf Sister surf trip to Mexico? Well, except maybe on a Surf Sister staff surf trip to Hawaii? Or Costa Rica? Or how about Indo? (Just some suggestions for next year, Jenny!)