Tag Archives: Baja

Restarting Baja

24 Dec

It’s time. It’s been five years since my first surfmoto trip to Baja, and it’s been five years since my last surfmoto trip to Baja.

Everyone wonders where the time went, but for me, it’s no mystery. Starting and running a new business took up much of the time. Spare time went to 5-day rides to and from LA and Monterey, CA, for the races at Laguna Seca, Ducati events like the 20th Ducati Monster Anniversary ride, and the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. My two- to three-week trips were to Nicaragua, where I have a home at the beach in front of great surf breaks, Colorados and Panga Drops. (And of course, I have a motorcycle there, a Yamaha XT125, and a garage.) And lastly, getting a new house and building out the garage for my growing stable of motorcycles was a big time-suck as well.

Since that first trip, when I tell friends about that ride they always say they want to do it, too. “When are you going again?!?” “Let’s do it!” But in the end, they really don’t want to do it, at least they don’t want to do it enough, so nothing happens. I’m used to that. It’s why I did the first surfmoto trip alone; I couldn’t find any takers. So when folks talked about wanting to go, I’d say, “Sure, let’s do it.” And I would wait for their follow-up. It never came.

Until last week. My riding buddy, business partner, and fellow Ducatista, Steve (we both have Monsters – he an S4r1000 and me, an S2r1000 – and 1198’s – his the Corse1098 and mine the 1198sp) texted a link to an organized Baja ride. One where you buy one of their 250s and the ride is free except you to need to pay for your personal expenses – hotel, meals, gas, insurance, etc. In other words, there’s no tour or organizer fee.

I generally don’t like organized tours or group rides. The Ducati Monster ride mentioned above is the only one where I ever enjoyed myself. (The worst was a bike magazine sponsored ride at Quail.) And that was because we broke into three groups, from fast to slow, as soon as we got into the twisties. But I am not interested in joining a group ride through Baja with a bunch of folks I don’t know, especially on a bike I don’t want to buy. Besides, I know Baja pretty well. I traveled it enough to write a surf travel guide for Baja awhile back, and of course, I did the surfmoto thing, too. So why would I want to get shackled by a group tour?

So, I talked Steve out of that and into us planning our own trip. We’ll invite some friends, like our other business partner and riding buddy, David, fellow Ducatisti like Arrick, aka DIYMotoGuy, and designer/builder Alex of Earle Motors, and whichever competent rider-friends we can trick into a “fun” Baja ride.

I started working on itineraries. Will update from here. Baja here we come!


Your Last Surf Trip

16 Aug
Surf buddies paddle out for last respects.

Arn’s last paddle out.

(Work in progress.)

Will you know when it’s your last surf trip? Will you know before you book your flight? Before you commit to the week in Baja? While packing? Unpacking your boards at your destination anxious to paddle out to get the travel grime off and just get wet? While standing at water’s edge thinking twice about paddling out? While sitting out the back worried a bit too much about getting caught inside? While getting caught inside? During the trip back? While waiting for your boards in oversized luggage? While sharing hugs and good-byes? Or when you opt out of the next one? How will you know you took your last surf trip?

It seems like yesterday, but it’s now nearly 10 years ago that my best friend took his last surf trip. I didn’t know it was his last trip and neither did he. It was my birthday. I headed to Baja for one of our traditional “gentleman’s” trip (as if any foray into Baja could include the term “gentleman”) to celebrate a milestone birthday – alone. None of my usual surf travel partners could or would make it – it was the middle of a Baja crime panic, plus everyone was getting older and, well, busy. So I headed down alone, threatening to send pictures if the waves were good. I didn’t mind. As the years piled up I had grown accustomed to taking surf trips on my own. Scheduling had become more difficult for everyone. Life was doing its thing.

It was late September, so good south swells and conditions were pretty much guaranteed, and I knew I could create anxiety with my buds, if I wanted – especially my best friend who I had surfed with my whole surfing life – by texting shots of the lineup with captions about warm water (for Baja). All the while I would be reflecting on my own mortality. The latter being what we do on every birthday after #39.

The surf was great, as expected. The winds were lighter than usual. And the crowd wasn’t there, which is one of the benefits of September surf travel everywhere. As much as I wanted to share this with friends, I knew there was only one who really mattered, so my only texts were to Arn. If anyone would jump on this, it would be the guy I learned to surf with, who had never backed out of a surf trip, and nary a wave, for that matter. Arn charged harder than anyone I’ve ever known. The only reason Arn wasn’t with me already was that he was recovering from a board to the head (not his, he was a Huntington local) suffered a few weeks prior that was nearly healed.

Arn and I learned to surf at the Huntington Cliffs, moved away from home to Newport as soon as we finished high school, and went on our first surf trip together – Baja, of course. Later, while I was schooling in Florida, Arn shaped me a mushy-wave board and signed it “Arnold the Jap”. We did motorcycle and ski trips while I was living in DC missing a lot of surf, and whenever business brought me home to CA Arn would meet me at the airport with a board and wetsuit. If anyone was going to jump on this opportunity, it would be my best friend, Arnold.

So one look at the video of K-38 that I texted and he was on his way for a quick, 3-day weekend of early fall Baja. This wasn’t a tequila-drenched Baja debauchery weekend. It was just surf, eat, rest, surf, eat, rest. Stay in nice, comfortable condos overlooking the surf. Hot showers, cold beers and best friends hanging out.

My birthday fell on a Monday, the same day the stock market crashed signaling the beginning of the Great Recession. Arn and I were eating our second breakfast after our first surf that day while watching our life savings dwindle to practically nothing on CNBC. That sucked. But the surf was still good, so we went back out and put the stock market in its place. It would recover eventually, just like dwindling swells return. We couldn’t do anything about the stock market, but we could surf.

It was Arn’s last surf, but neither of us had any clue of that as we dragged our happy-but-exhausted butts over the slippery rocks and up the cliff. He wasn’t feeling right as we got to the condo, not sure if it was still the head injury or the onset of the flu, but he knew something was up so he packed it in and headed home a day earlier than planned. He was pretty sure it was related to his head injury, but in the end, it wasn’t.

A month later I got the call: “Mike, I have liver cancer.” I responded in the typical way that someone without cancer does. I was positive, proffered encouragement, “you’re gonna beat this, so-and-so did,” etc. But Arn, always the rational one, had the facts: You get liver cancer and you die. It takes months, not years, and it’s horrible. You deteriorate fast. We had a surf trip planned in a few weeks to enjoy our first stay at the new condo we bought together near Playa Colorados in Nicaragua, but Arn had to cancel, of course. He was about to knowingly paddle out into unsurfable surf.

It was not a fun conversation, of course, but everyone has it sooner or later. And typically you will have more than one. What was most impactful and memorable was the last thing Arn said before he hung up the phone. I still think about what he said nearly every day, and I share this with every surfer I know. What he said was simple and pure. And so obvious that it hit me like a brick.

“Mike, surf more.”

Arn knew he had taken his last surf trip.

I went ahead on our planned trip to Nicaragua, sans Arnold. The surf and conditions were incredible, which actually kind of sucked. A string of good south swells was in the water and the hard offshore winds were not as hard. There were hours and days of oil-like glass, something rarely seen in SW Nicaragua. I remember being out one overhead afternoon at Colorados. I counted six of us in the water – me, a young couple who would later become good friends (Seth and Lindsay) and three other older guys on Rusty Desert Island type boards. We were spread across about 75 yards and the lefts were the best I’ve ever seen there, before or since. And of course, all I could think about was Arn. Why is he missing this? He would so be pig-dogging these glassy barrels. When will he be back? Will he be back? Or did he already take his last surf trip?

The days, weeks and months crept along painfully, especially for Arn. This bull of a man withered into what cannot be described. We spoke every few days, mostly about the business world and goings on with the Nicaragua properties, but always about his cancer’s progress. I tried to watch surf videos with him, but he didn’t want to. I tried to get him to go to the beach just to watch the ocean, but he wasn’t interested. He advised me to “surf more” and then he stopped, in every conceivable way. Eventually, the day came where he decided to turn around and paddle in. No more chemo or treatments. About six weeks later he passed. I was with him the day before. His sons and wife were at his side as he took that whitewater up the beach.

Arnold never knew he was going on his last surf trip until it had passed. The media presents death to us as a long, going-to-sleep process with time and opportunity to say our farewells, wrap things up and pass away. It makes us think that we’ll have an opportunity to take that last trip or surf knowing what we’re doing and enjoying it for what it is. Dying is not like it’s seen on TV or the movies. And you probably know that.

The surf media occasionally features really old guys still surfing. As groms, young adults, full adults and even middle-aged adults we sometimes wonder how long we will surf. But the answer is simple and always the same: “I’ll never stop surfing.” We expect to stay in shape, to keep surfing at the forefront, the #1 priority. Careers, relationships, and family responsibilities can all be managed so as to keep surfing no matter what. Sure, slowing down is inevitable, and challenging oneself with big waves will matter less, but I’ll still keep surfing. I’m a surfer.

You are. But you won’t.

It may slowly creep up on you or it may catch you by surprise, either by injury or disease, like Arn, but one day you will paddle out for the last time.


(to be continued)

It’s about time!

16 Oct
Cycle World Does SurfMoto

Cycle World boys try out a short surfmoto trip during the Baja 500.

I was really happy to open up my Cycle World magazine a couple of weeks ago to see their Baja surfmoto adventure. (Not so keen on the “surf and turf” theme, but whatever.) They headed down to Coyote Cal’s in Eredira and caught a bit of surf at Punta Cabra. They rode and tested new bikes – the poster boy of adventure travel bikes, the BMW R1200GS and it’s closest rival, the KTM 1100 Adventure R. No Carver racks for these boys. The BMW and KTM have enough going on that all they needed were some straps and padding – almost like strapping boards to your SUV. Go read the article here. It looks like SurfMoto is catching on.

The Ultimate Western Hemisphere Surf Vehicle?

26 May
2005 Ford F150 surfmoto vehicle.

Is this the ultimate vehicle for a motorcycle-loving surf traveler?


Is this ultimate western hemisphere surf travel vehicle? In some ways, yes. Cheap, used, high-freeway-miles Ford F150.

Parts everywhere. Easy to work on, especially with 2wd and no power anything.

Only 3 people fit in the cab – 2, really. And we all know that the more people on the trip, the less surfing gets done.

Enough room in the cab for backpacks and today’s food and drink – the essentials that can’t get stolen. Enough room in the long bed for everything else, from a gaggle of mini-Simmonses to that Skip Frye 11-footer you’ve been dying to set free of the crowds. Not to mention that dirt bike. And a bicycle, too.


White never looks dirty, not that you care. Actually, the dirtier the better. 

Stock rims that no one will want to steal.

A chipped taillight lens, cracked windshield and 3 small dents awaiting many more.

Baja and Central America, here we come.

Tough Miles

5 Nov


Jon and Pete stop in at Suzuki HQ in Brea, CA to freshen up their DRZs and give us the video lowdown. Awesome guys on an awesome adventure – ’round the world sans film crews (Suzuki HQ visit excepted) and support SUVs. Get the rest of the story at toughmiles.com.



What a Coincidence: Not Alone

29 Aug

Getting ready for a surf somewhere between Punta Canoas and the Seven Sisters.

As it turns out, I didn’t go alone on my May/June surfmoto trip to Baja. GaryUnguided went too. I just didn’t know it until now. He rode the same bike model – Suzuki DR650 – with many of the same mods. He did a much better job, though. Like mounting spare cables for a quick fix. Anyhow, check out his trip blog here: http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/ride-tales/baja-motosurf-2012-a-64360

Great stuff!

Training for Baja: How to Face Plant

4 Jul

It’s probably a good idea to get some training rides in before a real Baja trip. I never did, but I did a bit of motocross racing (no, I never won, or even came close!) years ago, so I’ve relied on that. Hah! Anyhow, Hilary here is serious about her preparation, so serious that she’s practicing face plants. Well, maybe not intentionally, but it’s still practice. This one’s gnarly as she goes face-first into a pile of rocks, but that helmet did its job!

Spot Satellite Messenger Warning

10 Jun

UPDATE – After a few conversations with Spot, they graciously decided to refund my service subscription fee. The Spot customer service people were very professional and helpful. They acknowledged there were software problems (app), and suggested I tried the latest version of the app. I declined, as I really don’t want to be testing this product. I want it to save my life. So all went well with Spot. That left me dealing with the hardware, which I had purchased at Best Buy. All I could get was store credit, which I suppose is better than nothing. So all is good. I may try the Spot Messenger. We’ll see.


When a product is advertised as something that could save your life, it had better work. The Spot Connect doesn’t.

Facebook Comments On Spot Messenger

I looked into Spot products on the advice of Surfline’s Sean Collins. In his article on Baja surf travel, Sean recommended the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger as a “don’t leave home without it” product. If stranded out of cell phone range, this satellite communications product would send a message to loved ones and help at the push of a button. “I need this” was my reaction.

The Spot Connect – Doesn’t work.

I went to the Spot website and learned of another product, the Spot Connect, a device that Bluetooth-links to your smartphone enabling texts and basically more functionality than the Spot Messenger. With all the testimonials and stories on their website about the rescues due to the Spot products, coupled with Surfline’s recommendation, this seemed like a no-brainer.

The Spot Messenger – Works

But I messed up. I should have researched more, in which case, I would have bought the basic product instead. The Connect doesn’t work. Whether it’s the app, the firmware, or whatever, it’s a waste of money that risks your safety. Stick with the basic product.

More on this story here at The Surfer’s Guides blog.

AFX Helmet Review

5 Jun

AFX FX-39DS Helmet Review from SurfTravelGear on Vimeo.

The AFX Dual Purpose helmet is nice and bright, for high visibility, but has a few issues.

Bad Gas

2 Jun

Problemas? Head to Llantera San Borjas in El Rosario.

There’s a nice, busy Pemex station as you enter El Rosario from the north. This is an important gas stop in Baja, as the next Pemex station isn’t for another 200 miles. There’s gas by the can midway, at Catavina, and more in Punta Prieta, although the latter is difficult to find, but those only have “magna sin” (unleaded regular), and the Pemex in El Rosario has premium.

Most are reluctant to get gas from the can. I’ve filled up in pueblas, fishing villages, and everywhere else they’ll sell you gas from the can, and have not had a problem once. I can’t say the same for the Pemex in El Rosario.

Gas from the can. Fishing village Laguna de San Ignacio. Magna sin only.

Less than a mile after filling up on Premium, while still in second gear to avoid getting a ticket in town, the DR started sputtering, then died. It would start, but sputter and die in seconds. It had to be the gas. What else could explain this? Turn around in the direction of the gas station. Start pushing.

After a 100 yards or so I get to the Llantera San Borjas, owned by a guy from LA, which was fortuitous, as I can speak some Spanish, but not enough come breakdown time. We talked it over and decided it was the gas, of course. They figured I hadn’t watched closely enough and filled up on regular instead of premium. I was quite sure I got premium. Regardless, we decided to drain most of the gas and refill. This went for my extra gallon loaded in a bag on my tail rack.

With much gas drained and the tank nearly empty I tried starting the bike hoping I could get it to sputter enough to make it to the gas station and save the boys a trip with the gas can. The DR started, and ran. And ran and ran. I made it to the Pemex without a stutter.

The answer had arrived. Whatever was bad about the gas was at the bottom of the tank. Which means it was water. There was water in the gas.

I pulled up to a different island for a completely different pump, loaded up on premium, again, and was on my way. No problema.

In Catavina I filled the DR up with regular for the first time. She ran fine. And for the next 1,500 miles or so I filled up mostly on regular, as that’s all that was available. Not a stutter.

Next time I won’t drain as much gas. There was probably less than a cup of water in the tank. Also, if you’ve never drained your gas, you need to put the petcock in the Prime position, otherwise it won’t drain.