Big Waves!!
Winter Storms Bring Hot Surfing



Huge surf pounds the Baja Coastline during the winter storm season. Photo by Doug Gould.
Giant waves pounded the Baja beaches starting Wednesday of last week, peaking to an astounding fifteen feet just before Christmas. The winter storm surge that produces the phenomenon continued on through the Christmas weekend. This is just the beginning of the winter storm pattern that moves into the northern hemisphere during these months. This winter pattern brings with it very large surf.
In the US, there continued to be high surf advisories through the holidays as the waves reached massive heights and only the most accomplished surfers challenged themselves on the towering faces of the breakers. Here, along our Northern Baja beaches there is no such warning system in place.
Common sense must reign in lieu of the official warning system. Even sightseers are warned to stand well away from the incoming surf, for often there can be what is called a “rogue wave” which can catch a person unaware and sweep then off the rocks.
Local veteran surfer, Rick George of Bajamar, said, "You won't catch me out there!" He readily admits that the power of this storm was well beyond his capabilities. He said it it wise to know one's limitation when surfing. "Only the best can tackle these monsters," he continues, laughs and says, "You have to be in really good shape." Rick likes to surf off La Fonda, "Because I don't have to paddle out so far, and it's close to home". Other local fun spots are Salipedes, San Miguel, and Erendira, a little fishing village south of Ensenada. Of course, Todos Santos, the islands off Ensenada, is the winter surfing Mecca for only the best of the best. The waves are so massive that the surfer must be pulled by Jet Ski out past the breakers. It is a team effort because the Jet Ski operator must know exactly what to do and how to do it to protect and position the surfer. These "killer waves" challenge the modern day Kahunas and are featured in many sport and surfing magazines.
During this most recent storm surge, the swells were massive for this area. The waves were twelve to fifteen feet, and the ground swells were "stacked up" one after another for at least 2 miles out to sea, due to the energy of the storm pushing water in front of it. The wind is another factor and can add to the size of the wave that finally reaches shore. What the surfer constantly searches for is ideal conditions coming all together at the same time. In Baja, ideal conditions occur when a Santana off-shore breeze comes during the winter, because it makes the wave "stand up" longer; therefore the surfer gets a longer ride. When the wind blows onshore, this is not necessarily bad, but can "flatten or knock down" the wave, consequently shortening the ride.
Surfers, a savvy sub-culture with their own language, don't usually talk about how many feet a wave might measure. Instead, they talk about how high the wave is over your head, thus "Over-head," or "Double over-head." This gives a more accurate description of how it feels to be sliding down the "face" with a towering "double over-head" wall of water just behind you. Surfers respect the sea, its power, and its changes. In this recent storm there were many good surfers caught "inside." That means the surfer lost his board in the "impact zone" and the "sets" continue rumbling straight at the hapless man. He has to "duck dive" as each swell breaks, pushing him down under the swirling water and tossing him around like a rag doll. George added, on a serious note, "You don't want to be there." For George, he says that he doesn't necessarily have a "favorite" or secret spot. "It is really all about being at the right place at the right time when all conditions are perfect. Then this becomes your favorite spot and the memory of that moment stays with you your whole life."
As the winter season progresses, the northern Baja seaside communities will be experiencing the Big Wave. As if on a pilgrimage, the Big Wave seekers will journey here in hopes of finding perfection.