a freelance journal

A First Surf Trip

A family dream

Before leaving for our last trip, I picked up my daughter from daycare and ran into a dad picking up his son who has since become a friend.  Since he is a professional shutterbug for Surfing Magazine, I asked where he was off to next.  18 days in Africa with Globe pros.  Pretty nice deal I thought.  A trip that long is not so easy for most of us.  In fact, anything over ten days is no longer a “trip”.  Our jobs won’t let us back in the door if we stay gone 18 days, much less pay us for our vacation photos on return.  Even the neighbors fear such a slideshow.  Try it.  Ask your boss when you get back if he would pay for stories of azure barrels and pics of some sweet front side hack like Peter Mendia’s.

“Yeah sir, but check out this slabbing right!  I mean that should be at least a personal day, right?” If I use the vacation time to go 18 days solo, my family would change the locks.

Last month I read a great article on an extended stay in Uruguay from the same dad.  Dream stuff and beautiful work. I think, well, maybe I could do that.  Yeah, I’ll go. This is where reality waves bye-bye for most of us.  There is rarely good surf in Uruguay.  The crew from the article stayed long enough to catch it and had a local pro take them to all the right breaks.  When I land in Miami no-one cares if I make it to the next gate, let alone anyone meeting me in Uruguay and showing me around.  If I had 18 days, half would be spent figuring out the place and its conditions before ever catching a good day.  When most of us hit the beach we find out that the swell is leftover or perennially “on the way.”  Not to say the mag guys don’t suffer the mishaps or adventure, they do.  The dad that works for the mags has been into the Middle East, which I am sure involved adventure I‘ll never see.  He has more mishaps in airports than I have trips to the airport.  Then add in the stress for trying to produce so your family can eat and you keep your spot on the totem pole, the prospect has a Murphey’s law all to itself.  It’s just jealousy really that I don’t get to go as often.  Given all the mishaps, the statement is pretty sick.

ola baja.

So my wife and I decided to take our daughter on her first surf trip.  Really more of a vacation since at eleven months old she wouldn’t do much surfing, but there would be surf.  It was made clear to me that this trip was possible only if there was a compromise on accommodations.  Our choice would have to be upgraded from the days of travels with “the boys” -those trips which are thinly planned excursions in living conditions barely habital. My wife paid her dues once trooping for five guys packed in two cabanas without AC or bug spray.  On another border run my brother and I were gnawed on by Central American mosquitoes. We returned with viruses that mystified and scared our local hospital staff and made our wives nervous (yea, it was worth the waves).  The sick part is that we paid for all that with money we didn’t have and responsibilities we shouldn’t have shirked and got no compensation for the effort except that grin till next year.  Seemed reasonable.

Baby in tow made that kind of trip unreasonable this time.  We did a little research, mostly of our budget, and settled on the Cabo Surf Hotel in San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S. The boutique hotel is located right in front of two good breaks that catch most swell for the six days we could afford.  We found the spot by word of mouth, easy to find internet sites, a few forum opinions and again, our wallet. True, such easy accessibility would open up numbers of people but we would be using a passport and surfing. It was all ready but the getting there…

What can you check?

At 4:30am on the morning of our departure, I awoke and threw the board bag and luggage into the truck.  We had packed two days prior.  It boggles the mind how something so small like a baby needs so much gear.  Truck loaded, I gently roused my wife and daughter and giddy with anticipation herded everyone to the truck.  This is it man, I thought, your six daysFor eight months or more you have been thinking of this.  Every time you caught crap at work, you pictured this tripEvery time you missed a swell you pictured this.  It was all I could do not to sprint to the ticket counter once we made the airport.

Holding baby in one arm, I lugged bags, strollers and gear through a maze of nylon roping to the counter—a prior detaining in LAX has taught me to play by the rules, especially when playing roulette on the weight of your pack job.  You don’t skip the ropes.  Sweaty and a little breathless, we started checking our luggage.  It was then the ticket agent discovered my wife’s passport was expired.  I felt like I would puke on the counter.  I told the agent as much.  She stepped back.  On the very edge of a total meltdown, I turned, got the truck and drove home as the plane took off overhead.  Abby screamed the whole way home just for fun. We rescheduled for a nice tidy additional sum with no help from our sponsors.  My old man hung up when I tried to ask.

The second time around, the airline computers crashed.  All of them.  They had to handwrite our tickets which explains why we made it but our luggage did not.  We got to our hotel with only one near-miss car accident and angered only a few drivers (Always get the full coverage insurance.  Always).  On my last thread of sanity, I began calling the San Jose baggage counter whose employees were all well asleep at home as it was six and normal businesses south of the border closes at five—or when they feel like it.  At that moment the bags came rolling in the door.  According to Beto, the concierge, never in seven years had bags showed up the same day.  Things were looking up.  I had only the one board—a quad built for overall conditions.  Diapers, bottles, and an equally insane number of baby clothes take up a fair amount of room in a travel bag.

Cabo Surf

The room at the Cabo Surf was clean, beautiful, private, and air-conditioned.  My wife and daughter were happy which meant I was happy.  A good thing since my last bit of summer work to help pay for the trip involved a horrendous case of infected poison ivy which my daughter inflamed as she squirmed her way through the eight-hour flight across the country.

At the hotel, a doctor was actually able to come to my room to deliver the shot of Cortisone in my ass in cool air and privacy.

travel hazards.

As a boutique, there are only 20 rooms at the Cabo Surf, so it’s not long before you know all the people hanging at the infinity pool or in the lineup.  We shared spots for good food—Guacamaya’s in San Jose on Pescador street has the best pork tacos I’ve ever eaten and if a mango falls from the tree on your head they will clean it and let you eat it in sweet, juicy revenge.  Guys shared decent breaks nearby and cool spots to check out in town. We surfed that evening on a good head high pulse of swell and felt solid drive from the board for the first time since winter—a little payoff for our dogged determination (or blind stupidity).  The tide was just low enough and the face of the wave was long and open.

Old Man’s

The break is a sloping point known as “Old Man’s.”  The other option is a two hundred yard paddle east called “the Rock.”  Old Man’s is nice and easy though loaded with the older longboarders of its namesake and the other has a nice steep wall, shallow at low tide and just enough urchins to keep you honest.  It’s no Shark Island or Nias death slab but an opportunity to work out a little stress and feel shaky surfed out arms and legs.  My aging heart and wallet can only sack up for Shark Island one so many times and my wife voted down the Malaria rate in Nias.  This was more realistic and after a nice little cover up shower or two on the inside of the Rock, it didn’t matter where it was.

The Rock with tropical storm swells pushing it out past the rock.

The next day had the typical leftover swell.  The next two days were still more of the same.  Keep a weather eye from the pool and we got a good right-hander off the foam ball at the Rock or connected an Old Man set wave to the inside in between tequila drinks.  It was worth the pennies and favors called in all year.  Sure, several waves got molested but it beat the normal thigh high, East Coast, July drivel which I hawk with 15 other surf starved guys.  Plus we could see the pool and beer waiting on shore.  Recycled office air seemed only a memory.

Crowds?  Yes, but no worse than home and staying at the hotel allowed us to watch the conditions and the crowd 24 hours a day.  We frequently ended up surfing either spot with no more than 2 other people.  When it got crowded with lessons or bro-pros, we got a beer and taco.  After the crowd’s lust was satisfied, we’d go get wet again.  In the crowd, it’s the expat old guys that seem to have the best opinion of themselves.  Particularly the 50 to 60 riding a thruster designed for a 20 to 24-year-old, holding back their style but not their self-image.  That guy.  Be nice, wait for a set, and keep a smile on your face and no problemas. Got the waves I had envisioned since November with minimal hassle and plenty of stoke from others just enjoying a short trip away. Two good surf spots and only half a day lost while waiting on luggage –I choose not to remember the first attempt to the ticket counter earlier in July.  A dark, dark memory.

San Jose

Baja desert

After one midday trip to town in the heat and losing several pounds in sweat, we chose late afternoons for looking around.  Abby was loved everywhere she went as locals stopped us to hold her.  If she retains any of it her Spanish will be flawless, certainly better than mine. One afternoon I nearly waltzed into an open mass at the mission trying to see the source of the music we could hear.  When the people kneeled for prayer, I quietly backed out—no photo.  We discovered pomegranate tequila and pomegranate hangover.  We lounged at the pool or in the hammock during midday siestas.   We even made a two-hour trip north to Todos Santos.  Abby thought our thirty-minute detour through the slums of Cabo San Lucas was stupid so she screamed the next two hours.  I agreed with her but my wife said that at my age I’m not allowed to scream and cry.  We checked out the art galleries and a good dinner at a place called Adobes (cool garden and grounds behind the storefront, eating under thatched palms).  Todos has a quiet intensity about the place.  Serene, yet to be there to surf the big winter swells would be intense.  There would be no hiding what you came to do, not from the town or yourself.  Like showing up in the old west and calling down a gunfighter.


We checked out Cerritos and a Pacific Ocean sunset as we drove home winding through cactus, mountain curves and arroyos.  There is never enough time to do everything or you risk mutiny.  I squeezed in what I could and the sunset drive home through the mountains and desert was rewarding enough.

Pacific sunset

On our last evening, we decided to stick close to the hotel and enjoy the time before the day-long trip back across the continent.  A nice swell began to arrive and five-foot sets rolled in at 13 seconds.  The quad fin climbed the rolling swells at Old Man’s and handled the faces at the Rock.  Oddly enough, the crowd even thinned.  With a little more room to move it only became more fun. The session made paying for the trip twice seem suddenly very reasonable.

I came in near dusk and found my wife chatting amiably on all things baby and girl with a beautiful Brazilian named Carolina.  Sounded really exciting but I motioned the “one more?” sign and splashed back out to smiling faces and chuckles from the girls.  It must be a universal husband sign.  When I came back in both ladies were still chatting baby talk and trading stories.

After a while of watching Carolina hold a cooing Abby, we learned that she and her husband had been here before but had stayed on the East Cape.  Mention the East Cape to any local in San Jose and the first thing they tell you is, “it’s hot.”  Scary enough considering they live in the desert. The second thing is generally in regards to the remote desert landscape of the beaches.  There are also some good uncrowded waves (no help here, if you go, look around—and take an umbrella).  The fact that Carolina and her husband had stayed at a house piqued my interest since that would require a hook-up to pull off.  She said her husband had done some movies and since we are from a small film community on the east coast I let it respectfully drop.  We discussed tactics for catching uncrowded line-ups and we laughed about dodging the inside “buoys” and chuckled about the magnet factor when you grab a good one.  She said it happens to her husband Devon all the time.  Devon?  I finally asked.

“What movies has your husband done?”

“You may not know him.”   She said with sheepish humility.  “Have you seen Singlefin Yellow?”.  My wife and I exploded with our love of the flick.

“Well, how about Sprout or One California Day?”  She asked genuinely.

I assured her we knew those.  Finally my People Magazine curiosity –you know you look in the grocery check out line—got the better of me.  “Uhm, what is your last name if you don’t mind?” I asked.


I told her we knew her husband and liked his writing and surfing.  She made me promise not to tell.  It was hard not to grab a grommet-thumbs-up photo, but Carolina was very gracious and so was her husband so we held off.  Devon came back to the pool and spent time holding and playing with Abby. She was not as stoked as I or maybe she is just that coolly casual.  Hard to tell since she smiles the same for me as she does for the dog. We all sat in the hot tub and discussed important dad talk, like watching for swells early to cash in your favors for surf time.

Hurricane swell fills in at Old Man’s.

When Devon Howard and his wife wanted a surf trip, they came to the same place you and I would go.  They even had the airlines ding both their brand new longboards beyond rideability and spent the first three days of their seven-day trip in bed with Montezuma’s Revenge.  Sounds awesome—and familiar.  When they were here with sponsored travel it was a house on the hot, remote East Cape, perfect swell sin diarrhea.  Here on a trip?  Waves, stories and upset stomachs.

A lonely paddle out.

The next morning we flew home (of course a storm swell moved in lining up sets from Old Man’s all the way through the Rock).  Riding home (without blistered poison ivy), I realized I am as lucky as the father at daycare or Devon and Carolina.  If Clark Griswald surfed, his trips, like his Christmas, would be nearer to what I encounter.  The pro travels are not without their adventure and dreamy appeal.  I guess that is why we read them.  They are not what we can reach out for but once or twice (once if we want to stay married).  Yet the dream stays alive and they drive us to venture out into the world with the diaper bag, family, gear and a hope to come as close as we can.  They take their own beatings on those trips and there are days the pros travel like all the rest of us.  For our family, there was plenty of surf, “adventure”, air conditioning and I got to share it all with the two beautiful women in my life.  As soon as possible we will do it all over again; the rash, the lost bags, the mishaps, and the successes but hopefully on the first try and definitely on a different credit card.



13 responses

  1. Pingback: Cold and Broke « Notes from the North End

  2. Mom

    Two things come to mind after reading this post. One, “old man?” that makes me “old woman” and you’ve just been cut out of The Will! Second, I didn’t see anything about leaving the wallet behind? I’ll say nothing more. Just remember Mom’s are like elephants they don’t forget! Ha, ha 🙂

    December 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

  3. Michael N.

    Oh Sparky…sounds like an excellent vacation! Thanks for sharing. Michael

    December 18, 2010 at 12:25 am

  4. Ropy Jets

    Didn’t see any spent casings of Imperial or soaked mattress pads. Glad to see its quality over quantity these days!

    Great site man. Truly fine work. I am hooked.

    Love to all.


    December 21, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    • Well, it was two ladies. So, it was kind of like last time…good to hear from you man. Hope all is well. Pura vida.

      December 22, 2010 at 12:24 am

  5. ropy jets

    Sorry I jumped the gun with my aggressive text. Nice retort.

    ( . y . )


    December 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm

  6. Chris

    Found your site via swellinfo.com. I live in Wilmington (on CB for a bit) and surf there on a regular basis. I dig your blog/project. My fiance and I are actually heading to Cabo/Todos for honeymoon in May. Do you have any tips? Places to see/avoid. Id like to surf too if it is ok’d by Mrs. so any info would be very much appreciated. Nice work here ‘Notes’. Maybe see you out in the lineup.

    December 28, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    • Well man. To be honest, everything I would recommend is in the story. (skip the whole expired passport/infected poison ivy stuff). I sent you an email with more. Thanks for checking the site and hope to see you in the water. Soon.

      December 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm

  7. Tj

    Nice site, awesome read. Makes me jealous I don’t have a more of passion for my life; it seems like you’ve pretty much grasped it. You now have a regular visitor on your hands.

    January 23, 2011 at 3:28 am

    • Thanks TJ. Glad you find something worth checking out!

      January 23, 2011 at 9:41 am

  8. Amanda

    I really enjoyed your blog and it’s gotten me thinking maybe we CAN do a trip with our 18 month old son. My husband and I would love to take a surf trip— but we are wondering if it will be too hard with a toddler.
    Do you mind if I pick your brain for a few questions? One concern I have is sun exposure for the baby- was there much shade at the Cabo Surf Hotel? Did you travel with your own carseat and then use it in the rental car? How did you keep the baby occupied all day? Our son will be walking so I’m wondering if there will be enough for him to do if we just hang around at the hotel all day. Thank you!

    December 23, 2012 at 2:36 am

    • Hi Amanda-Merry Christmas!

      I asked my wife about your questions and tried to remember the best I could. So, here ya go.

      No better time than now. We have been lugging around boh our daughters (#2 is 18mos now)since the story and while there are “tense” moments of stress, it has made all the difference.

      At the Cabo Surf there is plenty of shade. My wife and 2nd daughte are both fair skinned and had no troubles. Abby was not old enough to walk but old enough to crawl and get into everything. There is a beach in front which isn’t very big, but between that and the pool there was plenty to entertain. There were other families there too so that helped. We also were still taking good naps so that helped too. The “Mega” shop-Mexico’s WalMart-has cheap beach and pool toys if you need.

      We rented the car seat with the car. We have packed a seat before but on his trip we had the board bag too. They do rent boards at the Cabo surf if you want to go that route but they have taken a beating as you can imagine.

      If the world was not so big and not full of so many other places we want to go (true, most are in Mexico and involve surf-‘cept Disney) we would go again instantly. San Jose del Cabo is quaint and quiet and makes an easy adventure for a change in scenery. Everything else is as it is in the story. I hope you guys go and I know you’ll enjoy it.
      Buenas viejas

      December 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

  9. Amanda

    Hi Andy, Thanks for getting back to me so promptly! I think we are going to make a go of it. We will be waiting until April…hoping to get some south swell. Merry Christmas to you and your family too.

    December 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm

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