Baja California

Claudia Rankel
Shredding the "Chili Bowl"...

After spending more than a year in California, I finally got a chance to sail in Punta San Carlos, Baja California, Mexico. Punta San Carlos is one of the most famous wave destinations in America for two reasons, reason one, the waves are long and forgiving and the wind is a consistent 20-25mph, and two it’s so remote that you’ll likely have wave after wave just for you and you alone. Not bad compared to the crowds at Ho’okipa. 

At first it seemed that when living in Southern California, it would be easy to go down into Mexico to this world class wave destination, but it turned out to be a little more complicated. Even with reliable 4 wheel drive transportation, you don’t want to risk breaking down in the wilds of Mexico, when you’re dependent on it for your morning commute to work. So after talking to a number of local shredders I finally found a group who had extra space in their BAJA mobile. 

Finally I got a call from a local head, Oscar, and got good news and bad news. The good news was that a huge swell was coming in from a wicked storm off of the coast of New Zealand. Those waves had mad distance to grow in size! The bad news was that if I wanted to come along for a long weekend we had to leave at four in the morning!

It took long 9 hours – more than 7 hours on normal roads going through Tijuana, Ensenada, San Quintin and El Rosario, the last bigger village before turning onto a 2-hour-long dirt road. The trip itself seemed like half of the adventure: Roaming horses, coyotes, cactus-forests with huge cactus trees. Then there was that pesky dirt road and the argument about which was the right path to the beach, well Oscar the driver supposedly knew the way super well, so he quieted the argument with a knowing, “Once you crossed the border, you’re lost”. He has been driving to Punta Waves for about 10 years 2-4 times a year and still finds better ways. Another head in the car, Chun, noted that since the 60’s surfers have been exploring Baja and some who knew that sails made waves more fun had to jump in and shred the chili bowl. 

As we arrived at Punta San Carlos, which is famous for its incredible long and forgiving, but still powerful waves with perfect side-off winds, we looked down to the left break called the “Chili Bowl” where there were some real talented windsurfers out ripping the waves in a suspiciously radical style. It turned out that the Pritchard-brothers decided to fly in from Maui at the announcement of the huge swell. Punta is where the brothers learned their windsurfing style, well Punta and Jalama in Central California, where I happened to bump into Kevin a few months before.

Back to Punta San Carlos, where on the beach rumors were spreading that the waves would soon be so big that it would be very dangerous to sail. Until they were unsailable I was determined to get in a few good bottom turns! Rigged and on the water through a marginal shore break on brand new Crazyfly and Ka gear, I made my way over to the Chili Bowl. Even though I had to get used to new equipment and a new spot, I had more fun than I have had in quite a while. 

The photographer Daniel Gallet was pretty stoked to be able to take shots of the Pritchard bros and showed us in the evening how we are supposed to rip the next day, so he’ll get to take some more cool shots. Even though those huge Aerials off the lip, Goiters and riding the big sets alternating with someone else so close together seemed a little out of reach, the following day in still logo-high waves was even more fun than the first day. The morning session we spent on the right, where the big swell was coming in at “La Bambora”. The safer middle “Beach Break” was quite a lot of fun to ride, too. After lunch and a nap, it was time to go down to the Chili Bowl again. The wind was pretty strong for my 4.2 and later in the evening it got a bit gusty, but I had one of the longest wave-rides in my life – I stopped counting after the 5th, but I guess I did up to 10 bottom turns… seemed never-ending. This was definitely worth the drive. And it’ll be worth some more trips down again for sure! Actually sailing there is so much fun that you could just keep on sailing forever which can be fatal. A friend once told me he was sailing so long until almost dark and oversaw that the tide was getting higher. It got actually too high to make a regular launch possible. His friends had to help him get the gear up the 4-5 meter high cliff, as there was no beach anymore.

Compared to all the wave sailing spots I’ve been to, I would say this is the easiest, as the waves are not only long, but really smooth (and there are hardly any danger zones), so that if you get washed even in logo-high waves, it doesn’t really do you much harm, but then again the waves are powerful enough to have fun and learn a lot. An amazing mixture! I can’t wait to get back. The wind safest season there doesn’t start until March and ends in September. So still a long while to wait, but I’m pretty sure the wait will be worth it.

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text: C. Rankel, photos: D. Gallet, C. Rankel windgirls 2005