Surfing Baja - The Early Days
SURFING BAJA – THE EARLY DAYS
We first entered Mexico in 1969 with much caution, just day trips into Tijuana. I always had a feeling of unease there; the pimps and bar bouncers are out on the side walks urging you to enter narrow, dark doorways. You constantly feel that your wallet or car will be stolen, and the cops are the most serious threat of all. There was a newspaper article about Americans held in Mexican jails for years where the law says you are guilty until proven innocent. We heard stories of Americans chained and thrown into dirt pits covered over with plywood and left there for months.
In the mid 1960’s, assisted by the American government, a modern four-lane toll rode was paved all the way to Ensenada. This toll road goes right down the coast, past all the beautiful beaches and surf spots. Before that, the old two-lane road routed inland away from the coast so you really couldn’t see the surf spots. There was only a dirt road heading south past Ensenada in the 1950’s so hardly anyone ventured further than that.
We were part of the first onslaught of toll road surfers who eventually made “local” Mexico just as crowded as the US surf spots. We explored every inch of every beach between the boarder and Ensenada looking for ridable waves. Primarily, we surfed at k38 1/8, k39, Rauls (named after a great bar on the road just above the beach) and San Miguel. Most of the surf spots are named after the nearest kilometer marker that appears along the roadside. The markers measure the distance from the boarder. Unlike California, you could camp right on the low bluff above the surf. You were relatively safe except when the cops would cruse your camp in the late evening, searching for drugs and anyone with long hair. This was the early 1970’s during the first “War on Drugs”. The Mexican government was cooperating by turning away from its boarders or arresting any American male with hair long enough to touch his shoulders. When we crossed the boarder, our friends with long hair were hidden in the back of my van under a large mound of camping gear and food. In camp at night the long hair guys would have to keep a weary eye out for approaching headlights that may be a cop car. They would scamper down the bluff and hide on the beach until all was clear. Each one of us would “assist” a cop if they insisted on searching our belongings for drugs because the cops often planted pot, which they would use to extort bribes.
1971, Barrie and I had just opened the first Infinity shop in Huntington Beach. Amongst the new customers and friends that we were meeting was a group of “older” surfers in their late forties. I found them fascinating because they had all been surfing since the 1950’s and had great stories from the past. These guys were all from the original Malibu crew and some were on the USC swim and water polo teams. The group included Les Williams, Kit Horn, Jerry Mc Namee, Buzzy Trent, Peter and Carney Cole. Buzzy and Peter moved to Hawaii and became famous 60’s big wave surfers. The rest of the guys lived in Calif. and surfed Calif. and Mexico. They invited Barrie and I on one of their surf trips to K181.
We were used to the little K’s like K 38. Man, K181 sounded like deepest Baja to us and it was. After a life of driving 30 minutes, maybe an hour to go surfing, a five-hour drive down into Baja was unbelievable. After passing Ensendada, you still had to cross over two mountain ranges on the narrow, windy two-lane road. The turn off was just an unmarked dirt road. This dirt road was the longest, roughest, most washed out dirt road I had ever been on. It traversed yet another mountain range by winding down a lush tree lined canyon, which followed a stream that led to the coast. The bottom of the lush canyon was a sharp contrast to the hot, dry semi desert peaks stretching beyond the steep canyon walls. The road crisscrossed the stream a dozen times. Each winter, the stream floods and the dirt road is rerouted by the Mexican fisherman who just drive their trucks through the underbrush to find a new way past an obstacle. As you drive down the canyon, you can see the old dead end routs from past years. At the mouth of the canyon where the stream enters the ocean is the perfect set up for a great surf spot. This same canyon continues on out to sea under water, funneling and focusing the waves onto the river rock reef formed by the annual flood. It is amazing to know that Les Williams and Larry Goodwin first Explored Northern Baja and discovered K181 In 1957. At that time the paved road stopped at Ensenada and was nothing but a dirt and gravel road all the next 50 miles to K181.
This was our first trip to 181 in the old van
This first trip to K181 was the closest we had come to surfing waves like we had found in Hawaii because the waves were so big and makeable. This place actually had three reefs where the waves broke further and further out to sea. The third reef only broke when the waves were over 12 foot and it never sectioned or closed out. It was quite an honor surfing with Kit, Les, Jerry and Doc. Cherry. Many times Blacky August, Robert August’s dad would show up too. From then on, K181 was our new spot. We did four to six trips there every year. We brought along a wide assortment of friends and over the years quite a few things happened that can now be combined into one nice story:
We were heavy into dirt bikes in the 1970’s and everyone brought their bikes down to k181. We’d surf all morning, eat lunch and do a nice long ride before the evening glass off. About five miles down the coast, there is a small volcano where you can ride your motorcycle right up the steep path, through a natural lava spillway and into the cinder cone. Sometimes, Mexican sheepherders would drive their sheep into the cone and then fence off the path to make a natural coral. There is an ancient lava flow that leads down to the water. After the lava flowed over the sand berm onto the beach, it hit the water and quickly cooled into a 15-foot high lava bluff. Over the years as the waves pounded against the lava, the sand was washed away underneath the lava creating a low, wide cave that goes back about 25 yards. The opening of the cave is just above water level at medium tide, but the interior ceiling of the cave becomes nearly 10-feet high where the ancient sand berm was. At the highest point of the cave, up in the ceiling, there is a 3-foot diameter hole we call the blowhole because a horrendous blast of air will belch out of the cave through the blowhole each time a wave breaks into the entrance at high tide.
For two years, we’d stare down into the blowhole watching the waves pass under us. We didn’t know how deep the water was and we didn’t know what the bottom was like. Was it covered with sea urchins? The very thought of going in there was just plane scary, but as time went on, we finely ventured in. At first, we dropped a rope down the blowhole and climbed into the cave from the ceiling. Later, we just jumped in the ocean and swam into the darkness threw the mouth.
This screenshot was taken at low tide the first year we discovered the cave and had not yet ventured in. I just climbed down the rope and shot the movie out the entrance.
This is an old 8mm movie taken before we started swimming in the cave. it is followed by a funny mis timed skit that Barrie and I did.
As the waves enter the cave, they scrape along the low ceiling for the first 20 feet. From inside, looking out, the sight is beautiful, because the water becomes a bright translucent green as the sun shines into the mouth of the cave, through the thin wall of water rushing towards you. You can see small fish, backlit by the sun. You feel the atmospheric pressure build as the air is compressed into the cave by the oncoming wave. You hear from inside, the air explode out through the blowhole 10 feet above your head. The water at medium tide is about 4 ft. deep under the blowhole; so you can take a quick swim stroke, catch the wave and body surf all the way to the small subterranean beach at the back of the cave.
At high tide if you sit on the small beach in the back of the cave, the cave ceiling is just an inch above your head. You watch each wave rush in. You feel the air pressure build and as the wave rushes up the beach, you push your hands against the lava ceiling so you won’t be knocked over. You hold your breath, close your eyes and everything turns black. The water completely fills in around you and up solid against the ceiling. You realize that you are 25 yards back from the entrance of a cave that is flooded solid to the ceiling and you are just sitting there. You get this sick feeling of terror in your stomach and then the wave dissipates, and you can breathe again. The cycle happens every couple of minutes, so you have an equal time under water as you do above; breathing and feeling the air pressure changes as the water rushes in and out. As the tide rises, the mouth of the cave is more under water and the back of the cave is more flooded.
Why do we do scarry stuff like ride “roller-coasters” or want the shit scared out of us? I don’t know, but it sure is fun. When you want to get out of the cave, you just walk or swim back out to where the blowhole is and climb up a rope or swim the gauntlet under the low ceiling through the in rushing waves to the cave opening where the surf pounds against the lava bluff. Once out, you must swim out into the ocean and about 60 ft. north to a small cove nearby where you can climb up the lava bluff with out being hit by breaking waves.
On this trip, the surf was giant. By the time we rode down to the cave, it was high tide and ten-foot waves were pounding against the lava bluff. Everyone pretty much sketched out on the idea of going into the cave except Dave Farley and I. We forgot to bring a rope, so we would have to jump in threw the blowhole and swim out through the entrance to get out. The plan was: when we wanted to come out, Barrie would stand over the blowhole and signal when there were no big set waves coming so we could swim out. I had one pair of swim fins so I gave one fin to Dave and I took the other. There were about 15 people watching, including some local fishermen and they all thought we were crazy. I figured it would be about the same as the many other times we’d been in the cave; I figured wrong!
As soon as I jumped through the blowhole and dropped 10 feet down into the water, I was swept back away from the entrance. Dave was right behind me so we were swept together back to the little beach. We crawled up onto the sand and held onto the ceiling. Things were different; the water was rushing in more than in just waves, but in torrents like a raging river. After each wave engulfed us and flooded the cave up to the ceiling, it whooshed out to each side and dissipated into lateral subterranean tunnels that led back out to sea. The prospect of being swept laterally into the drain tunnels was unnerving. In the short period between waves when we could talk and breathe, we marveled at the terrifying spectacle. After about 5 minutes, we decided to swim back out to the spot under the blowhole where Barrie would give us the OK signal. We were able to reach the spot, but had to maintain a full crawl stroke against the current to hold our position. She kept signaling no! (the surf is too big). After several minutes of swimming in place, I waved that we were going back into shallower water to rest. We were standing in waist deep water towards the back of the cave trying to sense when the waves would let up, but it was hard to tell because the low ceiling of the 20 foot entrance was solid under water. We didn’t have a rope to climb up through the blowhole, so we had no choice but to swim out.
There was a let up in the onslaught, so we swam back under the blowhole to see Barrie’s signal. She was pointing out to sea; time to go for it. We had to swim under water for 20 feet to the entrance because at high tide the ceiling leading out was below sea level. We each took a deep breath of air and started swimming out side by side. As I was swimming, I couldn’t see, but I had the feeling that I was actually going backwards against the on rush of water gushing into the cave. I rolled over and reached for the lava ceiling. I was being drug back into the cave. With my fingers, I clawed the nooks and spikes of lava and pulled my way forward. I was belly up underwater, pulling my way hand over hand towards AIR. It was only 20 feet, but it felt like 200 yards. Finally, I made it, gasping for air, and found myself inches away from the lava bluff being pounded by ten-foot surf. I dove through several waves and got clear of the lava. Dave wasn’t there. I treaded water and waited for Dave as that feeling of hopeless panic set in. Then he exploded to the surface, also gasping for air. I yelled what happened? He said; I ran out of air and had to turn around. He ended up crawling on the ceiling same as me to get out. The swim to the next cove through the 10-foot surf looked hard, but it was nothing compared to crawling upside down underwater.
We survived, but now we only go in the cave with an escape rope so we can climb out through the blowhole if the tide and the waves are too high.
This is Dave Farley’s personal comments about this adventure:
Steve had been here many times before and knew the area well. He said "after surfing, let's cruise down to the blowhole" Cool, I'm thinking. Been there, done that, except, the surf was pretty big that day, not the biggest I've seen, mind you but kinda knarly.
The blowhole was going off! The water was actually surging out of the hole and blasting into the sky on the biggest waves. This didn't deter us, we were going in.
Steve dropped in first and disappeared into the back of the cave. I followed and got to the beach just before another wave hit. Normally, this is a semi-low risk, fun "adventure" that any competent waterman could handle. Today was different. With a rising tide and larger than normal surf, the blowhole was not as friendly.
From the back of the cave, we could see the waves break against the cave entrance. Instead of a gentle surge, a great white buffalo would attack the entrance of the cave, closing off the light at the end of the tunnel. Passing the blowhole, the light is out and brother, hang on. After a couple of these, we were hootin and hollerin and I'm sure Barrie and the others topside thought we were dying or something.
We finally decided to make our way out. Steve went first. When my time came, I waited for the wave to hit me and would try to ride out with it as it retreated from the cave. On most days, you can swim out with your head above water but not today. The cave would stay full as the wave retreated and surged back and forth. I found myself upside down, crawling on the roof of the cave, trying to get out before the next wave hit and I would run out of air. Finally out, I got a breath and had to frantically swim through a couple of the buffalos so as not to get slammed back into the cave entrance. Steve was treading water just outside. I almost drowned from laughing so hard because I was still alive!
Getting out was also precarious. The normally easy climb out was now a roiling cauldron of surging whitewater that if not timed right, would throw you against the sharp lava cliff and drag you back across it, making hamburger of your skin. We both climbed out, mostly unscathed.
Back topside, everyone was scared we were goners and would drown or be crushed against the rocks or lost in the cave forever. We just looked at each other and said. "that was fun".
One of our friends was asked by some fishermen if we were "professional divers". He said, "nah, their just surfers".
In hind sight, that was pretty dangerous but we fared well.
So, why do we sometimes do dumb things?
Because we can!
"Dangerous Dave" Farley
Later that after noon, Jesus (hey-sus) a local fisherman came by selling lobsters for $3 each. We had a large group and bought 20. We had not seen Jesus for several months. He had been in jail. He had six kids and his wife had him arrested for not working. I couldn’t see exactly how that helped her situation, but then again, he was back on the job. We invited him back for the party after dinner. He said he would bring his band to play for us.
Barrie and our neighbor, Mike decided to dig clams to eat along with the lobster. Mike took a bottle of tequila down to the beach and was sipping tequila and digging clams all afternoon. They came back up to camp with two buckets of clams and Mike was pretty lit. One thing about drinking, it makes you want to get crazy and do something ridiculous. He wanted to ride my 500 cc dirt bike and blow off a little steam.
Here is a shot of me doing a wheelie past our camp.
Me, being young, stupid and pretty boozed up myself said; go for it, but put on some shoes. I knew that he didn’t have much experience on a bike and would be humorous to watch. He jumped on, gave it way too much gas and headed out of camp in a wild zigzag, dirt spewing cloud. He headed for the steep, narrow footpath that led up and out of the stream basin that we camp in. He hit the left turn onto the path, gassed it, and went bouncing and careening over the rocks and bumps. The wheels of the bike were barely touching down and his feet were no longer on the pegs. The back wheel hit a big bump throwing the back of the bike into the air. He bounced into what we call the “leaping W” position, where your feet fly into the air, forward up over the handlebars while you are still hanging on with your arms down below your butt. His Leaping W turned into a layout back gainer and he landed on his back in the middle of a big cactus patch.
It was ugly; he was literally impaled (with no shirt) on the cactus. We had to grab his arms and legs and pull him off the cactus. Needles broke off and were stuck ¾” into his back. We had to use a pair of pliers to pull them out one at a time. The blood was running down his back so we poured tequila on his back because we’d seen someone do that in a movie. That really lit his fire. He was in terrible pain. He took a couple more gulps of tequila, grabbed his surfboard and went out surfing. The salt water must have worked pretty well because he healed up pretty quickly. He also stayed away from my bike.
Our cars and vans were parked in a circle like covered wagons. Everyone was cooking something different to add to the lobsters and clams boiling in three big pots. We were all drinking various concoctions and having a great time. Right after sun down, we had finished dinner and Jesus (hey-sus) and his band arrived in a few rusty old cars. It turned out that they were kind of a back yard (they don’t have garages) mariachi band with two guitar players, a big base guitar and a sour notes trumpet player. We fixed the band members each a giant margarita and the party began. We were all dancing around the fire in the middle of the circle. I thought we looked like drunken Indians. Jesus didn’t actually play in the band he must have been their roady. He was pretty looped and he was dancing with Barrie around the fire. He kept dancing towards her with his eyes awash and his smelly hands reaching out, saying, “I want to touch you”. She was laughing, backing up and saying “no no no”.
One of the young guys, who came on this trip Chris, was a high school football player. He was pretty big and buff and everyone called him “Muscle City”. Muscle City came up to me complaining that he had been drinking all evening and he wasn’t even drunk. I said: Gee, Muscle, that’s too bad. I took one of those red plastic cups, filled it up with tequila and said: Here, this’ll fix your wagon. He took the cup and drank the tequila right down. He said: See, nothing! I knew Muscle was big, but I thought he was just showing off so I said: Here you can have this, and handed him the rest of the tequila bottle. I’ve never seen anything like it; he tilted back and emptied the bottle. As he lowered the bottle, it hit him. His eyes looked wild and he started whooping like and Indian and dancing around the fire. I was afraid he was going to fall in and burn himself. He ran over to my van yelling something about how I was trying to kill him. He reached down, grabbed the side of my van under the body and was lifting it up. I swear, he got the two side wheels off the ground. I was seriously worried that he was going to role my van over. I ran over and got him to put it down, and suggested that he should go for a long walk. Lucky, we were good friends. I’m sure he could have crunched my head in. He headed off into the night. He must have ran up the foot path where Mike had crashed my motorcycle because a few minutes later, we could all see him up on the bluff silhouetted in the moon light, howling at the moon like a wolf. The party raged on. The band was lost in a hodge-podge Mexican melody extemporaneously composed, Jesus passed out and everyone was dancing with everyone while Muscle City howled at the moon. Before long, coyotes, drawn by Muscles howling, came down from the hills and they were all lined up on the bluff howling with Muscle at the moon.
Barrie, Carol Courtney Debby Dorsey and some of the other girls decided to strip naked and streak Blacky August’s ( father of Robert August of The Endless Summer fame) camp about 100 feet away. Those old guys were missing our party and were quietly sitting around their own campfire. The girls swooped in on them, a dream come true. Half a dozen naked gorgeous 24-year-old women go-go dancing around their fire, then poof, they were off skinny-dipping in the ocean. Blacky came up to me the next day to ask when our next trip was gonna be.
In the wee hours of the night, the band was too drunk to play anymore so they drove off in their rusty Chevy’s. We went to bed to the sound of Muscle City howling with the coyotes. A few hours later, I had to pee and climbed out of my van. A cold fog had blown in and the night had turned damp and cold. Muscle was laying half out of his tent, bear-chested in the dirt. He was lying on his back, moaning and barfing geysers of barf straight up into the air. It was coming down and covering his face and body. He was a real mess, so I decided to go back to bed. The next morning, I woke up to pee again about 6:30 am. There was a stiff fog–wind blowing and it was pretty damn cold. Muscle was still lying there; dry heaving in a big barf pool. I felt pretty bad for him and thought maybe he should drink some milk or something. I poured him a big glass of milk and tried to rouse him. He tried to open his eyes, but his eye sockets were full of barf, so he wiped it out with his fingers. When he sat up, he looked at what a big mess he was, got up and started walking towards the ocean. He just walked into the cold water and disappeared into the fog. The rest of that day, Muscle didn’t come out of his tent.
We had planned to do a fast “guys” ride on the motorcycles 30 miles down the coast to Camalu, but decided to postpone it a day because of Muscle’s condition. After the morning surf session, we all (except Muscle) rode the bikes back up into the hills to visit an old turquoise mine. The mine is way up on the side of the mountain with an extremely steep footpath leading to the entrance. From the entrance, there is a sweeping view of the whole coastline from the volcano to the South to the ocean horizon in the West. Barrie rode her own little Honda 75 so I was free to do my typical hill climb thing on my big 500cc “thumper”. I was standing on the foot pegs and bouncing over the rocks up towards the mine. The problem was, I wasn’t wearing my motorcycle boots, just tennis shoes. When you stand on the pegs, your foot tends to point down. When my foot caught on a big rock, it bent my foot down and under the peg. It must have pulled or strained all the tendons in the top of my foot. I have never been in so much pain in my life. I laid the bike down and just sat there in the dirt suffering. When the group finally got up to me, Barrie gave me lecture #47 about not wearing my boots. I never made it up to the cave and spent the rest of the day lying around camp nursing my sore foot and washing Tylenol down with beer.
The next day after the morning surf, which I couldn’t do, the guys were preparing for the long bike ride to Camalou. Muscle had recovered somewhat and even he was getting ready. I still could barely walk, but I really wanted to go. Barrie helped me get my foot into my motorcycle boots and Muscle said that he would kick start my bike for me. The girls didn’t mind watching camp because they knew that they would have the surf all to themselves for the rest of the day.
We roared out of camp in a cloud of dust. We headed south, past the volcano and blowhole where the road loops inland for about 15 miles through Johnson’s Ranch. Johnson’s Ranch is on the coast and has giant sand dunes where you can ride your bike at fifty mph across the face of 100-foot high waves of sand. It’s really fun and relatively safe. We rode the sand dunes for about an hour then headed down the wide flat beach another 15 miles toward the point at Cape Colonet. At a certain point, you have to go up onto the dirt road that leads to the top of the eight hundred foot bluff over looking Cape Colonet We stopped for a while to look down at the perfectly shaped, inaccessible waves breaking at the tip of the cape. Every time we’d stop, Muscle would have to kick-start my high compression four stroke for me. That was pretty nice of him, considering what I had given him to drink a couple nights past. We went along the bluff at Colonet, down onto the beach in the cove, and on south to Quatro Casas.
Quatro Casas is a semi known surf spot that can often become crowded. A few Americans have towed old cabin cruiser style boats down there, put them on stands up on the bluff and turned them into “land yachts” which they basically use as mini week end condos. For the next five miles south, there is point after point with unridden waves. The best spot was called Rincon De Baja. On a big west swell, it can have a nice long Rincon like ride. Around 1978 a small freighter went aground right on the point and the name Rincon De Baja was lost forever to the new name --- da; Shipwrecks. There is no good surf south of Shipwrecks until you get to the point at Camalu.
Coming in from the North as we did on motorcycles, you arrive at Punta Camalu on top of a five hundred foot bluff overlooking a spectacular view of waves wrapping into a protected cove. We stopped here as we did at all of the spots to watch the waves and asses the area as a future campsite.
It was mid afternoon and we had been riding for about 4 hours. We each had some small snacks and a little water, but we were getting hot, tired, hungry and thirsty. We knew that just 1.5 miles inland from the beach was the town of Camalu situated on Mex. Hwy 1. It has a gas station and we figured that we could find refreshments. We gassed up at the Pemex station and asked where we could get some beer. The attendant pointed towards “Market Street” (which actually had no name). It turns out that this particular Sunday really was market day. The street was crowded with carts full of every kind of produce, and make shift booths where venders were offering everything from vegetables to 8 track tapes, T-shirts to auto parts and old tires.
There were about 6 of us on big, loud dirt bikes. We looked pretty ominous with our knee-high boots, and bandanas wrapped around our foreheads to prevent windburn. We rode slowly through the crowd, our big powerful bikes rumbling submissively, right down the center of the street between the venders to the only bar at the end of the street. Every eye was on us as the crowd parted. The cleft was closed as we passed by with an entourage of kids following behind us. We parked the bikes in front of the bar, which except for the lack of hitching rails, looked like an old bar in a western movie, complete with swinging half doors. Surprisingly, no one was in the bar apparently because the biggest deal in town was market day. We walked and I limped up to the bar, man we were hot, and thirsty. I immediately ordered “tres cervesas” and pounded them down like lemonade. We were clowning around and kinda hanging out. I was just getting ready to find the banyo to take a pee when Wayne Lamar handed me another Corona. I was still thirsty, so I chugged it all in one gulp, unzipped my jeans, took out my “you-know-what” and pissed in the beer bottle. I filled it right up to exactly where it was and handed it back to Wayne. It looked for anything just like the beer had just gone down my pipe and come out the other end with out stopping; it was the exact same color. He stood there holding the warmed beer and said: How’d you do that?
With heads spinning, we decided to head back. When we walked out the door, there was a large crowd of guys looking at our bikes and just observing the “Gringos”. Muscle said: “Hay Boehne, d’ya want me to kick start your bike for ya?” I could barely feel my foot anymore, so I figured I could kick it at least once myself and I didn’t want to look like a sissy in front of the baddest guys the town had to offer. I turned on the gas valve, gave it a little prime, crossed my fingers and kicked it a good one. When you want to do something spectacular, you don’t start in first gear because your bike “winds out” too quick and you need to shift right in the middle of your bitchin move. I slammed it into second gear, left my good foot on the ground, laid the bike over, gassed it and popped the clutch. I did three or four donuts, spraying dust and rocks all over everybody. Man I was lit. I straightened out and headed right down the center of Market Street in a stand up wheelie just like Evil Kinevil. Lucky my bike was so loud because they heard me coming before I even got there. I past the watermelon and tomato carts OK, but right in front of the mango, papaya and banana stand, I went right over backwards. All I had on was a T-shirt and I landed right on my back in the middle of everybody. I was drunk, but not too much to be as embarrassed as hell. The bike landed about ten feet away from me on the throttle side of the handlebars. The forward motion twisted the throttle grip and gunned the motor. The thing was making a horrible noise and the rear wheel was spinning and throwing gravel into all the carts. I was in so much pain that it was beyond anything I could do about it, so I laughed as loud as I could in the most “who could give a shit” way I could and ran for the bike. I grabbed the clutch and hoped the motor wouldn’t quite because all I wanted to do was get out of Camalu. The handlebars were cocked way around to one side, but I managed to make my exit.
The rest of the guys were panicked because they figured that they would be surrounded, stoned to death, tortured or at least thrown into one of those famous police dirt pits. The town came unglued; first there was silence; and then applause erupted. The spontaneous, celebratory smashing of watermelons and tomatoes looked like New Years Eve at Time Square. People were falling out of windows and cheering in the street. They were yelling something like “stupido gringo loco”. The guys saw their opportunity to leave, so they mounted up, headed for a side street and back to Mex. Hwy 1.
On Mex. Hwy 1, I made it over the first hill out of town and just stopped on the side of the road. I was a mess, everything hurt and I was pissed. The guys rode up laughing like they had seen the funniest thing that had ever happened. They were nearly delirious with tears running down their cheeks. It just made me more and more pissed which just made them laugh even more. Wayne said that the town now had a new holiday called “Pinche Gringo Day”. We got my handlebars straightened out and started again on Mex. Hwy 1, the quick rout back to camp.
MUSCLE CITY GETS BUSTED UP
The next day, everyone slept in. About 9 am I got up and made a pot of coffee. The surf was now small so there was no rush to get into the water. Muscle came by for some coffee and asked what was up the beach north of camp. I said there is a small point up there that sometimes has pretty good waves. Around noon, he decided to ride up the beach on his 500cc bike to check it out. He took off across the sand at about 60 mph. A while later, a guy came by our camp in a dune buggy yelling that we had better get up the beach fast because our friend had crashed his motorcycle and was hurt really bad. A few of us jumped in his dune buggy and he drove us up to the crash scene. When we got there, Muscle was laying on his stomach face down in the sand. His arms and legs were spread out in awkward positions and he wasn’t moving. I ran up and said: Muscle, are you all right? Which obviously, he wasn’t. He whispered up to me: I can’t move. My back hurts really bad. I lifted up his T-shirt to see that he had a grapefruit size swollen lump under the skin, on his backbone just above the belt line. It was obvious that he had broken his back and was instantly paralyzed.
During a winter rainstorm, a stream had broken through the sand berm to make a 20-foot wide streambed with 4-foot high vertical sides. At 60 mph, Muscle couldn’t see the cut in the sand until it was too late. He had no choice but to try to jump the span. His front tire made it, but the bike hit the other side right below his foot pegs. His body was pile-driven right into the gas tank, then he and the bike did a forward loop about ten feet into the air. He eventually came to rest on his stomach on the beach. One advantage to being instantly paralyzed is he couldn’t feel his balls after the crash. The gas tank on the bike was crushed in right where his crotch compressed it on impact.
We divided into work groups trying to assist Muscle and make him comfortable. We decided not to move him because of his back injury. The dune buggy guy gave me a ride up to the tiny village of Erendera where someone had a ham radio. The ham guy called the US Search and Rescue people for me. I requested a Med-Evac helicopter to come down and pick up our injured friend. I was told that there were no helicopters available because it was the weekend of the Barstow to Vegas motorcycle race and they were all out in the desert picking up crashed motorcycle racers. We drove back down to the beach where by now a large crowd of people had gathered. I said that we would have to take him across the boarder ourselves, but everyone was arguing not to move him. One guy insisted that he had contacted a helicopter rescue service with his CB radio and the helicopter would be there in about an hour. I said: I don’t think so because a CB radio has a range of about 5 miles, but everyone insisted that we wait for the helicopter. I went back up to camp and had something to eat. After a couple of hours, I drove back up to town and hunted down a big piece of half-inch plywood. I was able to drive Muscles’ van to within 200 yards of where he lay. He had been lying in the hot sun for quite a long time, he had gone into shock and the tide was coming up to where it would soon be washing over him. I laid the piece of plywood down next to him and began discussing the plan for sliding him onto it with out jostling his back. The crowd of people (who we didn’t even know) was all yelling at me not to move him. The scene was very frustrating. Finally, Muscle with all the strength he could muster yelled out: Shut up!!!, Steve is going to get me out of here. The crowd backed off and very carefully we slid him over onto the piece of plywood, carried him to the van and slid him in the back like a big slice of pizza.
By now it was nearly 5 pm. The five hours Muscle had laid in the sun paralyzed because of the idiot with the CB radio was hideous. I drove Muscles’ van and his girl friend came along with me. The rest of our group stayed in camp. The drive out the long, rough dirt road to Mex. Hwy 1 was slow and painful. Every bump and curve caused Muscle to moan with pain. It was around mid night by the time we reached the boarder. Muscle was in shock and had the chills pretty bad. The guard quickly waved us through when I explained the situation. The van was on empty when we hit the border, but I planned to buy gas right on the other side. When we drove up to the gas station it was closed. We got back on the freeway, but now we were seriously stressed about running out of gas on the free way. I stopped at the next off ramp, but that gas station was also closed.
We were headed for Scripts Hospital in San Diego, but I didn’t know exactly where it was or how much farther Muscles’ van would go. I decided to quite wasting gas by getting off the freeway, and to just go for the hospital. Finally, we saw the Scripts hospital sign at an off ramp. We got off and followed the signs towards the hospital. As we were heading up a long, steep hill, we could see the big hospital buildings at the top. About half way up the hill, the Van started chugging, it was running out of gas. After a really stressful drive, it seemed our next nightmare was about to begin. It could add another 60 minutes to get Muscle to the hospital if we got stuck now. I started pumping the gas pedal, to get a few more feet of forward motion before the engine quite. I then abruptly did a U-turn, aiming back down the hill as the engine quit. I knew that the gas line from the tank to the engine comes out of the front end of the tank (nearest to the engine). Since we were on a hill, the remaining gas flowed to the front (down hill side) of the tank. I turned the ignition key and the engine restarted. I backed the van up the last half mile of the hill, crested the top and did another U-turn. As we coasted down the other side towards the big Scripts parking lot, I picked out the Emergency entrance sign and headed for it. The van coasted to a stop right in front of the door.
I ran in to the receptionist and said I’ve got a guy outside who is really busted up. She said: I’ll get a wheel chair. I said: No way can he get into a wheel chair. She sent two orderlies out with a gurney. I told them to look at his back. The first guy lifted his shirt and gave me a look like “man this is serious”. They left him on the sheet of plywood, laid it on the gurney and wheeled him straight into surgery.
We were exhausted, and pretty much stuck in the hospital parking lot. I had a couple of beers and tried to get some sleep. Some time later, just before dawn, the surgeon came out to tell us how the surgery went. He said that he had done hundreds of these surgeries and this was the luckiest guy he had ever worked on. When he cut into Muscles back, one vertebra was shattered, with splinters of bone pressing against the spinal cord. He thought for sure the cord had been severed, but as he lifted the pieces of bone away, the spinal cord, remained intact. As I recall, he then fussed some vertebra together to stabilize the area. He said that since the cord had been pinched for so many hours, Muscle would be completely paralyzed from the waist down for about 2 months but would eventually recover completely.
We got a little sleep and the next morning, visited Muscle and called his parents.
After his shift, one of the orderlies took muscles 5 gallon gas can and bought us some gas. We headed back into Mexico and the beach at k181. It was the last day, so we broke camp and went home. We visited Muscle in the hospital each week. At first he had no feeling from the waist down, but after he went home, a month or so later it came back. Muscle recovered fully and has been working as a heavy equipment driver in the construction trade ever sense.
The events in this story are all true, but happened on different trips to k181 over a period of about 10 years. I compressed them into one story to save reading time. We still go in the blowhole cave once in a while, and Jesus was still selling lobsters on the beach 30 years later. There is another story featuring Muscle with his new girlfriend a few years later. It’s called “The worst story I know”. I’ll put into the website in the future.