Theodore Tetrault works as a kayak guide and instructor year-round, following the seasonal tides and conditions. He’s been fortunate to work in Mexico, Chile, Scotland, and various parts of the United States. He’s also kayaked in Nepal and Bolivia on personal expeditions.
by Theodore Tetrault
The Baja Peninsula is the part of Mexico that extends 700 miles off the southern end of California. At only 30 miles wide, the peninsula is host to two coasts. They’re distinctly different from one another, yet spatially close enough to sample both in a single day.
The Pacific coast on the west is exposed to burly surf, pounding its desolate desert. The Gulf of California (more popularly known as the Sea of Cortez) is known for its beautiful sheltered waters and abundant marine life.
As a whole, this area is an instant classic for sea paddlers, ticking nearly all of the exciting boxes to go sea paddling while offering a range of conditions and levels for nearly any paddler.
The exposed Pacific side hosts remote, expedition-worthy swell, rock gardens and coast that will excite and engage advanced sea paddlers.
The eastern coast along the Gulf of California offers amazing touring and island chain expeditions with predictable weather patterns, warm water, and sunny skies. White sand beaches, snorkeling, wildlife, and mind-blowing geology add to make this area an absolute classic for sea touring.
From Loreto to La Paz to the Bahía del Angeles, there are countless routes one can do without ever getting bored.
Finding the Ideal Kayak Surf on the Pacific Coast
We—my paddle partners Garrett and James, driver Sergio, and me—sloshed back and forth in James’s boxy Honda Element wriggling its way over the minefield of chassis-shattering rocks that fortified the “road” to our put-in.
We bounced down the path like a cartoon clown car, overloaded with two surfboards, three packable sea kayaks, food, gear and fresh water for a week.
Each bop, bing, and bang made us cringe, worrying that the next might signal the end of the trip. Sergio seemed to be reassuring us everything would be okay, but our Spanish comprehension was inept. For all we knew, he could have been saying that we were definitely going to get stuck out there, just in a reassuring tone!
We were heading to Punta María, our put-in to start a week of paddling down a series of remote surf breaks on the Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula.
Sergio dropped us off as far north as we could get, and we worked our way down the coast slowly, exploring the seven supposed points that should host some surf waves.
The trip was uniquely designed by Garrett—a surfer-turned-paddler. He wanted to blend together the expeditionary self-reliance of sea kayaks with his other favorite water sport, surfing. Shortboards were strapped to the flat stern decks of the sea kayaks with all of our camping gear, food and water nested inside the boats.
Our specific location was given to us by my employer, Baja addict Ginni Callahan. The Seven Sisters are well-known to the surfing community—a series of point breaks along the remote coast of the peninsula.
A few of the points have bumpy “road” access where a small following of surfers park their off-road campers for weeks at a time. The rest of the points are rarely visited since the access is far too difficult for what would be a very similar surf feature.
Traveling by kayak, our goal was to spend more time exploring the coast, probing the nooks and crannies that are missed by the usual park-and-play surfer.
In Spanish, a sea lion is, lobo marino, literally translated to sea wolf. Along every coast, anywhere named Punta Lobos can be easily identified as hauling rocks for the large marine mammal. Point number four was a Punta Lobos. We could see the guano-stained cliffs of the peninsula as we approached. Sea lions bathed on the white rocks amongst hundreds of cormorants.
Easterly winds blew against the incoming swell creating rolling seas and breaking surf. From the water it was difficult to examine the landings on the north side of the point. Rock ledges dropped into the water intermittently flanked by short sections of sandy beach, making it difficult to find an obvious safe landing.
We continued on and tucked ourselves around the south side of the point and landed on a welcoming beach that had foot access to the summit. We gained the hill and looked over the northern bay.
Massive shore break waves attacked the coast and a left point break forming off of a large partially-covered rock broke every few sets. The breaking whitewater shoulder was deep, frothy and intimidating. Remnants of an old fire pit, probably made by fishermen a while back, were the only signs of people. We quickly emptied our boats to get back out on the water and play.
We stayed out until the sun began to dim. Garrett went diving for shellfish, coming back with clams and mussels that we cooked over a fire with garlic, accompanied by lime and tequila.
Though the other classic waves we had read about turned out to be everything we hoped, Punta Lobos stands out as the experience we had sought out—a nondescript beach far away from anyone else, exposed and rugged with powerful surf.
This is why we kayaked here.
Top Tips for Sea Kayaking in Baja
Rentals are few and far between if you want to access the remote coasts so bringing your own kayaks is the best option. We used TRAK Kayaks for maximum portability and logistical ease. We were incredibly surprised at the performance and durability of these skin-on-frame packing sea kayaks.
Be respectful of surf culture! Know the proper etiquette used by board surfers and understand that many see the Baja coast as a pilgrimage of sorts. Defer from arguing or getting in their way, and only surf if you know you can without endangering others at the break.
Be careful with vehicles and fuel! Once on the backroads there are no proper places to repair vehicles or refuel until returning to Highway 1. Even then you will have some more driving to do before services are available.
[Part 2 to come: Sea Kayaking in the Sea of Cortez]
(All photos courtesy of Theodore Tetrault)
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