Of Surf and Ceramic Monkeys III


Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

The recent act of turning down a dirt road brought back memories of Baja. Memories of surf, but of other things too. Of campfires, washboard ruts, Federales, questionable taco stands, close calls, tarantula hawks, trippy-looking cacti, blistering heat, watery feces, fly swarms, flat tires, sandy tents, hospitable locals, lobster for trade, rain squalls, bribe strategies, panga rides, and ceramic monkeys.

Like warm urine in a fresh wetsuit, it all came flooding back.

The welcome delight of these peripheral, non-surf memories made me realize that for a California surfer, going to Baja is less about finding waves than I thought. It’s more about finding an alternate universe. About the possibility of getting into a vehicle and driving yourself and your friends from one world to a very, very different one.

Further down the road, I picked up a whiff of something. I couldn’t quite identify it, but then I realized why: it was a combo smell of some sort. Maybe boat gas and burning trash and tamales. Maybe not. But it was definitely a Baja smell, an odorous reminder of things past: tequila chased, scorpions blowtorched, mahi panfried, Bullfrog smeared, beans digested, carburetors flushed.

The dirt road ended, and only a 50-yard sand berm stood between myself and the ocean. I couldn’t see the surf, so I turned off the engine and listened. The air was punctuated with the roar of a new swell, but there were other sounds too: seabirds, wax scraping on boards, music emanating from rent-a-cars and aging 4-Runners, and the excited chatter of anxious surfers.

I locked the car and ran.

It is with sensory driven nostalgia that I recently dug through my files and selected some lesser and non-published photos to post on this blog. Maybe not the best photographs, but treasured moments just the same.

Orange County 5/20
Shocker toss-up: I don't what's weirder looking, nobody out at Zippers, or zero development on the bluff. Photo: Gilley, circa 1983
Orange County 5/20
Central Baja makes you earn it. Photo: Gilley
Orange County 5/20
Roadside attraction: The late Anthony Cappa makes a new friend in Southern Baja. Photo: Gilley
Orange County 5/20
Baja imperative: Either know how to walk a log, or have your small-wave shortboard act down. Scott Blake. Photo: Gilley
Orange County 5/20
No bueno: Experienced Baja travelers know that summer thunderstorms should be met with trepidation. Photo: Gilley
Orange County 5/20
Sometimes the strongest memories are just fleeting glimpses. Mike Parsons, Todos Santos. Photo: Gilley

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