Of Surf and Ceramic Monkeys IV

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.

At nine o'clock the wind went nil and the ocean turned to glass. Multiple squadrons of brown pelicans glided down the surf line, hunting for fish. A pod of dolphins surfaced and then submerged out the back. A long, well-shaped set wave took me all the way to the sand.

I ran up the berm and paused at the juncture between a dune and the beachfront, so that my view of the surf was partially blocked. To my left I could see the dirt road stretching back to civilization.

From this vantage point, I could only see the ocean when a wave rose above the hidden horizon. A set came and the ocean began to lift. Onlookers hooted in the distance. The sun beat down, warming my salt-caked skin. It was a euphoric, words-fail moment--a moment that made me wonder why the f–k it took me so long to get back to Baja.

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.

Optimum Todos: Clean, eight feet, and Fidel's panga at the ready. Photo: Gilley

Possibly the least desirable three-word phrase in Baja: Broken ball joint. Photo: Gilley

Land of the free: Baja's open canvas allows surfers to draw any line they want. Saxon Boucher. Photo: Gilley

Don't let the pretty colors fool you--these bathrooms soon became the most horrific sight in Baja. Photo: Gilley

For making a solo drive in a beat-up station wagon, Mother Ocean awards Noah Budroe with the wave of the day. Photo: Gilley

Expect the unexpected: A freak tropical storm blows up the Gulf of California and provides Chris Menzie with his own private left point. Photo: Gilley