I love riding waves. I always have. The problem is as in life itself, there are a yin and a yang to surfing. The yin is the penultimate of riding deep inside the curl and being shot out the other side as if by an unnatural force. The yang is the sure possibility of never coming out alive almost every time you paddle out. I almost did die in the winter of 1969.
That December day, a benchmark in my life, San Diego had one of the biggest northwest swells ever to hit our coast. I remember going to Sunset Cliffs, stopping at a gas station to take care of nature and to slip into my armor plated wetsuit. Those were the dive wetsuits with no legs, just a jacket with a flap.
We drove up Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to North Garbage and when we stood over the cliffs, lined with tripods and long-range lenses, eyeballing monsters rising from the gray horizon, I knew I was doomed. I thought for sure I needed to go back and visit that gas station again.
In those days, we had 35- to 40-pound long boards with no leashes. In order to paddle out at North or South Garbage you had to scale the bluffs to get up and down. There were footholds and strategically placed steel rods pounded into the bluffs to hold on to. Getting down the 40-foot bluff was enough. If the tide was high, it was brutal waiting for a set to pass so you could dive in over the rocks to paddle out. Fortunately, there is a channel to paddle through to get outside the set line to allow you to avoid getting pounded on the way out.
On this day I was sure a set would clean out the channel and I’ll be darned if it didn’t. I knew, no matter how hard I paddled, I would never make it over the last set wave, but with my heart in my throat I dug as quick and hard as I could. As I paddled up a face of sheer terror for what seemed an interminable amount of time I fell just short of busting through a massive lip of sheer force.
I was pitched backward in flight in slow motion as if reality was going to come soon enough. The crash ripped both shoulders out of their sockets as I attempted to hold onto my board. I survived the tumbling churn with a half a second of air left in my lungs only to feel helpless.
The shoulders hurt and I could barely move my arms. Fortunately it was the set wave and there was a lull. My surfboard was pinned underwater long enough to become a missile shooting high above the white water on its way back to a horizontal plane. I had lucked out.
Unfortunately, I then suffered cramps in both hips. But somehow I got back to my board with the help of my friend, Ted Weeks. That day could have been one of those exit points that God has planned for us. I’ve been freaked by big waves ever since.
That’s why I love Punta de Mita, especially this time of year. Up through the end of April it is the place to be if you’re an old kook surfer like me who doesn’t like to get pounded.
Picture an 84-degree day, paddling out through a channel to waist- to head-high Malibu-shaped picture perfect rights in an 80-degree glassy turquoise sea overseen by a wispy blue firmament and a dash of breeze.
That’s what it’s like in the little enclave known as Punta de Mita. It’s just a pretty drive up the coast about 40 km from romantic Puerto Vallarta and a $235 round trip ticket from Tijuana. Don’t let the cold gray winter and our baby boomer bones get you down. Go live again.