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Vol. 18, No. 3: The Bandits of Baja Sur

If 2021 has taught us anything… it’s demonstrated that humans are a resilient species capable of adapting to whatever comes our way. When last summer’s lockdowns hit, the F-One team stayed close to home, pulling off a trip to Corsica, but with the pandemic’s twists and turns, the terrain has remained shaky with tremendous uncertainty for the lifestyle of a traveling athlete. When F-One came up with the idea of going back to Mexico to celebrate the origins of the Bandit for its 15th iteration, it felt like a nod to the old days and some hint of a return to normalcy—and a challenge we quickly accepted. As the team assembled in Madrid, awaiting our gear for the next leg ahead, there was this brilliant spark of excitement; it was as if we were going back to our life before.

With our departure only a day away, we learned that a good portion of our gear was delayed and would not clear customs. Armed with only our boards and just the freestyle kites, Mitu, Hendrick, Liam, Maxime, Marcella and myself boarded the plane, leaving Micka in Madrid to collect the rest of the equipment and catch up.

TOP LEFT: Marcela Witt on horseback. TOP RIGHT: Mitu Monteiro: one of the original F-One bandits. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul Serin and Liam Whaley are all smiles after their first ocean session. BOTTOM LEFT: Maxime Chabloz looking determined before the duel of the Bandits. // Photos F-One

Having never traveled to Mexico, I was expecting the landscape portrayed in my childhood comics. Yet upon arrival, Baja is a vibrant mixture of arid flatlands, tall mountains and the occasional tropical oasis in between. With extreme temperature fluctuations all occurring within close proximity, I never expected so much contrast. After landing in La Paz, we spend the first few days without our gear on the southeast side of Baja. With Covid infections on the rise, the beaches are closed, but our guide is able to find us a secret spot to kite at on a ranch surrounded by sandy roads, endless cacti and unbearable heat.

Paul Serin getting busy in La Paz. When most people think of southern Baja, they think of winter destinations like La Ventana or Los Barriles. Just over the hill, La Paz has a summertime thermal and its own unique scene. // Photo F-One

The locals tell us of a wind that picks up every evening around 7pm and blows offshore. While the Sea of Cortez’s flat, protected waters doesn’t excite Mitu, Hendrick or Marcela, we freestylers see plenty enough to make our mouths water. While the main objective is to drive up the west coast, we score two freestyle sessions at the ranch, allowing us to mix a bit of riding between days of rest and the drive north that lies ahead. 

TOP: With the resurgence of the pandemic and another beach access crack down imminent, the F-One team lines up a private beach free from prying eyes. // Photo Matt Georges BOTTOM RIGHT: Hundreds of roadside shrines that mark the passing of loved ones are a heavy reminder that even with its modern luxuries (read an extra six inches of width), the Baja road remains dangerous. // Photo Matt Georges BOTTOM LEFT: Finding wind in tidal lagoons on the Pacific side 12 hours to the north. // Photo Matt Georges

When Micka finally arrives with the full quiver of kites, we begin packing the SUV and a full-sized van with equipment and head north on Mexico 1. The objective is to reach as far north as Bahía Asunción, but our first stop will be the zone surrounding Abreojos. As our entourage climbs the grade out of La Paz, the thermometer on the overhead display freaks out and pins itself at 120 degrees. With seven of us crammed in the SUV and five in the van behind, we set the air conditioning to full blast, eating up the asphalt on the 12-hour drive. 

Travel in the dark is not recommended; there’s rumors of road bandits, but mostly it’s not advised as a safety precaution for untethered cows that roam freely at night. We stop midway and book ourselves into a hotel. Surrounded by a dry horizon, I have trouble convincing myself of the prospect of wind and waves that lie ahead. The landscapes are incredible, but the fatigue of driving and the lack of perspective puzzles me. I talk to Liam and Max about it—we are all crossing our fingers that everything will work out in the coming days. In the meantime, we relax in the swimming pool of this strange hotel where the water does not provide any refreshment. Hovering around 95 degrees, we cannot beat the heat, but the balmy water is expected considering the daytime temperature.

Maxime Chabloz combines amplitude and precision style in the shallows of the Sea of Cortez. La Paz is blessed with an evening thermal, known to locals as the Cormuel wind; it brings cooler air from the Pacific side and blows offshore through the Bay of La Paz out into the Sea of Cortez. // Photo Matt Georges

With an early start the following day, I doze through the six-hour drive and become alert when we reach a dusty turnoff that takes us away from the relentless winding highway. As we approach the small village of La Bocana, we get our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and find our house perched atop a rocky hill with a magnificent view of the ocean. In amazing contrast with the Sea of Cortez, the marine climate is in the upper 60s, and the rocky outcroppings create so many kite spots, each with its own variation where you can find just about any type of wave.

Celebrating 15 years of the Bandit kite model, Baja’s seemingly endless frontier is the perfect backdrop for adventure. // Photo Matt Georges

On our first day, we decide to paddle out into the lineup to catch some surf while waiting for the wind to pick up. The green color of the water and the presence of stingrays makes me weary. We catch a few waves while Mitu and Hendrick prepare their equipment on the beach as the wind slowly ramps up. The wind never arrives, but at least we finish our first day on the coast with some surf and more hope for tomorrow. 

The next day, the freestyle team finds a well-oriented lagoon with light 12m conditions that are sufficient for shooting a group shot of the 15th anniversary Bandit. We are hardly back on the sand when Mitu and Hendrick arrive with exciting news of a hollow wave to the south of us. The gears quickly change as everyone frantically derigs their equipment. The sun is already low, and I barely have time to change before we’re packed in like sardines, driving south on the coastal dirt track. This is the epitome of photoshoots; plans change quickly and you have to take advantage of every opportunity. 

TOP: Capably managing the offshore direction, Hendrick throws a stylish backside carve off the lip. // Photo Matt Georges BOTTOM RIGHT: Mitu gouges one off the top of a section before firing down the line. // Photo Matt Georges BOTTOM LEFT: As Paul Serin points out, the Cabo Verdeans seem to transition seamlessly to Baja’s technical offshore break. // Photo Matt Georges

The wave is very close to the town; it’s a rifling reef break that winds around a very visible slab. The arrangement is not very motivating for me; I’d prefer softer conditions, but Mitu and Hendrick are moving in fast-forward, quickly slipping into wetsuits and finding their way into the water. Blending power and fluidity, Mitu connects big hits on the hollow A-frame with monster airs that are uniquely Mitu’s own style. Hendrick, a much younger rider, has his own fire, but you can see Mitu’s influence on his progression. Marcela joins them a little later, but surfing these waves on her backside with offshore winds puts the wave’s gravity in perspective. As the freestylers watch, we note the setup’s similarity to Ponta Preta, and while you can see that the Cape Verdeans are naturally talented, they are also well accustomed to these conditions. Having scored two sessions in one day, the trip was back on track, evidenced by a quiet evening. Everyone is exhausted, no one speaks at dinner and the meal prepared by our cooks does us the greatest good.

 

ABOVE: Showing no signs of hesitation over the shallow, razor sharp reef, Hendrick Lopes charges a fast line over Abre’s inside. // Photo Matt Georges BELOW: Mitu launching a massive kite-assisted aerial over the closeout section at Razors. // Photo Matt Georges

The next day we decide to focus on shooting both big air and twin tip freestyle. With the northerly wind, the estuary seems like the ideal spot to start. I am the first on the water, testing the conditions for the others. The wind is gusty and sometimes cuts out and I fall out of the sky. Having been warned about stingrays, I focus on the tricks, but when I miss a board-off and begin body dragging back to my board, I feel a violent stab under my foot. Limping to the shore, I land my kite as best I can with blood flowing from my foot and the pain beginning to intensify. Alex, our guide, rushes to ask the fishermen for advice, and they confirm the obvious: the estuary is crowded with stingrays. There is only one thing to do; we race back to the house and sink my foot into boiling hot water, waiting for the venom and pain to pass. Back at the lagoon, Maxime and Liam take advantage of the strong wind sending kiteloops and big airs into the evening hours. Severely disappointed to miss out on the windiest day of the trip, there was physically nothing I could do; the size of my bloated foot wouldn’t even fit into a strap.

TOP LEFT: The riding spot in Bahía Asunción provides a combo playground for both freestylers and surfers alike. // Photo Matt Georges TOP RIGHT: Gusty wind and a lagoon full of stingrays blows up Paul Serin’s foot and takes him out of the equation. // Photo Matt Georges BOTTOM RIGHT: Full days lead to quiet nights and the Baja wilderness is no better place to disconnect. // Photo Matt Georges

We pass the days with productive freestyle sessions in the lagoons and solid kitesurfing sessions at the local reef and beach breaks. The atmosphere amongst the team is good, and since the wifi on the remote coast is almost non-existent, we all meet in the evenings for frenzied UNO games.

Since the principle of a road trip is to keep moving, we set our sights on discovering the coast to the north. The gear van begins to look like a giant heap of chaos. Gone are the perfectly wound bars and neatly folded kites. Sand is spread everywhere, and if you need a specific product, there’s a good chance you have to empty the van in its entirety to find what you want. With my head on the windowsill, I watch as the cacti give way to rocks, small bushes and tumbleweeds. When we reach Bahía Asunción, we are greeted like royalty. During this season there are very few tourists, so when our team arrives, we are a blessing that makes the hotel owners smile. The atmosphere is different here; we overlook the ocean, of course, but from a cliff looking out at an island filled with sea lions that can be heard barking at all hours of the day. We are told about a spot lower in the bay with waves and side-shore wind, and we rush to see it with our own eyes. We manage to get the vehicles close to the beach but stop short of burying the axles in the sand. Beyond a strip of dunes, we discover a virgin spot that is perfect for both freestyle and waves. 

ABOVE: The rustic appeal of Baja survives: The team gathers for a portrait in the abandoned Pemex station at the turn off for Bahía de Los Ángeles. // Photo
Jeanne des Vallières

With my foot on the mend, I inflate a 14m Bandit and hurtle down the dune leading to the water. The wind is different from the other spots; it flows freely and carries you through the entire length of your airs, making it much easier for boards-offs and rotations of all kinds. With the coastal bluffs wrapping around to the north and extending out with a finger reef, the waves unload farther out with a perfect, protected flat water launch pad on the inside. Most mornings at Asunción start out calm, but the relentless force of the wind routinely carries our photoshoots into nightfall. As we approach the end of our stay, the signs of rising fatigue can be read on the faces of the team. When the day comes for our descent back into the heat of La Paz, we are ready despite its promise of being very long and hot. 

Baja California is an unknown treasure filled with immense contrast and breathtaking landscapes. The local fishermen welcomed us with open arms, and our hopes of flat water freestyle sessions and scoring southern swells were validated. On the day of our departure, the government initiated a stricter lockdown and closed the beaches so we reveled in our luck and good timing. With the photos taken and the videos staged, we had successfully celebrated the 15th year of the Bandit.

This article was featured in our fall 2021 issue, Vol. 18, No. 3. To read more, click here.

 

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