Long, long ago when a paved road down Baja was just a dream, early windsurfers pioneered several dozen launch sites on Baja’s Sea of Cortez. These sites ranged from San Felipe at the northern end to Cabo Pulmo in the south. Lacking model forecasts, windsurfers made the rough, treacherous drive to a likely beach, set up camp and waited for wind.
As the decades passed, tall stories and wind lore was replaced by rudimentary versions of the weather models we use today at iKitesurf. It became clear that most Baja launch sites only saw decent wind when the occasional big El Norte wind event stirred the entire Sea of Cortez. Useful winds between the El Norte were sparse and early pioneers spent weeks at obscure sites with the very real possibility of being skunked for an entire trip. With the bulk of the Sea of Cortez having been written off, Los Barriles briefly became the center of Baja wind play, yet even Los Barriles could be fickle when El Norte events faded away.
So why did La Ventana, hidden on a dead-end road from La Paz, become Baja’s premier wind magnet? First you must know that wind is always created by air moving from high-pressure areas to low-pressure areas. La Ventana has the ideal location and topography to maximize local and distant pressure gradients into a consistent wind pattern that keeps kiteboarders on the water throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter.
The El Norte
The first major player in La Ventana’s wind is the infamous El Norte winds. During the winter, as a storm passes over the American Rocky Mountains, high pressure frequently follows the storm and settles in the Great Basin stretching from eastern Oregon to Las Vegas. For the strongest El Norte winds, the high pressure needs to be centered in the southern Great Basin known as the Four Corners region. High pressure in this location causes powerful wind to blow towards the low-pressure zone south of Baja. This causes the entire Sea of Cortez to rage with strong winds and large swell.
The second largest influence on La Ventana’s wind is the local sea breeze effect. When there is no high pressure in the Great Basin, kiteboarders can rely on a subtle bump from the expansive flat plains of Los Planes Valley that they drove through on the last leg of their shuttle ride from the airport. The valley is a dead-end with mountains on all sides except for its flat opening towards La Ventana’s beaches. On sunny days, the valley bakes in the sun causing rising air to generate low pressure in the valley. Meanwhile, the air over the water is cooler and is relatively higher pressure; this denser air over the Sea of Cortez has only one path into the valley and that is over La Ventana’s beaches. The resulting easterly wind is usually in the low to mid-teens and a bit stronger towards Hot Springs Beach while the rest of the Sea of Cortez often sees no wind.
The North Pacific High
Most people are aware of La Ventana’s thermal effect and the infamous El Norte, but there is a third player in the equation which is less often talked about. When there are fewer winter storms passing across the USA and there is no high pressure in the Four Corners basin, La Ventana has a backup wind machine. The massive North Pacific High (NPH) that is known for its key role in California’s and Hawaii’s summer winds has a wintertime home west of Baja. Sometimes the NPH moves close enough to Baja to produce NNW winds in La Ventana Bay. This wind source is often identified by the typical up and down winds near the shore because the westerly direction creates an offshore influence that doesn’t wrap smoothly into the beaches. If you can launch and get off the beaches, you will find more consistent wind out in the bay.
The combo days are what gives La Ventana its status as a premier wind destination. These are the days where the wind hits the 20s while the rest of Baja suffers from weak wind. The first combo scenario combines a weak El Norte with the sea breeze effect and typically occurs when high pressure is located in the distant northern portion of the Great Basin causing a milder pressure gradient over the Sea of Cortez. When these mid-teen El Norte winds reach La Ventana they combine with the Los Planes thermal to bring 20 knots of NNE winds along with medium swell.
The second combo melds the North Pacific High with the local sea breeze. As mentioned above, the NPH’s side offshore NNW winds have a harder time curving into the beaches, but when the sun is shining on the Los Planes Valley the pressure gradient helps curve the NNW wind into the beaches. If clouds in the valley weaken the local sea breezes, there may be random westerly offshore winds that trickle down the arroyos making for gusty winds and tricky launches.
The final combo is the unruly but celebrated combination of a big El Norte with nearby North Pacific High winds. This pattern is far less common during the La Ventana winter season, but it brings the wildest wind and ocean-sized swell that typically lasts for two to three days. Typically, during this event there are very strong winds aloft so getting off the beach can be challenging with dumping shore-break and extra gusty winds. However, once outside, get ready for huge swell and pure delight especially if you can find the glassy swell over the fabled Golden Triangle shoal way outside.
No Wind Days
Finally, there’s the ‘no wind’ pattern—this happens for a couple of days several times each winter if there is no high pressure in the Great Basin, no North Pacific High nearby, clouds in the valley or low pressure over Baja’s East Cape. Luckily there’s plenty of biking, hiking, SUPing, ATVing, fishing or touring the local towns of southern Baja to supplement the down-days.
For more information check out iKitesurf’s network of sensors and detailed forecasts.
This article was featured in our winter 2022 issue, Vol. 18, No. 4. To read more, click here.