When I was about seven, I went to Hawaii on vacation and my dad didn’t let me surf — not even on a soft top with a qualified instructor at beginner-friendly Waikiki beach. Fifteen years later while attending college in Baja, I started to learn to surf as payback for not letting me take that lesson as a kid. Although I wish I could have learned as a kid, that excitement and curiosity slowly had bubbled up inside me for years until it was time to actually do something about it.
If you’ve ever been down here, you know of Cerritos Beach, where us late-learners catch our first waves. As we progressed and explored around the southern region, we discovered a slip of coastline off the beaten path, where there’s a fishing/farming community. Besides the best damn waves of our lives with empty lineups, we have countless nights of fireside chats about the surf, complimented by fresh lobster, fish, and other seafood feasts livened up by guitars, drums, ukeleles, and harmonicas jamming in unison until we succumb to the anticipation of a pre-dawn session.
As surfers, we’ve received so much from this little community, which is why we wanted to give back. The only problem is we didn’t know how. The children of the local fishermen and farmers who work here don’t have much to do except attend the local underfunded elementary school and slack around when they’re off. They’re often exposed to alcohol and drug abuse— both of which are common ways for a derailed fisherman to blow off steam with crewmates or for the older kids to emulate that behavior. Realizing this, one of my best friends and surf mentors finally left the city and settled among the fishermen and the farmers and started a surf school. Here’s a story of how it came to be, and what we hope it will eventually become.
It all started with a red tide on a cold day. Some of the local kids were learning how upwelling brings nutrient-rich water from the deep as my friend scribbled on the sand before paddling out to the blood-red looking water. They appreciated the raw lesson with a deserted beach as a classroom and a real surfer as their teacher. Furthermore, they’d learned an alternative explanation for the red tide, as opposed to the superstitions their families shared about these tides and other phenomena, all making them terrified of the ocean. A couple of days later they were paddling out on Wavestorms, bodyboards, and longboards, being baptized as surfers and learning to respect the ocean in a whole new way.
When photos and videos from the event started to spread, the community came up with more boards, wetsuits, hats, and shirts, practically sponsoring the group and igniting a revolution. They’d given birth to a new generation of local surfers who are not only untainted by surfing’s industry, competitive events, sponsored athletes, and the culture’s constant sexualization of women but are genuinely interested in learning to become truly skilled watermen. They are eager to learn, train, and live like the surfers they’ve met. It’s a positive influence on young lives tempted by numerous distractions.
Over the last few weeks, they have been a learning about first aid, oceanography, meteorology, and marine biology. After lessons, the kids go surfing. It’s an enriching experience for them–they’re basically being life coached and most importantly, the aloha spirit embedded in surfing will start to seep into the many potholes of a small Baja community that desperately needs something positive to strive for besides growing produce and exporting fish.
Next up, a group of local surfers is rallying to build a skate ramp at the town’s square and taking the kids on field trips outside the town so they can surf different waves. There are plans to go on educational hikes and even get their families to support them in this new endeavor. Sponsors are already lining up for this project, too — real people in the community contributing real resources, time, and effort to make sure we give back in a meaningful way.
This is a great crew of people making a positive impact. Get involved when you travel, talk to the locals and learn from them, ask what their struggles are and see if it’s within your means to help. You don’t have to come to Baja just to drink margaritas at your Airbnb. Now, thanks to this little crew, those traveling surfers end up getting snaked by a bunch of bad ass kids.