Outer Banks: ON A WING AND A PRAYER
From black lava to black underwater shadows, Fabian Muhmenthaler likes to venture places where many wouldn’t.READ MORE
Rare is the trip that you don’t get skunked in some shape or form. Thankfully there are a few ‘safe bets’, places where the weather, the swell, and the cold beers can always be depended on. Step forward La Ventana on the Baja Peninsula…
Words: James Jenkins
Photos: Eric Duran
I had been to Baja once, just a quick trip for Spring Break back in college, not what most would call the real Baja experience… But when my flight departed the peninsula this time, I could claim I’d had a taste of the real Baja…
It was frigid at home in the Outer Banks of N.C. when Slingshot Brand Manager, Wyatt Miller, called to give me the invite to his resort in La Ventana to shoot the new Flying Fish 3:1 foil board and hand over a quiver of the new carbon Phantasm foils. If escaping to turquoise waters and getting my hands on the newest foil toys wasn’t enough, he hinted that if the swell due to hit Jaws in a few days went off, they had a secret spot to take me on the Pacific side that ought to catch the leftovers. No more convincing necessary, I was already looking at flights to Cabo before we hung up.
Flying down the 800-mile Baja Peninsula from my layover in L.A., there were several times you could see both the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean at the same time. I had no idea the peninsula was that narrow at some points. As the plane flew down the Sea of Cortez side of Baja you could clearly see that it was windy, and long lines of swell were marching southward erupting on the shores of islands far below. Wyatt and the crew at his wind/wingsurf resort (prowindsurflaventana.com) must be out on the water having a blast, I thought, and with my flight landing at 1PM I might actually arrive in time to enjoy it with them.
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After seeing all the wind and swell from the airplane window, I was eager to check out the beach, so, fogs in hand, we headed down. A single-track trail gave way to the massive gear sheds piled to the brim with the latest wing boards, half of which hadn’t even launched yet…
After several longing glances back at the toy sheds, we made it out to a nice white sand beach dotted with houses and small resorts along an L-shaped bay that would catch any downwind drifters like a perfect catcher’s mitt. I could see why this was such a windsports mecca, you could ride your wing straight out 10 miles and still have a sandy beach to land on downwind of you. It was headed towards evening and the thermal winds were beginning to fade with only one kite foiler on the water getting the last of it. I watched him drop the kite out of the sky, then pump his foil all the way around it before relaunching it again… the guy had some skills! I shot a look at Wyatt and he chuckled and asked if I had ever met fellow Slingshot team rider and recent world tour champ, Fred Hope. I hadn’t, so Wyatt whistled him over and we chatted on the beach and checked out the latest foil. The wing was tiny… I couldn’t believe he could pump it around the kite like he had. It was 5 o’clock now and the wind was steadily dropping so Fred excused himself in order to make it back upwind and home. Wyatt explained that Fred had grown up spending his winters in La Ventana, even attending the local schools as a kid. And from the looks of it he’d had plenty of schooling on the water as well.
The next day we were supposed to shoot photos with another couple Slingshot team riders, Reed Brady and Robby Stewart. I got the feeling that half the Slingshot team was based in Baja… Wyatt explained that La Ventana was basically “Hood River, Oregon South” with most of the license plates in town being from either Oregon or Washington, where Slingshot is based.
The next day a glassy, calm morning gave way to an approaching windline and we headed eight miles upwind from Wyatt’s place at the bottom of the bay. A dusty stretch of road later, we arrived at the Hot Springs beach where 140-degree water bubbled up at the tide line filling a series of little rock pools made by the hot tubbers. The water in a few of the pools was so hot you could boil an egg in it or scald your foot – as I did as I inspected the various pools.
The wind began to fill in, blowing into the mid-20s with some fun, rolling swell on the outside. I pumped up my 4.0m Slingshot Dart and grabbed the Flying Fish 30L we were shooting, while Reed blew up a 5m UFO kite. Reed’s lady and Slingshot film maker / ripping winger Kylie Zaramati filmed from the water as Wyatt chased us around with the drone. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone walk such a fine line between skill and complete recklessness with a drone as Wyatt. Reed and I each received haircuts as Wyatt tracked us at eye level. At one point he managed to hit my wing with the drone putting a 2-inch gash in the canopy and sending it into a tumble before miraculously righting itself just before splashdown. I am sure it gave him just as big as scare as it did me, but it sure didn’t stop him from his close-quarter flying. We were all having a blast and the best shot of the day came from Reed tucking under my wing like a barrel as I rode toeside with the drone capturing our laughter. Wing Barrels are now a thing!
After exhausting the memory cards, the crew decided to do a downwinder on the wings back to Wyatt’s. We were one wing short, so Fred and Reed took turns towing each other up onto the foil with the kite before letting go and cruising swell to swell as long as they could. We stayed about a half mile offshore playing in the 6-8 foot rolling swell, which was moving quite fast having picked up speed and period over its long fetch from somewhere far to the north. The most amazing part of the eight-mile downwinder was just how many people were out on the water. Every half mile or so we would pass another beach access with 50-70 more wingers, kiters and windsurfers. We must have passed 300 plus people in the hour it took us to get to the bottom of the bay. We were all smiles as we derigged in Wyatt’s carpet-covered gear sheds before heading back up the trail for an overdue round of fogs.
A couple days later, after being glued to the online feed of all the antics happening at Jaws and the outer reefs in Oahu during one of their biggest swells of the year, we made the call to head to the Pacific. Wyatt’s setup was pretty dialed, we loaded his 4×4 quad into the back of his Sprinter van, then tossed all the camping gear and surf toys on top. We hooked the jetski trailer to the hitch and off we went. The quad would allow us to launch the jetski just about anywhere and also quickly make any mad dashes into the desert that might be necessary after the morning’s first coffee.
After a two-hour drive with a couple stops for beer, ice and food, we pulled up at a deserted beach and unloaded. The swell was still pretty small, but we were all jazzed up with hopes for the morning. After a fun evening of campfire, Baja Fogs and the local delicacy of bacon wrapped hot dogs, we headed to our tents with barrels on the brain.
At dawn the swell was definitely bigger but nothing to get the heart pounding. With the place to ourselves and a jetski at the ready, fun was all but guaranteed. The swell hit a small rocky point and really stood up with a thick lip before peeling into a sandy beach that would hopefully catch our foilboards after a wipeout as we surfed with no leash. Wyatt towed me into a few little ones before the swell started to build. The guys had been telling me that we really needed a slight offshore to make this spot light up and show its true colors. The second the wind switched, true to form the wave stood up, like way up! It had to be more than the wind though, the swell doubled in size in less than 30 minutes. The boys had warned me that Wyatt was about as reckless with his ski as he was with the drone and wave after wave, he began to tow me in deeper. I was full pedal to the metal to make some of the sections…
Growing up in the Outer Banks and spending a lot of my life in Nicaragua has gotten me used to heavy and hollow waves. However, looking at those waves through the lens of a foilboard gives a much more nerve-racking view. I know I can ride a barrel on a surfboard, but I promised myself going into this session that if the opportunity came, I would pull into a tube on foil. I knew the crew on the beach and behind the lens were rooting for me to tuck into one, so the pressure was on from all angles. After getting a few waves and feeling out the break while getting comfortable on my new foil setup, the set of the day came. We were in the perfect position on the ski and Wyatt whipped me extra deep. I remember doing a big fade and making a wide bottom turn as the wave started to form. This wave in particular hit at the perfect angle and I could tell it was about to fully barrel. It felt like slow motion in the moment, but the decision had to be made: straighten out and lose the board to the rocks, or pull in! I pulled into the pocket and forced my board lower to the water in anticipation of the power that would want to force the foil up. I traveled for a bit inside the tube and then partially breached the outside of my wing, regaining control shortly after. I was able to keep riding through the next section before ultimately falling. Even though I didn’t make the wave, it was one of my most memorable barrels I’ve ever gotten. Something about the unpredictability of a rocky/beach break barrel vs. most of the foil barrel shots you see coming from a perfect reef break with an escape channel made it extra special. It took me a while to process the wave and it will definitely be burned into my head for a long time.
With the barrel shot in the can we hit the beach to chow down as quickly as possible and we spent the rest of the afternoon trading off taking laps on the jetski with everyone joining in on the fun. I couldn’t believe there was no-one for miles… Where else do you have a barreling wave with miles of beach and no-one to yell at you for using a ski? I guess this is the beauty of Baja. In the late afternoon we loaded friends and foils onto the quad to check out a couple other points nearby. The jetski followed us offshore and we got to tow a second point before the light started to fade and an otherworldly sunset broke out.
After my first foil barrel and a seamless series of good times, a storm rolled in the next morning with fog, drizzle and steady onshore wind dashing our hopes for a repeat. After a few hours of finger crossing in the rain we decided to abandon ship and head back to La Ventana. We were greeted the following day with sun, wind and perfect turquoise water back on the Sea of Cortez. Unfortunately, I was also greeted by the shuttle that would whisk me back to the Cabo airport with all my new Phantasm carbon foil gear. As we headed southbound along the coast, I was already dreaming about going back. It only took a few days to see why so many of the Slingshot team call Baja home…
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