Jon Cohen,

Jon Cohen,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 2 1997 3:30 AM

Jon Cohen,

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       This dawn, I did something that tops the fantasy list of every surfer: I checked the waves without having to leave the warmth of my bed. Propped on an elbow, I watched as an offshore wind blew into the waves, sending showers of water off their tops and grooming their faces, which makes them perfect for carving with a surfboard. But I was in Northern Baja, renting a home for the Thanksgiving weekend with my family and friends. As is often the case in Mexico, beauty comes at a price. The price at my beach, La Mision de la Playa, was that the waves were frighteningly large and disorganized. Still, I knew I'd find good surf a little ways south.
       The clock started ticking the minute my hunt began, with a twin threat of the wind turning onshore and my nonsurf life becoming more pressing. Making matters worse, storm clouds were threatening to erupt, which could quickly churn the ocean or flood it with the polluted runoff that often infects my ears.
       I headed for Salsipuedes, which means "leave if you can," quickly realizing that I needed gas. I calculated that if I made it down the steep road that leads to Salsipuedes, the place might live up to its name.
       La Mision doesn't have a gas station. My best bet was 30 kilometers farther south to Ensenada, where I could surf San Miguel. Although San Miguel's a world-class wave, yesterday I didn't like the vibe in the water--in particular, a Mexican kid announcing that "mi casa no es su casa" to the mostly gringo pack. One American who had words with the Mexican kid was then reprimanded by another American for "getting verbal" with the local.
       After finding an ATM and filling up with gas, I was jonesing to get wet. I pulled up to the guard gate at San Miguel, which, like Salsipuedes, charges surfers $5 to enter. Charging for waves is anathema to the culture and would lead to riots two-hours north in San Diego, where I live. But this is Mexico. Beauty comes at a price. I gladly paid.
       The waves were worth more. The wind had died now, and the water texture was a luscious glass. Large swells rolled in to the rocky point where the wave peeled evenly from right to left, hollowing out before it expired on the beach. During the next hour, I caught a dozen waves, and as usual, spoke to no one, eavesdropping on talk about the shafts of rain dousing the lighthouse at far-off Todos Santos Island, home of some of the West Coast's largest ridable waves, aptly named Killers.
       My last wave was my best. When I turned off the bottom, the wave easily stood a few feet taller than me. I roller-coastered off the top, and my board came loose, side-slipping down the face in what looked like a hot-dog move called a floater. After a few more roller coasters, I made it into the inside bowl, where the tube nicked my shoulder, and I glided out of the wave.
       Back on the sand, elated, I walked over to the lagoon that empties into the break and noticed a huge mound of brown crud. My ears immediately began to tingle.

Jon Cohen is a journalist for Science magazine. He's also a surfer.