Screen%20Shot%202021-04-08%20at%209.19_e

Packing for a Baja surf trip

 

If you are like most people, the last day before you leave on a surf trip is spent in a nervous, anxious state of adrenaline rush. This is due to the anticipation of good surf, good times, so you leave with a clear conscience (never possible), and most importantly: forgetting to pack something.

 

Deciding what to pack for Baja depends on the type of trip you are planning. Are you camping in Northern Baja or stylin’ it in Cabo at a luxury condo? Flying to Natividad or driving and surfing the whole way from Baja Malibu to Punta Perfecta? For most, Baja is a road trip. But however you do it, here’s a long list covering most everything, albeit not enough for a proper camping trip and too much for a Cabo weekend.

 

  • Airline tickets: Only needed if you are not driving, biking, hitchhiking, walking or sailing. If flying in, say to Cabo, print them out and put the printout in your backpack now. Or tape them to your surfboard—you won’t forget that. Add them to your digital wallet or screen grab and add to photos. Most of us buy our tickets over a month in advance and then scramble to find the email confirmation while in line at the airport. Not fun.

  • Passport: Absolutely required. Minors (under 18 years of age) going to Mexico without a parent need to get a notarized consent form signed by parents. Forms are available at Mexican consulates or online. Your passport must be valid for 180 days from your arrival date, so check the expiration date now.

  • Tourist Cards and Visas: A passport is still not enough for anyone planning to spend over 72 hours in Mexico or heading south of Ensenada. You are required to have a stamped Mexican tourist card (FMM), or visa. I always go through DiscoverBaja.com, but there are other sites like umm-mx.org.

  • Surfboards: Ah, the big question. Which boards? Bring as many as feasible or convenient. If it’s a quick fly-in to Cabo, one board is the call as the inconvenience of packing and carrying extra boards grows exponentially with each board, and most airlines charge for every board. Otherwise, bring two or more for lots of reasons. It’s a fact of life that boards get trashed in travel, so you may want to carry a second board just for back up, if for no other reason. But there are better reasons, and they could depend on whether you are a shortboarder, longboarder, or both. Shortboarders heading to Baja Norte might consider bringing a bigger board than usual – a step-up. The waves are typically bigger and juicer in Baja than its closest neighbor, Southern California, and the water is colder, so the extra volume can be welcome. Shortboarders heading to Baja Sur should probably just bring their everyday boards. The same goes for longboarders, although most are happy to bring one for all occasions. Even if you mostly shortboard, you may want to bring a longboard to take advantage of the long points in Baja Sur on the smaller days. And if you have huevos grandes, you will want to bring a gun for the bigger, juicier days or spots like Todos Santos. (If you don’t have the huevos, don’t bring anything over 5'8" and you’ll have an excuse to stay on the beach when it gets really big.) In the end, it’s nice to have a quiver of boards available because it’s just plain fun. Probably the best way to pack a quiver is to work it out with your buddies so that instead of bringing them all yourself, collectively you’ll have a good selection. Lastly, if you are heading to Cabo you don’t necessarily need to pack a board at all. Costa Azul surf shop (Cabo and Cerritos) rents boards, as do places like Pescadero Surf Camp.

  • Soft surfboard racks (or foam tubing) and bungee cords and cinch straps (good ones): Some rental cars come with racks, but none have straps. So the foam tubing and cinch straps can be used to secure boards to the hard racks. Bungees are for back-up. But frankly, you don't want to have to think about back-up. Get the best racks you can afford. Pack soft racks, tubing and bungee cords in your board bag. If the airline loses your surfboards the racks may as well go along for the ride. Pack cinch straps in your backpack. If the cinch straps are in the one board bag that gets lost then everyone loses.

  • Fins and hardware: If you removed the fins to pack your boards in your board bag, don’t forget to pack them along with the hardware (key or screwdriver) for securing them plus extra screws (for your bud who never brings wax).

  • Clothing: Consider packing or wearing one respectable-looking outfit (long pants, a “non T-shirt” shirt, shoes, socks), because you never know when you might need it. If you travel to Baja often enough, there’s a chance you might eventually find yourself in front of a judge or trying to get a buddy out of the hoosgow. Otherwise, you will need a variety of clothes depending on where and when you go. Bring clothes for both hot and somewhat chilly weather, depending on the time of year. Mostly, however, it’s shorts and tees. But not white tees. Baja is a dirty place – dusty at the least, grimy and muddy at worst – so white clothes become brown clothes in a few hours. Especially after digging your rig out of the sand or mud.

  • Beach towels: Beach towels are too easy to forget, even for surfers. Perhaps this will help: Beach towels make good board-packing material.

  • Surf wax: For northern Baja bring cool to cold-water wax year-round. Down south it’s different. For Cabo you’ll need cool to warm-water wax. In the peak of summer pack tropical, too. If you fly you should bring base coat (which is really tropical anyhow) wax since you may have stripped the wax from your board(s) before packing. Plan on one bar a week, less if you use deck patches or you expect to be in Northern Baja or Cabo, as there are surf shops for resupply. At the end of your trip remember to donate your remaining wax to the locals as wax is expensive for them. Never bring wax home. Never. Bring a wax comb, too.

  • Extra leash or two: You will need the second extra leash for your buddy who never brings wax. If you pack a new board, don’t forget the leash string for securing the leash to the board. My buddy Bob Towner keeps an extra string tied to the leash plug—a great idea. 

  • Ding repair kit: Great kits are available at your local shop or online. If you are going straight to Cabo or staying north of Ensenada you don’t really need to pack ding repair stuff since there are quite a few surf shops and ding repair joints.

  • Duct tape: Quite a bit lighter than a ding repair kit. If you are traveling in a pack, have one guy bring tape and another a ding repair kit.

  • Super glue: To fix your glasses, reattach the rear-view mirror that rattled off, and for needle-and-threadless sutures (see “First aid kit” below).

  • Rashguards: Long sleeve rashguards are good if you’re going to be trunking it in southern Baja. Long sleeve rashguards are a great investment. In the short run you’ll save time getting into the water (less sunscreen lathering time) and money on sunscreen. In the long run you’ll save on medical bills from removing carcinomas. Tee shirts may look cool, but they are basically useless for sun protection in the water.

  • Sunglasses: 1 cheap pair. You can buy spare or replacement cheap sunglasses for less than $10 from TJ to Ensenada, then again in Cabo. And if you wear glasses for reading or driving, be sure to pack two pair in case you lose one.

  • Hats: Surf travel requires serious sun protection. Trucker caps are OK, but leave much uncovered. Bring your cool cap for going out, and a dork cap to keep the sun off. Try one of those Australian-looking things that can be crumpled up into your pocket and washed without brim damage. They protect your neck so you won’t have Baja lizard neck by the time you are 30. Japanese gardener straw hats are even better. And if you want to put in serious hours in the tropical surf down south, get a surf hat. 

  • Swiss Army knife: Pack it in your checked luggage if you are flying in as airport security will not let you carry it on the plane in your pocket or your carry-on bag. That goes for most sharp objects.

  • Spanish-English dictionary

  • Flashlight and extra batteries: There’s a lighting shortage most everywhere in the world, relative to the most advanced countries, and in parts of Baja the power sometimes goes out at night. So even if you’re not camping, a flashlight can be handy. Headlamps are even better. Don’t forget extra batteries. They can be relatively expensive and they’re usually old. 

  • Sunblock lotion: Lots of the highest UV rating you can find. Buy the cheap stuff for your body (and the no-wax buddy); you will use gallons of it (unless you use a long sleeve rashguard). Buy the expensive stuff for your face. The cheap stuff stings your eyes more easily, ruining the first half-hour of every session. Look for waterproof, rubproof, sweatproof, UVA and UVB protection. Get sunblock chapstick too.

  • Mosquito repellent: Not necessary for Northern Baja, but a good idea for down south in the summer.

  • Caladryl and cotton balls: For the nights when you drink too much tequila and forget to use protection (from mosquitoes).

  • Balls protection: The boys down below don’t take well to warm, moist, tropical climates, where fungus and bacteria rule. Keeping your junk dry is the best protection. The appropriately-named Fresh Balls is about the best stuff you can get. It’s a lotion, but turns into a powder after application. Then there are the usual talc-like brands – Gold Bond, etc.

  • First aid kit: Start by buying Sick Surfers Ask the Surf Docs & Dr. Geoff, by Drs. Renneker, Starr and Booth. Read the part about cuts. Get cut in the ocean and you stand a fair chance of getting an infection. (Have you smelled the water up near the US border?) The more you surf the more you’ll get cut. Hopefully, you will be surfing more than usual. And this is Mexico which is not known for its clean water. Back to the kit…  Antibiotics (check with your doctor for a good prescription), antiseptic (Betadine is good), Neosporin, a variety of waterproof bandages, gauze, lots of tape, snake bite kit (if you are camping), antibacterial soap, Advil, aspirin (for pain and fever), Pepto-Bismol (for you-know-what), tweezers (to pull out urchin spines, cactus and pieces of fiberglass), Q-tips for cleaning cuts, hydrogen peroxide to pour into cuts, scissors, and lots of soap and fresh water for washing out cuts. If you want to avoid all that work and don’t mind paying for someone else to put a great, lightweight first aid kit together for you, look into the Atwater Carey products. Unusual for a typical first aid kit, but invaluable for a surfer’s first aid kit is duct tape. First aid tape isn’t designed to hold flesh together in the ocean. But if you duct tape over your first aid tape you’ll have a pretty sturdy package that will allow you to surf even with moderately serious cuts. Here’s one more first aid tip from Scott Valor, a frequent Mexico surf explorer and author of The Surfer’s Guide to Mainland Mexico: Super Glue. In Scott’s words: “How about Super Glue? Invented by the military to take the place of sewn stitches, it works the same. Simply clean the wound, apply a little to one side and squeeze together to seal. As the wound heals, skin layers with glue exfoliate off. It is a great field dressing and easy to use. I’ve even seen it for sale down in Michoacán!”

  • Wetsuits: Once again, a north/south thing. Down south around the Cabo Corridor and East Cape you’ll likely need nothing, but bring a springsuit just in case. Up north and on the West Cape you’ll need different wetsuits depending on the season. In the winter and spring, bring something for water in the mid-50s—nothing less than a 3/3 full suit, along with booties and maybe a hood, especially for Todos. Most guys wear fullsuits in the summer, too—2/2s or 3/2s, although a short-sleeve fullsuit is probably best. Also bring along a springsuit (2/1) or shortjohn for the warmer days.

  • Wetsuit repair: It’s bad enough to have to travel with a wetsuit, but it’s even worse to have it rip on you when you are hours or days from the nearest surf shop. There are a variety of urethane sealants available, and most surf shops carry at least one brand. The problem is that they really don’t work well where most wetsuits rip, which is on the seams. What works best is to use iron-on neoprene repair fabric, such as Aquaseal Iron-Mend. It’s strong and fast—a dry wetsuit can be repaired in less than a minute. For extra holding and sealing power use both fabric and sealant. By now you’ve figured out the real problem: You are screwed without an iron. So pick up a cheap travel iron. Or borrow your mom’s. Or you could try a hot muffler. Or bring a back-up wetsuit. Or get a Quick Fix wetsuit repair kit. Great for basic repairs. No iron needed.

  • Booties: A good idea for Northern Baja in the winter, for lava reef protection, or to protect the tootsies from sea urchin spines—Baja is legendary for sea urchins at rocky breaks. Another good reason to pack booties is as a bandage protector. If you cut your foot you may want to use a booty as a bandage cover and protector (over the duct tape, of course!)

  • Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard are most widely accepted. Bitcoin? Not so much.

  • Cash: Many of the gas stations and all of the lower-priced eateries and hotels don’t take credit cards, and it’s almost impossible to cash a personal check. (The cops prefer dollars, too, and you will need to be prepared for the mordida.) There are ATMs in the bigger towns, but they don’t always have money and they charge high fees (but give great exchange rates, and pesos). If you are going south of Ensenada, you will definitely want to exchange some dollars into pesos. American dollars are widely accepted, but it gets more difficult as you get to the smaller towns and the smaller businesses, and they always charge you a premium for the exchange – intentionally or otherwise. Basically, you’ll save money if you use pesos.

  • Cell phone: Probably didn’t need to add this, as who doesn’t always have their mobile phone in their pocket? But check with your provider first. Coverage is pretty good in Northern Baja from the border through Ensenada, Camalu through El Rosario, and most of the area from La Paz south. Rates are higher if you don’t have a special international plan.  

  • Address book: You never know when you may need to call someone back home or send a postcard to your boss or sweetie. So if you don’t keep an address book on your phone, don’t forget the paper one or list of important contacts. 

  • Driver’s license: If you plan to drive in Baja, your current driver’s license is all you need, unless of course, you decide to move to Baja permanently.

  • Tee-shirts to give to the kids: Or to shed along the way. One plan is to pack clothes you would give to charity, and leave them in hotel rooms and campgrounds as you wear them and travel around. You will lighten your load as you go, not have any dirty clothes to bring home and wash, and you’ll be doing a good deed because the Mexicans are predominantly poor. To that point, save the stuff you used to give to charities for your Baja trips. Once over the border look for churches as good places to make your drop-offs.

  • Surf and skate stickers to give to the kids: Mexican kids like stickers a lot. So do the soldiers at the military checkpoints. Keep them handy for when you need directions or other favors from kids. And they work well to temporarily patch small dings.

  • Cameras: Don’t forget extra memory cards and batteries if you’re bringing something besides your phone. Be careful about bringing a bunch of photo equipment. Customs sees that as a commercial endeavor which is a whole other ball game. 

  • Binoculars: Saves driving that last half-mile where you destroy the undercarriage of your vehicle. Or the hikes that require you to leave your vehicle unattended. A good zoom lens works great too.

  • Energy or Snack bars: And bring lots. Food is not always convenient, there are few Starbucks or Jack-in-the-Box’s, and preparing meals every time you get hungry is a pain. Pack snack bars for a good, timesaving, dawn patrol breakfast. No cooking or refrigeration required. When you run out you can find bananas just about anywhere.

  • Books: For down time. In Search of Captain Zero, of course. Better still, The Surfer's Guide to Baja. (You knew that was coming!)

  • Earplugs: You will be in the water a lot. An infection will ruin it. Ear care supplies can be found at your local drug or grocery store.

  • Toilet paper: This is not Huntington Pier. Restrooms are few and far between, and they’re not often well stocked. Given the possibility of Montezuma’s Revenge, toilet paper should be at the top of your packing list. Then again, if you forget TP you can always use your beach towel, or your waxless bro’s towel, or maybe corn tortillas. Wet sand works too.

  • Pen and paper: To write down directions. Better still, bring a sketchbook to keep a log and draw your own maps. Best option: The Surfer's Guide to Baja. Add your notes to the maps.

  • Plastic sandwich and trash bags: To pack your trash. Baja sometimes looks like one big trash heap, but we don’t need to compound the problem. Trash bags are also good for wet trunks and wetsuits, and double as raincoats. Use sandwich bags to pack goop—sunscreen, insect repellent, K-Y, whatever your goop-thing is—so that if a leak develops your bitchin Rusty tank top won’t get ruined.

  • Vehicle repair parts: Once you get past Ensenada vehicle parts stores and repair shops are hard to find. The legendary Green Angels carry some spare parts, but you will likely have to wait for hours to be discovered by them, and they may not have the correct parts for your vehicle. A short list follows. You know your vehicle, so add to this accordingly.

  • Extra spare tire, and make sure you have your changing tools (Extra spare is important for any extended off-road driving. If you get a flat off-road, chances are you can get another soon. And once you use your spare you are screwed until you get somewhere you can get the flat fixed. That could be a very long drive.)

  • Jumper cables, more for helping others, but you never know. 

  • 12-volt air compressor or other tire inflator (For extended off-road driving, especially in sand, you may want to deflate your tires to around 15 PSI. You’ll need the air compressor to reinflate.)

  • Tire pressure gauge (so you reinflate to the proper pressure)

  • Siphon for gas

  • Gas can, full

  • Spare belts and hoses

  • Hose clamps

  • Electrical tape

  • Motor oil and other fluids (brake, power steering, transmission, anti-freeze)

  • Filters—air, oil, fuel (probably the most important spare part)

  • Spare spark plugs/coils

  • WD-40

  • Tools

  • Shovel: To dig your vehicle out when you get stuck. Also for latrine digging. A hatchet also works.

  • Tow Rope, Strap or Chain: For when you are unsuccessful at digging your vehicle out. Get a length of at least 50 feet...and a tow hook.

  • Spare vehicle keys: Losing your truck keys down there ain’t fun. Give your spare keys to a buddy.

  • Ice chest: Buy block ice before you cross the border. Block ice lasts longer. And ice bought in Baja is made from Baja water, and you know what that means.

 

From The Surfer's Guide to Baja. Available at core surf shops and Amazon.com.