by John Bryja photos by Clark Merritt
Just hours after savoring the best tacos I have ever eaten, made with chopped beef barbecued over hardwood and charcoal at the side the road in Ensenada, Baja, Mexico, my mouth feels like it’s full of sand. The grittiness is becoming unbearable. Red dust is pouring in through the minivan’s air vents and windows; we’re being swallowed up by a sandstorm created by our convoy. Perhaps following another vehicle on this dusty, Baja dirt road wasn’t the best idea afterall. Eight hours from the U.S.-Mexico border and two hours after our dustbowl began, the air clears and reveals bright blue, peeling, down-the-line point break perfection.
As the editor of SBC Kiteboard magazine for the last decade and a half, and now the publisher of Kitesurfing Magazine, I have built up a rather long bucket list of places I would like to kitesurf. It was during my first year working on SBC Kiteboard that Punta San Carlos caught my eye. Californian wave pioneer Peter Trow submitted slides from this remote corner of Baja, Mexico that, until then, had been the exclusive domain of windsurfers and surfers. The uncrowded, glassy side-off conditions look almost too good to be true.
The prospect of riding side-off conditions in the middle of nowhere would remain just a fantasy that, to be honest, still kind of intimidated me. Side-off riding on the Great Lakes with a kite is virtually impossible, but over the past few years, as gear has improved, we’ve started scoring some epic side-off sessions during the gear tests in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. As kiteboarding in side-off conditions has become more accessible and enjoyable, Punta San Carlos has been rising to the pole position on my bucket list. When Liquid Force brand manager Gary Siskar recently invited me to their kitesurfing week at SoloSports this past September, it was time to go.
Having a wingman for an epic adventure is always a good idea, and SBC Media ad director Matt Aiken is the perfect for the job. “We have got to drive there for our first trip,” Aiken exclaimed as we planned our itinerary. “Experience Baja and the dirt road to the coast—it’s a rite of passage.”
The eight-hour drive from the Mexican boarder can be intimidating for even the most experienced traveler. The final two-hour stretch of unmarked dust and dirt road through the desert to the coast can be a challenge. This is not a road for your average airport rental car; good clearance, a full-size spare and patience are required for navigating this semi-washed out and poorly marked dirt road. The only two vehicles we pass are a flatbed tractor trailer stuck at the side of the road with a load of river rocks from the coast destined for a Home Depot, and a massive, jacked up Toyota Tacoma with a half-dozen fishermen en route from their fishing village to go pick up supplies in town. The drive to Punta San Carlos, should you choose to do it, is a part of the trip you will never forget.
SoloSports is a completely self-sufficient action sports outpost, so one hundred per cent of our time is spent concentrating on having fun. We quickly settle into a daily routine that can be described as perfect. For some, that means lounging on a sofa in the sun until the wind comes up. For others, an hour-long mountain bike ride to burn off the Baja Fog cocktails from the night before, followed with a hot breakfast is the way to start the day.
Punta San Carlos is a world-class mountain biking destination, with over 100 miles of groomed trails. After breakfast, some spend the morning checking their e-mails, while the rest of the crew enjoys glassy surf and SUP perfection. Later in the mornings, the real keeners hit the water on 11-meter kites before lunch, but the majority wait until after lunch before putting their 9- to 10-meter kites up in the air.
If one were to design the perfect kitesurfing wave garden from scratch, it would look exactly like Punta San Carlos. The intermediate to advanced level riders participating in the Liquid Force clinics all feel at home after their first day on the water. Four wave breaks make up the kitesurfing playground at Punta San Carlos: The Bombora, The Point, The Beach Break and The Chili Bowl. The Beach Break and the Point offer the most user-friendly ride straight out in front of SoloSports, ideal for showing off for the cameras. SoloSports has photographer Clark Merritt on staff to capture guests in action. With so many breaks to choose from each session, it’s a day of exploration.
Despite all the mast-high windsurfing and kiteboarding photos you may have seen from Punta San Carlos, the typical day sees smaller waves ideal for progressing your kitesurfing and waveriding skills. The best tip I pick up during the week is from SoloSports owner Kevin Trejo: In side-off conditions, many riders simply park the kite, but small positional adjustments and bar sheeting can really help maximize the kite’s power delivery for bottom and top turns. Riding with the Liquid Force team of Jason Slezak, Cameron Dietrich, Julien Fillion and brand manager Gary Siskar each day helps us all push ourselves, and provides the confidence for all the campers to progress in the surf.
Après kite sessions are also a highlight of the trip. Enjoying a Baja Fog cocktail at the SoloSports bar overlooking the action is a very social and international experience. Being a world-class waveriding location, it should come as no surprise that guests came from across the U.S. and around the world, from places as far away as Australia, the U.K. and Japan. Learning about their backgrounds, their diverse careers, and sharing their kiteboarding stories from the day of riding is the ideal way to wrap up an epic session. The seven-day trip to Punta San Carlos goes by much too quickly. The world-class conditions, camping under the Baja sky, and the friendly Solosports staff and guests made the trip not just one, but two-and-a-half bags of awesome. Punta San Carlos is one place that is going to stay on my bucket list.
Need To Know
Driving: It’s a solid eight-hour drive from San Diego to Punta San Carlos. The 50-mile-long dirt road at the end that eats small cars for breakfast can be thanked for helping keep Punta San Carlos so uncrowded. If you’re renting a vehicle from San Diego, check out companies that specialize in Baja vehicle rentals. Most rental car agencies let you travel only as far as south as Ensenada. Plan on at least three to four additional hours for the U.S.-Mexico border crossing on the way home.
Flying: SoloSports offers a short two-hour flight from Brown Field in San Diego direct to the airstrip next to SoloSports in Punta San Carlos—you will be on the water riding right after lunch. A large selection of current demo gear means you can leave your gear at home and travel light.
Punta San Carlos is windy year-round. The thermal was like clockwork during our trip. (It’s surprising to ride a side-off thermal, but if you look at a map, you can see that the Baja coast bends.) We rode 9- to 10-meter kites every day. We even had a session or two on 7-meter kites. I pulled the 11’s out of the bag once for one hour before the wind picked up in the afternoon.
We scored 4- to 8-foot surf every day of our trip. Punta San Carlos is great on a south and northwest/west swell. Late October and April enjoy the best of both worlds, as they are transitional swell months.
Water averages 53 to 60 degrees depending on the time of year. It’s warmest in the fall, and we were in 3/2 wetsuits and even shorties some days. A 4/3 was nice to have for the cooler sessions.
SoloSports is an all-inclusive action sports experience. An open bar in the evening and three great meals each day will keep you well fueled for the day’s activities. SUP, surfing, mountain biking and world-class kitesurfing are sure to keep you going back for more. Solosports.net