Not all surfing safaris are filled with sunshine, glass and perfect breaks. Some can get a little hairy. A lot hairy, in fact.
Jim Hodges, a 30-year-old Laguna Beach surfer and Infinity surf shop owner, was with two other surfers last month off Todos Santos Island in Mexico when a 25-foot wave thundered toward them and their 14-foot inflatable boat anchored in the impact zone.
The wave, a mean, gnarly low-tide devil that Hodges described as a rogue, flipped the boat and ripped away its anchor line. Hodges' friend, Barry Deffenbaugh of Huntington Beach, younger brother of pro surfer Jeff Deffenbaugh, was aboard filming with a video camera when the wave broke 30 to 35 yards in front of the boat.
"Barry just ditched the camera and hung on to the boat's cross bar and stayed with the boat as it went over," Hodges said.
Hodges, a friend of Rockin' Fig's, told us about that day, the wave, and subsequent incidents that kept them overnight on Todos Santos, about five miles off Ensenada. For Fig and me, it gave new meaning to the Mexican greeting, \o7 Bienvenidos.\f7
Fig: \o7 Did you think you were gonna drown?\f7
"I don't know," Hodges said, "but you do think about survival when this happens."
As a big-wave rider, Hodges has surfed Todos for seven years. It was Deffenbaugh's first time there, though their companion, Terry Senate, a 38-year-old surfboard shaper, had ridden it before.
They had trailered the boat and its 40-horsepower outboard from Orange County to Ensenada. They knew Todos would be going off. But it was small . . . at first.
"From the backs of the waves, it went from five to 12 feet in less than four hours," Hodges said. "That would be 25-foot faces. The wave that flipped the boat was a good 25-footer."
As far as surfing, Hodges had to stay ahead of the game.
"I started with a 7-7 board and in 45 minutes, grabbed my 8-6 and in another two hours, grabbed my 9-0. I was pulling boards out of my boat like golf clubs."
As the surf grew, they were forced to move the boat out farther, anchoring it in the channel.
"It got to be sunset, and we wanted to take the last sets. Barry was in the boat with a video, and Terry took a wave in and was in the channel. I started paddling outside when I saw it, a rogue wave at low tide. It was a close-out all the way through the channel."
Hodges got dredged while three successive huge waves pounded him and pushed him more than 100 yards shoreward. "Mostly, underwater," he said.
They righted the boat. Deffenbaugh got into his wet suit, and they scrambled into the water searching for packs, surfboards, food and clothing.
They maneuvered the boat to the other side of the island, facing Ensenada. It was small relief. The worst was yet to come.
"It was so big that day," Hodges said, "the leeward side was breaking with 10-foot faces. I've never seen it so big. Another wave flipped (the boat) over again, and that's when we lost everything, except for our surfboards."
Stranded, they climbed ashore, knocked on the door of the island's lighthouse and asked for help.
"The lighthouse guy let us borrow some blankets. We spent the night, shivering . . . our surfboards beside us," Hodges said.
They eventually got off the island by radioing a private fishing charter in the Port of Ensenada.
\o7 Will you go back?
\f7 "I just ordered a new engine on my credit card, and my boat will be repaired in two weeks. In another few months I'll be back out there. It was about $5,000 for everything. Say, Fig, you wanna join us for our break-in trip?"
\o7 Let me pay up my life insurance first.
\f7 Forecast: Head-high waves expected Friday and Saturday at west and northwesterly breaks, predicts Surfline/Wavetrak. San Diego and Baja could be good.