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The Baja Accord

Friendship's bond burns brighter south of the border.

By: David Zimmerle

Brett always pitches Baja like some new freedom is waiting. A world beyond the crowds. A blank canvas. We still go, just less often—once a year, maybe, tethered now to our duties as men and fathers. No longer boys on break with time to burn.

“Eilee’s to ourselves,” he says in a rare call sprung from text messages. “Think of the possibilities.”

So, I do, hoping it’s not another weekend that falls short of expectations. Because we used to have a knack for blending reckless with the perfect amount of planning, always getting back home in one piece.


However, we’ve traded that for domestic obligations, filling our free time now with children’s birthday parties, endless diapers, and Disneyland. He rarely, if ever, puts up a fight—whereas I’m still learning how to give up pieces of myself. It wasn’t always this way.

Salsipuedes was solid overhead that first time. And watching it from the cliffs, I realized why he’d pushed so hard to make it happen. Bust my cherry with a cold-water baptism. Scramble to the massive peak, no one to save you but yourself. Drop-in below that boxy lip and ride into a stained-glass vision, whose varying shades of blue-green went turquoise and then clear to the crest the harder you worked the line. It’s a shared imprint—a secret pact that forever lingers the outskirts of when we actually talk.

He’s got me by a year—the big-brother type. Same high school and we both played water polo. I showed up for summer practice, wearing an awful hat that resembled the game ball—a hapless freshman. Still can’t live it down either. He took me in. Showed me the way. Our antics ran the full coming-of-age spectrum. And then he almost died at the end of the year, getting towed behind a golf cart on a skateboard, falling asleep for two weeks, a tube draining fluid from his head.

He recovered slowly, relearning those fine motor skills we all take for granted—a re-processing of confidence—though he still has random seizures that fire through his brain. Brett emerged from that big sleep with more to live for and started surfing. Everyone called him a miracle or a miracle boy. And when he came home for the summer after a year at SLO, his tales of big power and dark tubes pulled me right in. Baja was a given when the timing was right, which was often.

Eilee is his family friend. She owns a vacation home south of Puerto Nuevo. Her backyard steps end on a roiling shore that leads to a hollow, right-hand beach break. Private. Exclusive. Her neighbors in some luxury magazine. The last two times we’d gone, she brought her grandson and a half-blind, half-deaf Labrador. Once, our wives came and his parents showed up with a few of their cousins. The other time, his banker buddies tagged along—fratty, meatheaded, mildly dense. But this will be a different trip, better since Eilee is leaving Brett with the keys. Big Ev and Atreyu are coming down—two of his boys from those lost SLO days—guys I’ve also befriended, whose sensibilities for surfing and the sea perfectly align with ours.

We cross the San Ysidro border, and that’s when Brett rolls down his window and lights a Camel Crush, rolling the filter hard between his thumb and index fingers to pop the menthol bead, saying to Big Ev and Atreyu that he only smokes in Mexico now, because it makes him feel free. A white cloud funnels from his mouth, out the cabin, and dissipates into the Tijuana air, whose acridity he savors, saying it makes him feel at home—somehow more united with the land and its people. I know this already, because he’s said it before. We drive by Big Jesus and the rest of Rosarito and soon arrive, too easily, at the gated entrance that guards Eilee’s neighborhood. He looks over at me in the passenger seat. The security officer sweats over a clipboard.

“It’s too bad they closed down Salsi,” he says. “Do you remember what we left behind?”

Of course. How could I ever forget the weed pipe Brett named Challan? The one we buried—several times over, in fact—next to a specific cactus, knowing it would forever entomb some wraith of our youth whether or not the site ended up developed or we ever made it back. Often just us two on those trips. We’d cap magnificent days in the water with warm tequila and more firewood, both carted down by a Salsi hostess before sunset. Brett talked a lot about spending a year in Oahu, and after that spring, he quit school and did so.

Set waves are waist high behind Eilee’s—the swell’s pulse tapering to a flatline. We missed it by a couple days, but it doesn’t matter. At least we’re out here again. Gives us some leeway to play like the old times. Goofy things, really: targeting our heads with kelp bulbs from long-distance, snaky drop-ins, salting each other with inside quips that have spanned our years. Big Ev and Atreyu just laugh and shake their heads.

After warm-up beers, we go find steaks and lobster in town. And while stumbling back from the bathroom, I fall in with the house band playing “Honky Tonk Woman.” It’s a fun blur like it used to be—another fading night of no worries—mixed with sighs of semi-defeat since we’re leaving after our morning session. Because it’s always somehow Sunday. And so many other things command our full, honest attention.

We stoke high flames in the patio’s fireplace, drink the harder stuff, and listen to music, the crumbling hiss of tide and wind, a bigger backdrop of sound. Our light is the only one around here.

“I needed this one,” Brett says, leaning in. “Perspective and all. We’ve got to do it again.”    


Bio: David Zimmerle lives in San Diego with his wife, son, daughter and rescue dog. He does not believe that buying a soft top from Costco is the intelligent choice. He holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside – Palm Desert. His work appears in the 99 Poems for the 99 Percent Anthology, The Surfer's Journal and Surfer. He is working on a debut novel.

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