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THE FORBIDDEN WAVES OF ISLA NEGRA
Words/Pics by: Kat Iniba & Mark Moreno
When I was sixteen I jumped into the back of a yellow Toyota 4x4 with some of my buds from HB and headed deep into Baja for a month long strike mission. The goal? To fill our belly’s with surf, tacos, culture and memories that would last us a lifetime. That trip was in the summer 1988. Since then, I’ve never forgotten the words that came out of my late, great friend Steve North’s mouth as we sat and bounced around the Mexican dirt roads listening to the Stones, talking story. I remember it like it was yesterday.
He said, “Moreno (he always called me by my last name), there’s an island not to far from here that has some of the gnarliest surf I’ve ever seen, and it’s even gnarlier to get to. Its called, Isla Negra. I know a few dudes who have tried to get out there but they've all been shanghai'd... They have either gotten lost at sea, discouraged from all the great whites, hurt themselves, ran out of food, water or banditos got'em.. whatever the fucking case, only a few have made it... The drive is about 10 hours on a dirt road past the Sisters, then you take a 4 hour boat ride about 100 miles out to sea, then you have to hike about 25 miles to the other side of the island where the waves are, it’s super heavy man.. But if you time it right, and there’s a big south hitting, you’ll score some of the best waves you’ll ever surf without another sole around.” Since then, those words have been plucking my heart strings like Jimi on a Strat. So, like any intelligent surfer would do, I gathered as much information as I could and made a map!
Now in my 40s, Steve’s words hit me like a rock one day, It was almost like he was speaking to me, telling me to go search for the island.. So, after talking it over with my gal and clearing my schedule, I started to formulate my plan of attack, I was going to hit it hard at the first sign of a direct South. I was finally committed to the search of, Isla Negra.
Bingo!!! Three weeks later Surfline is forecasting the first real south of 2018 to hit in about 10 days, and by the looks of it, its going to be a bomber. I quickly scrambled to REI for dry packs of food, jet fuel, water pills and anything else we would need to survive in the middle of the desert for the next 5 days. Alone.
Before you know it, we're 12 hours down the Scorpion coast about to pull into the small harbor town of Flaka Torro with my co pilot and beautiful girlfriend, Kat.. Once there, we were told to look out for our contacts wife, Lupe, who’s going to meet us and get us situated with the boat captain and a room for the night.
Our contact who will stay anonymous, told us to ask for the lady with the red hair once we arrived at the dock, everyone knows her there he said... it will be easy he said... long story short, Lupe’s hair is not red and her name isn’t Lupe.. But that’s a whole different story. We finally figured out who's who and find our "Lupe." After a short meet n greet with some new friends and a tequila bottle, we get our stuff loaded into the boat... Now its back to the room for a quick snooze before we head out to the island.
That morning as we're pulling out of the harbor at sunrise, we see something big thrashing around In the surf line. Upon a closer look it was a large great white. This thing was huge and it was taking apart a sea lion like a hot knife going through butter, just savagery. Not the thing you want to see the first 10 mins on the boat ride out to the island. The captain kept saying over and over again, “grande tiberone aqui, no bueno por olas, mucho mucho tiberone..” Oh boy....
We finally arrived to the island just after 11:30am. The makeshift dock that you load onto is getting walloped by the developing swell and it takes almost an hour to get our gear and bodies on shore safely.
Watching the boat leave and knowing it wouldn't be back for another 5 days was both refreshing and eerie. The thought of getting hurt, running out of food, getting sick or even worse, really checks your head.
Day 1: We hiked to where we were to camp for the night. 21 miles to the top of a 3500 ft mountain overlooking the leeward side of the island. This was my first glimpse of Isla Negras true potential. In the distance I could see 5 different waves riffling off the reefs, getting their tops blown back by 40 mile an hour offshores. What a gorgeous site to see and the swell has yet to peak. We didn't sleep a wink.
Day 2: 28 miles to Punta Flaka, the first spot on our treasure map. The wave reminds me of a very hollow Steamers Lane. Big fat sections with dry hollow tubes running along the reef. The take off is ledgy, over exposed rocks. Sketchy being the only one out. Have to be careful getting in and out of this spot. I almost got blown out to sea. WTF!
Day 3: A little R & R for us after putting in serious miles the day before. We head to some closer spots and save energy for the incomming swell. Discovered a new wave and named it Ladders. A perfect right hander inside a sheltered cove. The problem is the 200 fit cliff you have to scale down. Had to make our own ladder.
Day 4: The swell is in full swing, 10ft plus so we head further south down the island in search of Mangos. I’m told it’s a perfect right hander that can go a few hundred yards. As we make our way along the beach we see a feeding frenzy of hundreds of birds... Vultures, hawks, crows and seagulls have mobbed a young decapitated seal. Kats face turned white... she looks over at me and says, “Shit just got real.”
Couple of hours later and another 18 miles notched up, we finally discover Mango Bay. Wow! What a sight to see after days of sweating through the desert carrying 50lb bags. But it was all worth it. I’m staring at the most perfect right point you could ever imagine. The wave starts at the top of the point with an easy roll in that lines up through the first part of reef. The first section is a very hollow, dry tube over an urchin covered reef which then spits its guts out and gives you just enough time to wipe your eyes and stair step into the 2nd part of the ride. Throughout the wave, the wind blows so hard it’s hard to keep a visual on anything, you’re almost blindly surfing. As you come out of the second section, the wave elbows around the reef and sets up for the hollowest part of the ride. It’s shallow, thick and just keeps growing along the reef. After each ride you almost end up on the rocks, which actually works out. I would take each ride to the rocks climb up the cliff, give my gal a kiss, drinks some water and do it again. Repeat, repeat repeat.
Day 5: Our last day. The swell is still pumping but we have to be back on the windward side of the island by 6pm to meet the boat. We pack up our make shift camp and hightail it up and over the mountain ridge, its so friggen grueling... As we get closer, we see whitewater breaking by the dock. As if the island was saying it’s last goodbyes, we discovered another wave. We named it Mercury’s because of the heat. What a perfect A Frame wave over exposed reef about 100 yards offshore. I jumped in my suit and headed out. My first wave ridden was shared with the biggest elephant seal I’ve ever seen. Got nervous, went over the falls and face first into the reef. Yay! The next one was a party wave, must have had 30 seals playing in the lineup in a matter of 10 min. I’m not sure if they’re playing with me or what but I didn’t want to stick around any longer to find out so I paddled in. Hard to leave a perfect wave but I wasn't into becoming anyones next meal.
Like clockwork our boat captain, "Mr. T" showed up at 6pm sharp accompanied with the coldest beer and best fish tacos ever. There is a god.. There is a god! Mr. T looked surprised that we were there hahaha.. Im guessing he didn't think we were going to make it back.. He looked over at Kat and said in his broken english, “you loca!” He went on to tell us that he has never seen a woman go to the island in the 40 years he’s been fishing out there and was very surprised how well we did. It’s almost 11 pm as we arrive back into the sleepy fishing village, the town is dark and quiet, the cantina is closed and the sounds of the billions of seagulls that occupy the docks are gone for the night. We shower and crawl into our little bed at the hotel. Laying there silent, both of us remembering what just happened and the beauty we took in over the last 5 days.... A goodnight kiss and it’s over... Just a memory and a faded map.