Cabo San Lucas

Surf Spot
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Cabo San Lucas

Cabo Introduction

With its relatively easy, consistent, warm-water waves, an unending beer and tequila supply, beautiful desert landscape coupled with comfy condos and shopping malls and its proximity to ever-growing Southern California, it's no wonder the area around Cabo San Lucas has become a kind of surfing Disneyland. A bit dustier, sure, but no less fun. And if you're on it, the lines for the rides are way shorter.

Cabo is generally divided into three main areas: the south-facing East Cape, which lies to the east of San Jose Del Cabo and is most famous for its proliferation of fickle, silky right pointbreaks; the southeast-facing Costa Azul, just southwest of San Jose Del Cabo, right on the tip of the peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, which is known for its reasonably consistent - and crowded - rock reefbreaks; and the west-facing Pacific Coast, northwest of Cabo San Lucas, which is known best for its dependable beach and rock-reef breaks.

The three main towns of this region are quite different. San Jose Del Cabo, where the airport is located, is a fairly quaint little colonial town, with a big public plaza right downtown and plenty of nice restaurants and shopping and low-key hotels. Cabo San Lucas, about 20 miles west, is a giant party/port town, with drunk tourists stumbling around the streets as early as 10am and fast-blinking neon signs urging visitors to drink more. Todos Santos, about an hour up the Pacific Coast, is considered a little artist's enclave, with groovy little galleries and plenty of ex-pat conveniences.

The Cabo area was surfed as early as the '50s by traveling California sailors and fishermen; Steve Bigler flew into a dusty airstrip in San Jose Del Cabo in '67 to film some footage for the '68 surf flick Golden Breed; Surfline's Sean Collins began his lifelong exploration of the area in the late '60s and early '70s. But even though the Trans-Peninsular highway linking Baja Norte and Baja Sur was completed in 1973, the area didn't really start getting popular until the mid '80s.

Fancy American condo developments and golf resorts began sprouting up all along the corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo through the mid '80s and early '90s, as more and more people came for the sun and stayed for the tan. The Fletcher Los Cabos Classic, held in '91 and won by Kelly Slater was the first big surf contest held here, and the whole scene was more of a frat party with a surf contest attached to it than anything else. "What happens in Cabo stays in Cabo" was a catchphrase long before Las Vegas tried to copyright it. The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) started an annual conference here in '98. 

The Tip shows no signs of slowing down. The planes and boats and cars keep coming and as the Baby Boomers get older, more people are staying. Mike Doyle and Pat Curren are two of the Tip's most famous ex-pat retirees and the local surf population - both Mexican and gringo - keeps growing as well.

Click here to download one of Surfline's Southern Baja Surf Guide pdf's.
Well, yeah. It's full of both local Mexican surfers and twice as many full time expats; couple that with a few flights a day coming from SoCal and you've got a pretty solid surfing population on any given day. The lesser-known and lesser-quality breaks will always have fewer people, like anywhere in the world, but if you fly in all pasty white and paddle out into the pack at Zippers expecting to get an uncontested set wave ... well, buena suerte (good luck) buddy.

Often the most vocal so-called "locals" are just gringos who moved here in the '80s and feel a sense of ownership over certain spots (especially on the East Cape). The standard show-respect-and-get-respect should work fine at most spots. A gift of cold beer is always appreciated by locals.
Certain spots, like Monuments, are covered in urchins; the rocks at The Rock can get pretty hungry at times; the sun is so hot and dry that you barely feel it sucking the life right out though your skin (don't forget the suncreen); drinking 20 beers all day followed by a fish taco and six shots of tequila may not kill you but you'll obviously be useless for the dawn patrol; drink only bottled water; keep an eye out for scorpions, snakes and spiders camped out in the desert; there are stingrays and jellyfish and sharks and other creatures swimming around in the ocean as well; careful driving at night 'cause there's livestock in the road.
Apart from the Estuary, which can spew out all manner of shit from inland, especially after severe rains, most of the surf spots around here are pretty clean. (Keep in mind any rivermouth should be approached with caution after a rain.)
The Seasons
June-August is Southern Baja's busiest and best surf season. Infrequent hurricane swells (called chubascos) can send perfect southeast swell up to the East Cape's nooks and crannies. (Of course the hurricanes can just as easily come ashore and blow everything all to hell, so it's important to monitor their progress on Hurricanetrak.) Meanwhile solid New Zealand and other Southern Hemi swells send waves to the East Cape, the Cabo area and the Pacific Coast, spreading out the madding crowds and offering everything from punchy beachbreak to perfect, silky pointbreaks. The weather is fricken hot and sticky -- often in the 100s on the East Cape and 90s elsewhere - and the water is warm on both coasts, though the Pacific is usually from 5 to 10 degrees colder than the East Cape due to upwelling and suchlike. It's a good idea to bring a springsuit.
September-November can be the best time to visit Southern Baja for a few reasons: the kids have gone back to school and the Christmas vacationers haven't yet invaded. South swells are still reasonably common, bringing slightly infrequent surf to the East Cape and Costa Azul, and west swells have started in earnest, causing pretty consistent surf on the Pacific coast. Water temps are starting to cool down, but are still way warmer than SoCal; bring a springsuit and a 3/2mm, just in case.
December-February tends to be the most popular time for tourists to visit the Tip. Prices go up, traffic can get bad, and the lineups can get crowded with novice and intermediate surfers as thousands of folks fly south to escape winter's icy grip on North America (lots of Canadians here, too). The East Cape is pretty much flat. Costa Azul isn't much better, but the Pacific Coast spots that are exposed to west swell can light up for days on end, with superclean conditions. Again, you may need anything from a springsuit to a 3/2mm fullsuit, depending on the year.
March-May, like anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, is a transition time. Keep in mind, though, according to Surfline's detailed records, May is actually the most consistent month for south swells, so it could be a good transition. Winds can be bad during this time, though, as the howling springtime northwesterlies on the Pacific side blow right into the northeasterlies on the East Cape. But the swells are reasonably frequent and the crowds are nowhere near what they are during the summer or winter school holiday season, so springtime is actually a good time to plan a visit.
Most folks fly right into San Jose Del Cabo's international airport, located just outside town. Car rental agencies are right in the terminal, though it's often cheaper to organize before arriving. If you plan on spending time on the East Cape, keep in mind many car rental agencies won't insure you for that road in regular cars (it's pretty pockmarked and dusty), so you may need a 4WD. You can pick up a free map from the rental car desk, but if you're going to do some exploring, it's a good idea to get a better one either from home or from a bookstore in either San Jose Del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas. Make sure to inspect the car before you leave the lot to prevent getting charged for dings and whatnot that were already there.

Those with more time, better trucks and a deep love of the desert actually make the 1000-mile drive down the Trans-Peninsular Highway, arriving in the bright lights of Cabo almost like gold-miners - dirty, wide-eyed and very thirsty. If you want to make the drive, make sure your truck is in perfect working order and that you have everything you need to survive for days out in the desert. AAA has a good guidebook and map for this stuff.

Mexican Insurance is strongly recommended, as if you're involved in an accident -- even if it's not your fault -- you may have to go to jail if you can't present valid insurance. And Mexican jails -- like most jails, really -- aren't a place you want to spend a surf trip. There are a bunch of places right before going over the border, and they're all pretty much the same. If you're going to go down a few times per year, Adventure Mexican and Baja Bound have really good rates and can be purchased online.

A Note From Sean Collins: Renting a car at the airport can be an interesting experience and be prepared to negotiate between the various companies for the best rate. Always be sure to check that you have a jack and a spare tire in the rental car because they are often missing.
The Baja Book IV by Ginger Potter
Lonely Planet Mexico
The Surf Report Vol. 19 number 7
The Surfer's Guide to Baja by Mike Parise
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