We arrive in La Ventana before the thermal has turned on for the day. It is dead calm, not a soul in sight at Baja Joe’s, one of the favorite watering holes. While we wait for the wind to begin, we take a walk up the beach.
There’s a campground just up the way filled with RVs and vans, many of which have been here since November. More than half are retired Canadians seeking a warm refuge from the snowy terrain up north. A handful of dogs come running out to greet Nyma as we pass, but after a cordial sniff her attention is back on the frisbee. Nyma has laser focus when it comes to fetch. Border collies need a job, and Nyma takes hers very seriously.
Soon enough, the wind comes on like a switch has been flipped, and it’s on. As soon as the palm trees start to shake, kiters appear out of nowhere and the bay comes alive with colorful kites tacking to and fro. The whole bay has transformed into a playground. It is quite a sight to behold.
As we head to the van to grab our wetsuits, we see my friend, Evan, parked a few spots down. Evan, you might recall, was my mentor up at Nitinat Lake last summer. I feel so lucky to catch him for his last few days before he heads back to Santa Cruz. Turns out he shops at the same grocery store that Brian works at up there, so now they’ve been introduced I suspect they’ll be seeing each other every so often.
Kite Lessons in La Ventana
In two days, Brian has progressed from a trainer kite on the beach to standing up on the board and riding downwind consistently. He has even touched into riding upwind a little bit! Three days may be all it takes for him to get certified independent. Brian is a natural athlete with surfing experience, which certainly helps with learning. But the really cool thing about kiting is that with the right conditions, a good instructor, and determination, you can go from complete beginner to riding upwind in three days. Don’t mistake it for easy, though. Learning to ride is just the first step in a long journey of struggle and success.
Riding my surfboard without straps turns out to be easier than I expect in some ways, and more difficult in others. Standing up on the board is pretty easy, and so is body dragging to it once I fall, which I was most worried about. Finding the right footing is difficult though, and I struggle with staying upwind the first two days.
It takes great finesse to handle the board, since placing your feet a couple centimeters one way or another can make a world of difference. No worries, though, because the beach curves around and it is easy to walk back upwind. Kiters call this the “walk of shame,” but I’m not fazed—it’s all part of learning. Truth is, I’m really digging my board now that I’m liberated from the straps. It feels like riding a skateboard on the water—so cool!
Stuck in the Sand
Things are going great in La Ventana. The wind has been blowing since we arrived and it looks like it will stay up one more day. But life wouldn’t be so interesting if everything always worked out perfect. On the morning of Brian’s third lesson we run into a bit of a problem…The Woolly Mammoth gets stuck in loose sand where we are camped in the arroyo. With no prior experience driving in sand, I make the mistake of letting my wheels spin out two times before getting out to dig. A tip for anyone inexperienced like myself— that is one time too many.
When I get out, I see the van is buried nearly up to the axles and the back bumper is resting on the sand. We have a lot of digging to do and no shovels to do it with. Luckily, our neighbors in the arroyo are a couple of friendly Albertans who lend us two shovels. At 10 o’clock, the digging begins.
Two hours later, our skin is burnt, our hands are raw with blisters, and our faces are painted with sweat and dirt. Nyma has watched on with great amusement and has dug a couple of her own holes beside ours to get in on the fun.
Our neighbors, Will and Josie, have totally adopted our problem as their own, too, and are determined to get us out. And thank God, because I am freaking out at this point, worrying what happens if the Mammoth sinks even further. We may never get it out! I push my fears aside and just keep digging.
Digging Up the Woolly Mammoth
Finally, it looks like we’ve cleared enough sand from underneath the van to drive it out. Will pulls his truck around and attaches a rope to the tow-hitch at the rear of my van. I reverse and tries to give me an extra pull, but the rope snaps and the van sinks even further. The sand behind us is too loose—the only way out lies ahead.
Josie rummages around the arroyo and finds a few sheets of discarded fiberglass that might work as a solid surface under the wheels. Will pulls his truck around and we attach a chain to my front end. I figure this time it is all or nothing, so I gun the acceleration and hope for the best. This time, the van starts to move! In one quick breath, the van lifts up and out of the crater, and I press on the gas to ensure it rolls far, far away onto solid ground. I am elated! When Will comes over and declares his truck is now stuck, it only puts a minor pin in that balloon.
My task now is to drive the van around and tow his truck out. Although I am hesitant about getting stuck again, there’s no way I can refuse after all his help—we are in this pickle together. So we dig a little around his tires, place the same sheets of fiberglass under them, and attach our vehicles with webbing and chain. When it comes time to pull, I am a little too fast with the gas and the line snaps again. Contrary to our suspicion, the webbing held up fine. The weak point in the chain was actually a steel carabiner.
But the towing was not a waste because his truck gained enough ground that it could be free with one final push. When we all get behind and push, Will gives it gas and the truck lifts up and cruises right out of the sand. What a relief!
We are so grateful for their help, we buy them a case of Indio to show our gratitude. We’d probably still be stuck if it wasn’t for them. Next time you find yourself in a bind like this, a couple of resourceful Albertans are great friends to have.
Sadly, Brian wasn’t able to get out for a lesson that day because he stuck around to help. It is in times of trouble when you learn who your true friends are, and Brian has earned his spot in my club many times over. At the end of the day, we were glad to have made it through the whole ordeal in as little time as we did. We also like to think we learned a lesson or two. One of our favorite sayings is turning out to be a regular occurrence: just another day in Baja.
Riding Upwind & A New Chapter
As reward for all our hard work, the wind stayed on for an extra day than was forecasted. Brian is able to take his third lesson and I can continue playing with a liberated surfboard. I’m learning to ride upwind on my toe-side, jibe, and tack.
When Brian comes back a few hours later, his face wears a bright smile and he informs me he is riding upwind and certified independent. Well done, Brian! I can see a familiar twinkle in his bloodshot eyes that I’ve seen whenever I speak with a kiter after a good session—he is hooked.
Nyma is enjoying Baja life very much. Her days consist of playing frisbee on the beach, splashing in the water, sniffing things with other dogs, and dozing off while she keeps one watchful eye on all my stuff. She’s also learning how to keep cows from wandering too close to our van. They’re really big creatures that she is not sure about, but they seem to respond to her barks and growls.
Finally, it’s time to take Brian to the airport. It’s been an awesome two weeks traveling with Brian and we made so many memories we can reminisce about in the future. I am sad to say goodbye to my friend, but I am also looking forward to a new chapter in my adventures.
I’ve been contemplating my future a lot, trying to decide what to do. Seeing how stoked Brian was learning to kite has inspired me to become a kite instructor. Sharing the joy of this amazing sport and making a living where I can kite every day are the main selling points for me.
I plan on taking the instructor course in Hood River and spend the summer teaching there, then wandering south to La Ventana for the winter. This is a cycle I am keen to try. Of course I will continue to write and do freelance on the side to supplement this part-time gig.
When I signed up for kite lessons on a whim a year and a half ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It’s amazing how this pursuit has taken my life in a new direction I would never have imagined.
Life’s too short to sit on your ass. Better to spend it chasing wind.