Surfers to lend Santa a hand with Baja3000 road trip
SENTINEL STAFF REPORT
If you’ve ever taken a surfing road trip to Baja California, you know the feeling. In the morning you wake up to the sound of waves crashing and poke your head out of your tent just in time to catch the sun rising over a beautiful, empty beach. After a full day of surfing and fishing with friends, followed by dinner and beers around the campfire, you awake feeling satisfied and free, ready for another epic day.
But on your way into town for supplies — beer and fresh tortillas — you are confronted by a reality in stark contrast to your care-free state. It might be two children you see walking the few miles along the dusty dirt road into town. It might be the dilapidated local schoolhouse, a single room constructed of weathered cinder blocks and a yard full of playground equipment in disrepair. Or perhaps it’s the family of six crammed into a beat up 1989 Toyota Corolla, puttering slowly along the washboard road, and as you speed past the little car it sounds like the transmission is about to blow at any second.
It’s these scenes — the abject poverty facing many of the people in Baja’s remote desert villages — that slap you in the face. Compared to their daily struggles, driving hundreds of miles into the Mexican desert in search of some empty waves seems about as trivial as the drama on a telenovela.
This Christmas, a group of ten surfers, mostly from Santa Cruz, is organizing a different kind of Baja surf trip, one where helping those in need is just as important as scoring the ultimate wave. The surfers hope that through their combined efforts they can give back a little something to the people and the places that have provided them with so many good memories over the years.
In a nutshell their plan goes like this: Ten friends buy five used 4WD trucks. They load the vehicles up with 5,000 pounds of donated books, toys, clothes, art materials, bikes, tools and other supplies they are collecting throughout this holiday season. Come March, 2008, the ten surfers will break into five teams of two and drive the entire length of the Baja California peninsula — some 1,600 dusty, bumpy miles from Santa Cruz — surfing and donating the supplies, including the five trucks, to those in need along the way. Once they reach the end of the road in Cabo San Lucas, they will fly home.
In all, the team hopes to make donations worth more than $30,000. Because each team can spend a maximum of $3,000 for everything — including vehicle, food, gas, license, tolls and airfare home — the trip has been dubbed the Baja3000.
“We’ve been surfing Mexico for a long time, and we love it,” said expedition organizer Robert Brough, 42, of La Selva Beach. “This year, we decided to return one small token of thanks to a people and place that has become a part of our lives.”
Despite the logistical challenges of such a large-scale surf trip and charity mission, the surfers in the group feel they have the experience to pull it off. Most of them have been taking surf trips to Mexico — both Baja and mainland — for over twenty five years. The crew has also organized expeditions to exotic destinations as far away as Fiji and the Galapagos islands. They have been planning the Baja3000 mission for over six months now.
The friends have also created a contest format to add a little element of competition to the long road trip. In fact, the trip is governed by a set of rules so convoluted I won’t even try to explain them all here. According to the surfers, the rules are designed to maximize their donations as well as their own ingenuity, teamwork and grit.
While the trip is not a race, a points system has been established in order to determine the winner of the event. Points are awarded for a variety of tasks ranging from doing one’s own vehicle repairs and rescuing stranded motorists, to surfing fabled out-of-the way breaks and visiting important cultural sites. Once all five teams reach the final destination point in Cabo, the scores will be tallied and a coveted Baja3000 trophy will be awarded to the winners.
“We decided to get back to our roots, travel simply, meet people, and just surf” said team member Robert Ellenwood, also of La Selva Beach. “Because we surf some very remote locations, we’ll be able to make our donations in towns that seldom receive any kind of assistance. We hope to have a direct, immediate and positive impact.”
Ellenwood, a filmmaker, plans to document the entire trip with video equipment and produce a DVD movie complete with surf footage, music, stories of how donations are used, and all the inevitable mishaps and adventures of a Baja road trip. As a token of thanks for their contribution, donors to the cause will receive a copy of Ellenwood’s Baja3000 DVD.
Thus far, the group has identified three charitable organizations in Baja that they will work with during their trip. The first, Fortalecer, provides a mobile classroom to children of migrant farm laborers all around Baja California Sur. The program, run by Mexican and American volunteers, visits migrant labor camps and provides toys, games and educational activities to workers’ children and helps about 500 kids each week.
The Baja3000 also plans to contribute to a special needs school in Todos Santos, a small town about 50 miles north of Cabo. The school provides education and therapy for severely emotionally and physically challenged kids suffering from autism, deafness, Down syndrome and other disabilities.
“The school’s library only has about 50 books, the water doesn’t work in the restrooms, they need an internet connection, and even basic supplies such as paper and pencils are in short supply,” team member Mike Brozda said in an email from Baja, where he is currently researching other potential charitable organizations and what supplies are most needed.
The final charity the Baja3000 plans to assist is the Palapa Society, which runs nine different community services in Baja, including a scholarship program, library, medical clinic, rural-area road grading service.
“Baja has a high poverty rate with 34 percent of its people living in ‘extreme’ poverty, so the needs are huge,” Brozda said. “Coming down here for two decades, we’ve come to know and respect the wonderful people here. It seems right that we should give something back.”
The Baja3000 team is looking for donations of quality supplies. Especially needed are warm clothing, shoes, infant and children’s supplies, books — especially children’s books in Spanish — tools, toys, bikes, mechanical services, household items and cash.
Donors will be able to read all about how their contributions are used and view photos and video of the trip via regular updates posted on the Baja3000 web site at www.Baja3000.com.