The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. In total darkness, I heard Bob Ellenwood ask me: “should we rally the guys for an early start?”
Already imagining perfect wave all to ourselves, I thought about it for a second. But I was still too bone-weary from yesterday’s 650 mile 18-hour driving marathon to stir.
“Let’s let the guys sleep for another hour,” I said. But instead of falling asleep, I listened for the next 60 minutes to the most incredible cacophony of snoring, snorting and farting. At 6 AM, the room was lit up by the hiss of a blue gas flame. Joe started his tiny gas stove and in about three minutes he, Mike Sullivan, Bob Ellenwood and I sat on the beds, and, using a stack of surfboards as a table enjoyed a couple of cups each of French press coffee.
Our First Donations
When Randy, Jeff, Rob and Wyatt finally stirred, things began to happen fast. We packed up our personal items, headed down to the Suburbans and began to pitch items overboard as if we were men on a sinking boat. The FFHM has a large room, and as we removed items from the trucks, the room seemed to shrink. Medical supplies, camping gear, clothing, two surfboards, two skateboards, some tennis rackets, a Game Boy, four mountain bikes, a huge bag of soccer balls, a globe, and several dozen small classroom microscopes soon created a narrow passageway as the items piled up alongside each wall.
As we worked, the manager, a young, dark-haired and sleepy Edith wandered out in her pajamas, slippers and Adidas jacket. A few minutes later, she was joined by Steve Dawson. With his portly frame, white beard, glasses and fishermen’s hat, this former locations scout looked like an actor himself. As we worked, young a dark-haired, sleepy, Edith, the manager wandered out in her pajamas, slippers and Adidas jacket. A few minutes later, she was joined by Steve Dawson. With his portly frame, white beard, glasses and fishermen’s hat this former locations scout looked like an actor himself.
“I worked on the movies for more than 20 years. I did Terminator and other movies.”
Then, in another of those amazing Baja moments, Steve told us that the beautiful building behind us used to be a theater. Built during the 20’s, it hosted the rich and famous from Hollywood and LA.
Bob shot some video of handing Mr. Dawson the keys. That moment felt great. This 1988 Chevrolet Suburban would be used to help:
- A school with 100 kids
- A day care center
- A center for invalid kids
- To take food out to migrant labor camps
- A fire department and ambulance service—the only ones in the area
In short, FFHM offers all the services normally offered by government agencies, and they do it all with donated goods and services. Their ambulance service, for example, responds to emergencies up to 400 kilometers away in either direction. Their fire department is the only one that has a jaws of life to extricate people from mangled cars in horrific accidents that occur with frightening regularity on these roads.
Finally, there was nothing to donate except the Suburban. Bob and Steve Dawson stepped next to the huge white car. A few photos were snapped, and thank yous were exchanged. We piled into the three remaining cars and headed to breakfast. We drove for 6 or 7 hours to Santa Rosalita, a tiny assemblage of random plywood homes on a beautiful beach. After stopping in town to buy gas the way it was sold before Pemex stations arrived (siphoned from 5-gallon cans,) we headed into the desert to camp.
The Honored Mate Ceremony
The Honored Mate, or HM: Tradition started with the guys’ trip to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo in 2002. The guys’ trips were getting out of hand. Months of email would go back and forth with incessant wrangling about where to go and when. It was decision-making by anarchy. On the Ixtapa/Zihua trip, the HM tradition was born. Each year an HM would be selected, and it was up to him, and him alone to determine the timing and destination of next year’s surf trip. Since the HM tradition, guys’ trips have surfed Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and North Carolina. (Yes, North Carolina. That’s where that year’s HM, Danny Neumann happened to live).
The HM ceremony follows a very carefully prescribed set of rules. There is a suitcase-sized HM box that holds, among other things, shot glasses, a bottle of local hooch, photos and mementoes of past trips such as coins or photos. There is a long “prayer” that the HM must read invoking the “spirits of stoke, righteous provider of swellage,” and other hilarious invocations for good surf.
Near the end of the ceremony, any guy who feels like it may then honor the HM. He may get up and say a few words, often slurred, abut their friendship, past misadventures, real or imagined personality flaws.
Personally it is this part of the ceremony I find unique, and often touching. Guys don’t often express their feelings for one another, even though those feelings are real. These guys have a unique friendship based hanging out since high school or college, starting businesses and raising families together, and of course, surfing.