WHERE’S LIZZY: EPISODE ONE

posted by / Adam No Category / March 16, 2006

In late January, Del Mar surfer girl Elizabeth “Lizzy” Clark set sail in her 40-foot sailboat on the adventure of a lifetime — San Diego to {{{Baja}}}, Baja to Mainland, Mainland to Central, Central to South American, South Pacific to New Zealand, and on and on — in search of waves, in search of adventure, and in search of herself. Along her way, she promised to keep SURFING Mag abreast of her travels, so that we can at least dream as big as her. This is her first installment, with many more to come…

It’s 3:30am and I’ve been up most of the night. The boat is lurching from side to side each time we surf down the steep wind swell like a drunk guy regaining his balance every third step. We’re pushing nine knots down the bigger ones — fast for Swell. With the weight I’ve added to turn her into a self-sufficient, surf-exploring mother ship, she’s not as quick as she once was.

I shove loose bits of my tangled blonde hair back under my damp beanie and peer down at the charts — 94 miles and I will have sailed the entire 1100 mile stretch of coastline between Santa Barbara and Cabo San Lucas. I feel like a captain now. I am.

Squinting into the blackness, I scan the horizon for lights. Nothing. No one. The bright moon illuminates the endless sweep of dark ocean dashed with white caps and the dramatically changing silhouette of Baja’s southern mountain range.

Less than a month ago I had lain awake at night, surrounded by the comforts of our advanced society, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. I kept thinking, “This is your dream. You’ve poured your heart, time, money, sweat, and soul into making this happen. You want to do this.” But something inside me wouldn’t listen. There was a deep pit in my stomach. I’d roll over and try to ignore myself, squeeze my eyes shut, and then peek at the red numbers of the alarm clock again.

A week from leaving, expectations maxing out with family, friends, sponsors and onlookers, and I thought, “It would have been so much easier to get in my car and drive to Rincon every morning.” But I’d done that for the last six years. I wanted more. I wanted adventure. Then the real fear would crawl up again, “What if I can’t do it?” I had spent 15 years dreaming about this, and nearly 3 putting Swell together and the truth was that I didn’t even know if I could pull this off. There was no denying it. I was scared.


I’d brought the boat down the coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego where she was tied at the dock like a race horse in the starting gates. The morning of January 30th arrived and I stumbled around the decks, nervously lashing down extra sails, surf boards, and jerry jugs of spare fuel and water. The prior week was hands down the most hectic of my life — no surf and little sleep — I wasn’t feeling my best. My dad had been glued by my side drilling me on safety, helping me learn the electronics, fighting our way through checklist after checklist and buffering me from my self-doubt. I’d spent nearly half my savings on last minute purchases. There was no way around it, it was time to go.

Between tears and final good-byes, I peeled myself away from a group of family, friends, and supporters who’d come to the dock to see me cast off. I didn’t know when I’d see them again. My parents, who followed me out of the San Diego Bay in their little fishing boat, were now a distant speck. I turned and looked forward. Behind me, was certainty, comfort and safety; ahead laid the unknown, challenge and fear. “Mile by mile,” I repeated to myself.

As the miles swirled behind me in Swell’s wake over the two weeks, my confidence rose. I’d figured out most of the electronics and other gadgets, navigated around the infamous Sacramento Reef, and successfully anchored us in some stunning little coves. Then again, I’d also nearly run aground on an uncharted shoal off San Quintin. I’d lost the engine and had to call my mechanic on the Satellite phone to figure out how to fix it. And we’d been pinned on our starboard rail when a strong offshore gust had overpowered the boat. Every time I’d get comfortable, the ocean would remind me that this was no game. By the time we tucked into the bay at one of the Seven Sisters, we were ready for a break. Little did we know, our efforts would be rewarded.

The next four days were nothing short of bliss. I had planned to meet our friends from Patagonia and Wetsand.com at this particular point, and it was good to see familiar faces after all those desolate miles. The surf was picking up the first day and soon the rights were racing, one after another, down the point. The boat was safe. My crew was happy. It was time to surf. That day it was only chest high, so I grabbed from the campers’ pile of assorted shapes and took a liking to a little 5’5″ twin fin and couldn’t put it down — drawing a high line and speeding through a section, grabbing rail on a cutback or trying to heave it up on the lip. Up and down the point all day long. I would look around at the landscape, the smiling line-up, and then out at Swell. It was my very own fairy tale.

The last day the waves were the biggest they had been yet. I finally rode my brand new J7 5’6” hybrid shortboard that had sadly been curing for over a month. The tide dropped extra low due to the coming full moon and made the point just reel. The evening glassed-off to nothing but smooth reflections and long incoming lines. With near bodily failure and lips that “felt like pickles” as Shannon Menzel had perfectly described, my crew and I said our goodbyes and thank yous just in time to launch the dinghy through the surf in the dusk.


As quickly as these enchanting moments had come, the next time I looked back at the beach there was only dirt where their campsite had been. There were still some waves leftover, but it was time for me to ready Swell for sea again. This had been a magical stop, a dreamy moment so early on in my voyage that I almost felt guilty, like I’d eaten my dessert before dinner or something. I’m not sure, but after two years of stressful and time-consuming preparation to sail Swell around the world in search of surf, and the challenge-filled days getting down the Baja coast, well, nothing felt as good as to surf those waves. Not just physically, but mentally. Each wave I’d caught I’d surfed with my entire presence. Not once did I think, “I should be running a wire to that GPS” or “I have to install that outboard bracket.” It felt so good. It was finally time to turn my focus inward — to my surfing, to being and to living this dream.

The miles are passing quickly, now, and I’m beginning to see a hint of light behind the mountains. I’m already nostalgic for the Baja coast—points like the wedge of a doorstop jammed under quickly rising golden brown hills, the fishing villages that splashed a tiny bit of color on the land, the smiles of these fisherman with their fresh lobster, the stark emptiness, and wave after wave on this precious stretch of unspoiled coastline. There is something odd about Baja’s proximity to Southern California, with its desolation butted up to a mecca of complexity and modernity. As I stood up in the cockpit of Swell and soaked in the last of Baja’s raw landscape, strangely, I felt at home.

—Liz Clark

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