Where’s Lizzy: Episode Three

posted by / News / April 4, 2006

With Swell’s bow headed south again, Shannon, Kemi, and I — the first all female crew of the voyage-plowed across the 25 mile mouth of Banderas Bay. We would round Cabo Corrientes, the Mexican equivalent of California’s Point Conception for notoriously nasty weather, at 10:00pm that night. I’d tied everything on deck down extra tight. My senses were on high; I had that anxious feeling after being at port for too long — almost like I’d forgotten to do something. But while the orange glow of the day was overtaken by a star-splattered night sky, I braced myself for a beating that never came. With the wind at our back like a father’s persuasive hand at 12-15 knots, Swell sailed smoothly around the infamous point.

With Swell’s bow headed south again, Shannon, Kemi, and I — the first all female crew of the voyage-plowed across the 25 mile mouth of Banderas Bay. We would round Cabo Corrientes, the Mexican equivalent of California’s Point Conception for notoriously nasty weather, at 10:00pm that night. I’d tied everything on deck down extra tight. My senses were on high; I had that anxious feeling after being at port for too long — almost like I’d forgotten to do something. But while the orange glow of the day was overtaken by a star-splattered night sky, I braced myself for a beating that never came. With the wind at our back like a father’s persuasive hand at 12-15 knots, Swell sailed smoothly around the infamous point.


The next morning the ocean was the color of a stagnant pond. Greenish brown swirls whirled in our wake, and I opted not to run the watermaker even though our tanks were nearly dry. It was some sort of algal bloom signifying the changing seasons, reminding me that I’m going to have to move quickly to get south before hurricane season arrives.

Mid-morning the wind switched and blew straight out of the south. With it came a strange haze. It was hazier than normal haze. We deemed it “Mexican fog”. It was so hard to see that I missed the entrance to the anchorage we were looking for and had to turn around. The GPS was no help either. It’s been telling me I’m on land for the last {{{200}}} miles. We crept into the mouth of the tight little bay of Paraiso, Spanish for “paradise”. It was shaped, as Shannon described, “just like a light bulb” — the skinny neck of the entrance opened into round little cove, only big enough for maybe two small boats. It could have been paradise except that not only had the algal bloom followed us in, but so had a seemingly endless family of nasty jellyfish. They were everywhere. Not wanting to go through the ordeal of launching the dinghy for just one night, we figured we could get to land fairly unscathed on the “Swell Log”, the 9’4″ longboard I had bought off of Stiv. We would shuttle each person to land and go for a hike, considering that diving and swimming were out the question, here in “paradise”.

As I balanced on my knees upon the nose, Kemi paddled from the rear. I flung handfuls of slimy opaque jellyfish out of our path left and right. Only one swirled past my guard and got sucked aboard. It went straight for my crotch and I squealed and somehow stood on all fours to let it wash between my legs without getting stung. We almost fell of from laughing so hard. After dropping Kemi off, I went back for Shannon and we had just as comical a time. Shannon got stung on her wrist pretty badly, but shrugged it off. As usual, she never complains.


There was a plantation estate on the beach with the word “Lobo” (wolf) written in huge shrub letters on a dirt mound. No one appeared to be home, so we walked through the grove of coconuts and up to the road. We found the “road less traveled” and started into the dry brushy hillside. We stopped to take a picture with Swell in the background for just enough time to allow the grounds keeper to come running up the road after us. Noel, with a beautiful pearl rosemary about his neck, no shirt, bad teeth, and a kind of stunned look, kindly told us there were dangerous animals on this particular road and that we couldn’t go this way. Kemi persuasively asked in her excellent Spanish if we could just take a short walk, but he just shook his head…no way. We figured the dangerous animals were probably more likely illegal plants and decided we’d better not argue. So it was back to the beach for some tide-pooling. Of course, three girls who don’t like to be told what to do, we walked out the tide pools and found a way up the cliffs and back onto the road. We walked until our hearts were content without any jaguar or cannabis sightings — only a few lizards with turquoise tails.


Over the first two days I had started to learn Kemi Vernon’s story. To me, she was a living legend. She was raw and real. She was natural and healthy, wise and confident. Her looks told of a life immersed in the sea, a free spirit. She was a pioneer in her own right, apart from the women’s movement that had gone on over the last 21 years she had been surfing. She knew nothing of the mainstream surf world, although she could have been a surf star. She surfed for her love of the sport, the ocean, and the adventure. She never read mags, she said. She just didn’t really care what the rest of the surfing world was doing.

She had explored the world for surf, alone, in her twenties. She’d survived a life-threatening bout with hemorrhagic dengue fever in the South Pacific, slept in the parking lot at Ragland in New Zealand and road tripped her beat-up Holden Shuttlevan all over Australia. She’d scored Indo and Sumatra before there were “surf camps” at every break. She had scoured every inch of Mexican coastline for waves over the last nine years, and shared her stories of both discovery and debacle. It was wonderful for me to see a woman, a little older than me, still lit up with the fire of surf stoke inside her. Despite the pressures from family and society to ‘grow up’ and ‘settle down’, Kemi ran a reputable surf school in Mexico during the winter season and spent the rest of the year surfing and enjoying life. I’m hoping to see her again on Swell when that time rolls around.

After our stint in “Paradise”, we headed south to the next bay down the coast. Tenecatita had the usual slew of palapa-covered restaurants, vendors on foot, and colorfully clad Mexican families enjoying the beach. We swam ashore (despite lingering jellyfish) and Kemi treated us to ceviche, coconut milk, and mangos on a stick. We’d seen an exposed beach on our way down the point, and although it was too steep for surfing, bodysurfing was the next best way to get our adrenaline fix. “The breakers are pretty big over there,” a gringo warned as we headed over the point. “He said breakers,” I smirked as we walked away — a dead giveaway for someone who has never surfed. We raced over the hot, thorn cover path with bare feet toward the glimmer of the great Pacifico. It was body-womp central, and unlike most women of Kemi’s age (especially the ‘ankle-dippers’ concerned for not wetting their nice hair-dos) she, Shannon, and I charged into the frothing, burping “breakers”. We flung ourselves over-the-falls, washed up like beached whales, drooled, laughed, choked, spit, and frolicked. There was no one around as far as the eye could see. After we’d packed enough sand in our orifices and swimsuits to make a small sandbox in the cockpit of Swell, we headed back into town, ate chocolate ice cream bars and decided to call it a day.


Sadly, the next day was Kemi’s last. She had to catch a bus home so we headed south to try to squeeze in a session at a spot she knew just down the coast. Amazingly, we found it. We paddled over to the racy little reef and shared a moment of bliss in chest high surf, taking turns… “breaker” by “breaker”. Later, when we dropped her off at the closest place to civilization she assured me that she would find her way to the bus. I didn’t argue. Somehow I knew she’d be fine. As she walked away down the dirt road, I felt aglow — we were undoubtedly, as she had written atop the infamous guest bunk, “sisters of the sea”.

Sidenote: To offset my cheesy ending, picture me waking abruptly in the night after hearing a noise on deck…hitting my head and scrambling for the pepper spray, running past soundly-sleeping Shannon up onto the deck in armed, commando-style to see that it was only the dinghy bumping softly into the stern. False alarm.

Check out Episode One and Episode Two

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