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The call of Baja California surf is the stuff of legend. Has violence ended that dream?

Alex Riggins and Alexandra Mendoza, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SAN DIEGO — For the better part of the past half-century, Baja California has beckoned to surfers from across the globe, offering peeling point breaks without crowded lineups to those willing to travel and camp in remote and barren areas.

For many Southern California surfers, such excursions are the stuff of legend, a cherished ritual that groms read and hear stories about until they’re old enough for their own south-of-the-border adventures.

“It’s a surfer’s rite of passage,” said Ocean Beach resident Marty Albert. “It’s about the openness of Baja, where you feel like you’re not going to be bothered. It’s about the waves — point after point after point break, some of them 400 yards. It’s about being a cowboy, not taking showers, living out of your truck like the surfers of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. We want those same experiences we read about our whole lives.”

That romantic vision was tainted in recent days by the shooting deaths of San Diegan Carter Rhoad, 30; his friend Callum Robinson, 33, an Australian living in San Diego; and Callum’s brother, Jake Robinson, 30, who was visiting from Australia.

The trio was on a surf trip late last month south of Ensenada when they went missing. Their bodies were discovered May 3 at the bottom of a well in Punta San José near Santo Tomás. Mexican officials said they were killed as the result of a botched robbery. A suspect who was arrested and charged with forced disappearance is expected to also face murder charges in the case.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” Albert said. “They were just down there trying to do the same journey all of us have done.”


Now, some surfers and other Baja California adventurers are second-guessing what the future might hold for such trips. Some said the recent killings completely changed their future plans, others said they changed their routines years ago in the face of escalating risks and others said they won’t change their habits at all.

“It’s definitely unfortunate and was a really awful situation,” said Cameron Gregg, a freediver and spearfisherman who has made about 30 trips to the region over the last decade. “But it’s not going to affect how I travel down there. There are always going to be bad people everywhere in the world ... But there are some of the nicest people down there. People there are very welcoming, very giving.”

The killings also brought into sharp focus the differences in experiences between visitors to the region and its residents. Baja California has one of the highest homicide rates in Mexico, with 2,417 homicides in the state last year and another 595 through the first three months of 2024, according to the Secretary of Citizen Security. Mexican officials estimate that 85% to 90% of the state’s homicides are related to drug violence and organized crime.

But violence against tourists is rare. That’s important for an industry that Baja California’s Secretary of Tourism estimated spurred about $7.1 billion in economic revenue for the state in 2023.


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