Posted: Jan 12 2015
Dusty and suffocatingly dry. The desert meets the clear blue pacific in a glorious contrast of death and life in Baja California. Along with a friend and his dog, in a house ravaged by storms both human and not, Chris McElory lives on; seemingly indestructible, blatantly genius, with stories that take you to the edge of the universe.
"How many aliens do you know?"
After a perfectly short bout of small talk, the conversation awakens my sun drained body, my tequila and beer soaked brain.
"Well... I'm not really sure. How can you tell if an alien is an alien?"
I think to myself while looking at McElory and his grey horned beard, cracked forehead, eyes deep as the Sea of Cortez... he might as well be my first encounter.
My first time in Mexico, a few days in the city to get acclimated and transition from a NY state of mind. We started our trip with a lost bag, a stone-cold car rental employee intent on selling us extra insurance, and a careful drive to a Bed & Breakfast that we rented from a lovely Oregon native. Her son, Zion, just as raw and untamed as the land that surrounded. It was the west coast flavor that satiated my hungry east coast appetite. Pollo, pescado, asado, plenty of jalapeño, and countless other things that end in O. After a few days of stuffing myself silly, and saying "Si, por favor" to cheap beers and Margaritas, I was ready to cleanse my inside and dirty my outside.
We departed Cabo San Lucas with full bellies, pockets full of pesos, and eyes once again bright and seeking adventure. We left behind some new friends - a drinking buddy from the states that had broken off from his parents and was seeking new experiences (i.e. girls), the wild child whose hair at only 6 years old was longer than mine had ever been, and the hustle and bustle.
A quick, and slightly less careful drive over to Todos Santos, we were home. If the universe were a book, we all existed on exactly the same page; the three of us, still-pale, eager travelers, and this place we were in. The rhythm was in sync with every thirsty cell of my body. We pulled up to yet another B&B and from there on, it was magic. Off the grid, solar power, organic farming, fresh fish, farmed fish making fertilizer, and the sweetest dog named Manzanita.
We watched whales breach from our front porch. The ocean was teeming with life. The swell was up and the surfing was fun and warm. Greg, my east coast brother, reeled in a gleaming blue/green Dorado from the beach on the very first day. Sashimi lunch and dinner. Despite it's appearance, this parched land was more lush than we could have imagined.
We rented surfboards from our host and soon realized we were neighbors with a legendary surfboard shaper for the next five days. The boards were emblazoned: McElroy, by their creator who lived on the next plot over. In a strange twist of fate, with no other effort aside from a desire to surround myself with surfboard builders, an extremely talented craftsman with an eye for curves had been placed before me.
I had to meet him. Our host gave him the heads up that we were in town and wanted to talk shop. It didn't seem that he had a very busy schedule -- unless by busy you mean drinking beers, eating cheap-and-good tacos, and fixing surfboards -- but I appreciated the warning. I am, after all, a skinny white dude from Long Island and wouldn't want to intimidate anyone by showing up unannounced.
Leading up to our chat, I had the opportunity to surf two of his creations. One single fin longboard, and a Bonzer type, fighter jet of a board. My longboard skills are much like my writing skills. It's not often I get to exercise them but when I do it feels pretty nice. The single fin was my go-to for the next few days. It glided effortlessly along the right hand point break waves for which it was carved. There wasn't a thing I would change, except "FOR IVAN" inscribed along the stringer would be replaced with my name. Ivan was close enough, though, since we were living on his property in his first Mexican abode, sharing home made enchiladas with his family.
The wave quality was far superior to what I'm used to. I was embarrassingly wobbly and rusty but having a blast in the water, sans 5mm's of head-to-toe rubber. Not a care in the world. Knowing your shaper and riding a product of his own hands is, for me, one of life's greatest pleasures.
Our chat lasted an entire afternoon and well into the night, with a walk through McElroy's compound just down the dusty road. He showed me his house, which was battered by two separate storms. The first, a recent Category 4 hurricane named Odile. The second, a woman that remained unnamed -- a long term relationship gone sour. He walked me around to his surfboard factory with templates and unfinished blanks strewn about. A wall once covered with magazine covers featuring some of surfing's professionals riding (and winning) on McElroy's surfboards, now checker-boarded with a few SURFER and SURFING magazines and posters. A world map that housed pins for every one of his travel destinations, now barren.
Underneath it all, underground, down a somehow weathered staircase built by McElory seemingly of dirt, wood, and blood, was a place I could tell was very special to him: his studio space where he would jam out on his own hand built guitar for countless hours and eardrum pounding decibels. The art on the wall oozed the pain of an over creative mind. He hadn't seen it in months and was afraid to reveal it's condition after the storm, but was surprised and grateful it was still in one piece. He turned into a cheerful child showing me his best toys. Music had become more sacred than surfing. He made his own waves with the vibrations of his guitar strings.
Later on that night there was of course, more beer. It was Christmas so there was also some egg nog, which found it's way into McElroy's mustache and comfortably settled there for long after his first sip. More fresh fish courtesy of Greg. Then, a speech that went something like this:
"I want to take a moment to say something, man. Look at where we are right now, in this beautiful place with our friends, drinks, and great food. This is really special, you know? Happy New Year everyone."
At the perfect moment in between stories of extra terrestrials with soundless voices, trips of all kinds, perfect surf breaks, motorcycle injuries, near death experiences, and countless other topics about the world and beyond, McElroy stopped to sum it all up. We were truly blessed to be sharing this experience with friends, old and new.
Chris McElroy, his house sitter and fellow mad scientist shaper friend known none other than Foley, his dog Dino: brother of before mentioned Manzanita, and the community that he built in this place made such a hugely positive impact on me. I feel compelled to help him rebuild his home. Look for McElroy surfboards here on SHAPYR.com in the future. Stay tuned, and stay thirsty, amigos!