Justin DeShields and Bryan Morales met in their freshman year of high school. They got along, says the National Geographic Young Explorer DeShields, because they and their other friends liked to surf and skate. And take surf trips down to Baja.
So when the 26-year-old DeShields asked Morales, 25, to travel down the 1,000-mile length of Baja by foot and paddleboard, Morales was in. The boys went for it, hiking around 600 miles and SUPing 400 over 111 days. We caught up with DeShields to talk fishing technique, first-time wobbles and the hospitality of the locals.
SUP mag: You two had never SUPed before, right? How did that go?
JD: The worst day on the entire trip was the first day on the standups. We’d both been on them before but only for a few hours. We had no clue where you would put gear on the boards to balance them correctly. The wind was in our face. We thought (our route) would take three or four hours. The paddle time for me was eight hours and for Bryan six. Those first few days I thought it was going to be the worst decision I’d made.
SUP mag: So why did you choose standups?
JD: It was a way to break up the adventure so it wasn’t just hiking. I was thinking of the Sea of Cortez and how incredible it was and how I hadn’t spent time over there because it didn’t have waves. There’s also some beauty in a lack of preparation. That’s arguable, but I subscribe to that school of thought. That serendipity is a reason to go all in itself. Preparation often takes away the freshness of it all.
SUP mag: What was it like when you got the hang of it?
JD: The hike had its up and downs but it wasn’t as extreme. The SUP had its downs but when conditions are incredible and you’re paddling for days and you’re away from the next town where you could get help and it’s sheet glass and it’s morning and there are rays and a humpback splashing and breaching the water . . . The Sea of Cortez is the most incredible ocean environment I’ve ever been in. The amount of marine life is so extreme. From the SUP looking straight down into the water, it could be overwhelming at times.
SUP mag: What was your diet like on the water?
JD: It got a bit better because the hike was peanut better 24/7. We carried more seasonings and ate so much ceviche from fish like pargo and cabarilla and yellowfin tuna from dropping lines off our boards and catching fish. Bryan and I are not fisherman in the least and we were catching fish like nobody’s business. We used a stick, forty-pound line and a lure. Basically you drop it off the back and paddle in a place where you thought fish would congregate. It was really cool to sustain yourself like that.
SUP mag: Any advice you’d give others?
JD: We always get asked, “Isn’t it dangerous?” I’ve never felt so loved or welcomed by someone I know nothing about and I showed up at their doorstep, than in Baja. These local folk have what seems like nothing to us. Their houses are made of garage doors from suburban homes in Southern California. I wouldn’t underestimate their help, directions and the peek into the culture. They can help you immensely. A lot of people that go down there have this fear that it’s dangerous. That never, ever was the case for us.
SUP mag: Is it safe to say you have the adventure bug now?
JD: Adventure is always in the mix; we had it before. We talk about whatever we do next it would be hard to commit to that distance hiking. I would do that or more on the SUP. Put it this way: my next adventure, I’m thinking about SUP. My body felt like it was breaking down at the end of the hike. After the paddle, my body and health have never felt better. Guaranteed, it’s the strongest I’ve been in my life.