• Exploring Mexico with f-stop Ajna and Steven Jones

    August 1, 2021

    Stephen Jones is a photographer, storyteller, and traveler with a deep love for adventure and anything water related. As a kid growing up in Southern California, just north of Los Angeles, Stephen spent most of his days surfing in Ventura or mountain biking in the mountains around his home. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 2021, Stephen has worked with a number of brands in the outdoor and fashion industry, including Jansport, GoWesty, and Indah Clothing. Photography has become his career, his escape, and his creative outlet to be able to try and tell the stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told. Much like surfing and photography, storytelling has become a passion of his and he wants to use it to show people how amazing this world and its people really are.

    Stephen Jones 

    Directly after graduating from university at the end of June 2021, five of my closest friends and myself set off for Southern Mexico in search of surf. We had spent the last 3 years of school living together, crammed into a three bedroom, one bathroom home in Santa Cruz, California and we were more than ready for some adventure. After meeting one another randomly in our freshman year and dreaming of where we’d go after graduation, this final surf trip together only grew in hype and importance as it came closer to becoming reality.

    Altogether we had had quite the collection of personalities. First up is Miles Miller, the physics major who in his spare time is solely focused on surfing some of the biggest waves in the world. Next is Takumi Nishikawa, a talented chef and surfer from La Jolla, CA. Then we have Jesse Cole, the soon-to-be doctor of veterinary medicine headed to Colorado for a DVM/PhD program directly following this trip. Dylan Elliot, the true “frother” of the group who is one of the most stylish surfers I have ever seen, and is bound for a career in surf forecasting. Then there’s Charles Hendrickson, the marine biologist who also does some of the best power surfing and carves of anyone I know. And finally, there’s me, the photographer and surfer that has been more or less obsessed with travel for most of my life.to input text into the page. 

    When we arrived at Zihuatanejo Airport, in the state of Guerrero, we decided to stay in a nearby town for two days before driving to a wave about 3 hours north. Together we had 18 surfboards in total packed in and on top of our rental minivan, and I was happily able to fit just about everything I needed for two weeks in Mexico within the f-stop Anja 40L pack with a small ICU. As far as camera gear went, I wanted to keep my setup as light as possible because I was here to surf and document “the search,” instead of the scoring. Afterall, I wanted to be the one scoring, not the one sitting on the beach with a camera. In my small ICU I fit my Sony A7RIII with a 35mm Zeiss lens, a minolta 35mm film camera with a 50mm lens, and all the batteries, SD cards, chargers and accessories needed were packed within a medium f-stop pouch. I knew the Anja could take a beating, so I had no worries that my gear could handle being tossed around and shoved into a minivan.

    Stephen Jones 

    Like any good adventure, however, things didn’t exactly go as planned. We had heard the wave we were hunting was a perfect left-handed point break that peeled for over 100 yards, and also had its fair share of barrels. So needless to say our expectations were high. Once we finally made the journey north to this wave, we found that mother nature had other plans for us. The morning after we had arrived, the first big hurricane of the monsoon season made landfall… directly on top of us. 

    The river adjacent to the break that is responsible for it’s perfection as a left point break was also responsible for its temporary demise. The hurricane that passed through dumped so much rain into the mountains behind us that the river broke open to the ocean about 3-4 times wider than it usually runs. There was so much debris and mud in the water that the wave became virtually unrideable overnight. We waited there for about 5 days in hopes that it would clean up enough to become surfable again. We filled our new found free time playing plenty of billiards at the only bar in the tiny village we were in and were taught a hard lesson in patience by the constant downpour. 

    Stephen Jones 

    Eventually we decided that our famed wave was not going to start working again for at least another week and it was time to hunt for another wave. After fighting the strong current, purposely forgetting the very real threat of crocs in the lineup that got washed down the river, and finally managing to catch at least one wave each, we set off. We had heard of a wave 4 hours North that broke over a cobblestone floor and thus was far less sand dependent. The break sat in a very small town deep in the cartel-run state of Michoacan, and we had gotten our fair share of “be careful” remarks from locals before making the journey. So after going back south to drop Jesse off at the airport and spending a couple days at a fun longboarding wave halfway to the airport, it was time to head back north in search of something better.

    The drive itself was a beautiful road that hugged the steep, tropical coastline similar to that of Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast in California. We had lost all cell service since leaving to find this wave and were shrouded in coastal forest for nearly the entire journey, save for the few tiny villages and openings in the bush to see the view. Along that drive we saw more potentially perfect waves along a stretch of unsurfed coastline than I’ve seen in my life. The amount of beautifully breaking waves we saw that simply had no easy access to them was mind boggling. Something to return for perhaps.

    Stephen Jones 

    After our 4 hour journey through a heavily cartel laden country, we were relieved when as soon as we arrived the welcoming was warm both from locals and other surfers on the same hunt as us. And it all paid off over the next 3 days when we finally found what we’d spent the past two weeks searching for; a peeling, warm water, left hand point break. We spent every hour we could in the water and only came in to eat or sleep, I hardly even took out my camera that entire time. In fact, I don’t even have a photo of the wave! While a part of me is sad I never captured it, a larger part of me is satisfied with that. This trip taught me that the success of an adventure is not quantified by the photos you have to show for it, and sometimes it's a good thing to leave the camera in the bag.

    If I had anything to give as a tip to someone planning a similar adventure, it would be to stop planning. I don’t mean do nothing at all, but avoid diving too deep into your plan because the rigidity of your schedule will act as bars around your experience. A good adventure is always a result of the unexpected, so allow room for that to come. For us, almost nothing went to plan, and that is what made it such a great trip.

    As far as what’s next for me, it’s time to chase a dream I’ve had for most of my life. Over the next few months I’ll be traveling around the western United States and Canada in my ‘84 VW Vanagon capturing the landscapes and people along the way the best I can. I have a passion for travel photography and storytelling, and while I’m only at the beginning of my career, I’m extremely excited for what will come from this next journey and the companies I’ll have the chance to work with along the way. . 

    You can check Stephen's work on his  Instagram or his Website.

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