This article on water safety written by Jeep Hardinge; a surfer and Pescadero local, makes some great points on water safety. Please head the warnings and pass this on to anyone who might have an interest in visiting these beaches on the Pacific side of Baja Sur.
Los Cerritos – The surf break at Cerritos is described as a right, north point break. The rocky point that forms the waves also protects a small cove that then curves south for about 6 miles to the next point.
Cerritos has become increasingly popular as more tourists learn about it from the Hotels in Los Cabos and the travel guide books that have included descriptions of the Pescadero, beach. For locals it is the only beach that is all sand with a gentle shore break and therefore suitable for all kinds of water sports, for children as well as adults.
What makes Cerritos different from the many other sandy beaches in the area? It is the dynamics of the point and how the ocean currents interact with the point that make a gentle sloping beach that you can walk out into. As you go farther south from the point, and all points in Southern Baja, the beach drops off steeply into deep water. When an open ocean swell arrives at a steep beach, it will form a large, powerful shore break that will often break into wet sand. These waves can be deadly and all these areas see days when one just should not go into the water.
At Los Cerritos the rocky point, by the palapa, also is the cause of a large oval-like current that carries water from down the beach that has come in on waves and takes that water in a side shore current toward the rocks. At the rocks the water is forced out to sea. This is called a rip current. Rips are common all along The Baja shoreline and are the ocean’s way of finding its level when big waves send lots of water onto the beach. But, the rip at Cerritos is a semi-permanent feature. It digs a channel very close to the rocks. Surfers use the rip, which sometimes runs at 4 or 5 knots, as an easy way out through the waves to the lineup.
For swimmers, and especially children, the rip is very dangerous because it is so powerful. If one has a flotation device (surfboard, boogie board) then being caught in the rip is not critical. But if one is swimming within 30 m of the rocks, the side shore current is getting stronger and beginning to make the turn from side shore to going out to sea. If, on a day of big surf, one is swept away one can go very quickly out to sea.
A rule of thumb for getting out of a rip current is to swim parallel to the shore, across the rip. Don’t turn back toward shore, swim across the rip into calm water. Most rips are clearly visible as being dirty, sandy water in contrast to the rest of the beach. The water in the rip usually goes out into the area of big waves and then curves south.
With a flotation device, you would float south, parallel to the beach. The rip would relax and you could swim in. With out a flotation device it is a consideration of a swimmers’ conditioning and their understanding to not struggle against the current to conserve energy. If you get out there near the surfers, someone will help you. But, it happens that the rip sometimes turns north. A swimmer is quickly out of sight and could be in big trouble.
But, it is best, of course, not to get in trouble. And that can be easily avoided by not swimming or for families with small children, not even setting up your umbrella anywhere near the rocks and palapa. The community has a water safety program underway to train and place lifeguards at Cerritos and other popular beaches. There are and will be signs posted at various beaches. There are red flags currently at Los Cerritos. Educate yourselves, stay alert, have respect for the ocean. They call it the Pacific, but it often isn’t.
San Pedrito – Going north from Cerritos, San Pedrito (now often called El Pescadero), is at the north end of the next beach. It, too, is a right, north, point break. Its location is at the mouth of the main arroyo that drains the Sierra La Laguna Mts. that are inland. A camping resort that used to be there has been washed away and the area is open, deserted land. The beach is made up of large cobbles, basketball sized smooth rocks that have come down in previous floods. There also are lots of purple, spiny urchins in the rocks. Entering and leaving the water is difficult, especially at low tide. Just a little way to the south, the rocks are buried by sand and the sand goes about 4 miles south to the point, the other side of which, is Cerritos. This steep beach is often very dangerous because of the large breaking waves that are shore break (shore pound as called by many surfers). There are many rip currents along this beach, giving a way for the water from the waves to make it back out to sea. There are days when the surf is small and one can get in and out safely, but it helps to watch the surf a while before you enter. Sometimes it can be 30 minutes or more between sets of waves and conditions can change quickly. If you are caught in one of these well spaced sets, swim out to sea, diving under the waves, into deeper water and wait for the set to pass. Then come in. It can be literally neck or back-breaking to try to get to the beach when large waves are crashing on the beach.
Las Palmas – This is another place that goes by several names (Palm Beach forexample), it is the next beach north of San Pedrito and accessed by a road opposite the Campo Experimental on the highway. At Las Palmas a spring comes to the surface near sea level and a very large and old grove ofpalms live around a small lagoon. A fresh water stream runs from the lagoon out across the sand into the ocean. The beach is all sand bordered by two rocky points about 2 miles apart. While this beach looks very inviting, the surf can be treacherous and there have been many bad incidents here. The problem is the same; the waves come and crash injust on the edge of the very shallow water. There also are many rip currents to watch out for. There is another hazard at Las Palmas with possibly very strong currents, running to the south in the winter months and to the north in the summer months. Theses currents are outside the breakers. Be very cautious if you go out past the breakers into deep water. Being cautious could mean using a landmark like a tree or the palapa on the shore and watching that you are not being swept away from your landmark. All these warnings apply to all swimmers, but especially to children and those not accustomed to being in rough surf. A problem can develop so quickly, one need always be on guard.
La Pastora – This beach is 25 minutes north of Todos Santos on a very bumpy dirt road. It, too, is a right, north, point break, but here there is no point, it has been eroded away and only because there still are rock features under the water that it is one of the best surf breaks in our area. Here, too, the shoreline is full of large cobbles and urchins in front of the surf break. The wave at La Pastora is described as “heavy” in that it has greater force than the other breaks and can really give a pounding. Of all the breaks on the Pacific side of Baja Sur, Pastora can receive the biggest waves and hold good shape the longest. The cobbles are covered by sand to the south and north and then the same conditions exist as at the other beaches. The sand drops off very quickly to deep water, a swell has no chance to break and lose its energy before it gets to the shore, and the resulting barreling wave breaking into wet sand is something to be avoided. There are also numerous rip currents to watch out for.
Use good judgment when at the beach and always watch children closely. Don’t go in if there are large waves breaking. Going out into the water is one action. Getting back in is often very different and more difficult. If you do not have a lot of experience at the ocean go to Los Cerritos for the best beach location - and stay away from point where the rip is!