Killers, Todos Santos: the quintessential Mexican wave
Killers is probably the biggest and most powerful wave in Mexico. Discover the secrets behind Islas de Todos Santos' force of Nature.
Located 10 miles (16 kilometers) off the coast of Ensenada, in Baja California Norte, All Saints Islands is an uninhabited archipelago consisting of two small islands - Norte and Sur.
The offshore, big wave surfing heaven lies above an underwater canyon that helps create large and powerful waves and in the migratory path of the grey whale.
The infamous, world-class Mexican right-hand point break can only be accessed by boat and roars to life on the westernmost tip of the north island.
It breaks off an appendix-like point, usually at least twice as big as the mainland, and provides breathtaking elevator drops into the pit.
Islas de Todos Santos, as it is known in Spanish, capture and boost long period W-NW swells to produce one of the biggest waves in North America.
Therefore, Killers is often known as the Mexican Jaws or Mavericks. And it's pretty different from its sister wave, Playa Zicatela's Puerto Escondido.
The oceanic, grotesque beast lives up to its name despite detonating near a wind-battered desert island and has been home to several historical wave-riding stunts.
A Famed History
The spot was one of the first big waves ridden on the Pacific Ocean coastline.
The first surfers to tame the archipelago arrived from La Jolla's Windansea Surf Club in the 1960s before Jeff Clark began his solo strike missions at Mavericks.
"By the early 1980s, three breaks in Todos Santos had been charted, and empty 20-footers at the as-yet-unnamed Killers were featured in the 1983 surf movie 'Ocean Fever,'" notes Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."
"California big-wave rider Marty Hoffman and a few others rode Killers occasionally during this period, but it remained largely unknown until world tour pros Tom Curren and Dave Parmenter were photographed there for a 1987 Surfing feature titled 'Big Time,' with Parmenter writing that the 18-foot waves they came upon were 'by far the largest I've ever ridden in North America.'"
Since then, it has become one of the most challenging wave-riding arenas in the world.
On February 17, 1998, Taylor Knox made history after taking off on a glassy 52-foot blue avalanche of water at Killers and winning the K2 Big Wave Challenge at the Reef Brazil Big Wave World Championship.
Knox's Mexican ride opened a new chapter in big wave surfing.
On December 21, 2005, Brad Gerlach rode a 68-foot liquid beast at Isla de Todos Santos, which earned him the 2006 XXL Biggest Wave Award.
"I didn't even know how big the wave was because you can't look behind you. You've got bumps and boils to concentrate on, and the last thing you want is to catch a rail out there," explained Gerlach.
One year later, Greg Long won the XXL Paddle-In Award for an epic ride at Killers.
A Moody Monster Wave
Killers has a shifty temperament, and its face has many moods. It offers a steep, thrilling take-off section next to a sometimes-hazardous boil, that tapers quickly into a deep-water channel.
If you take a tumble in the impact zone, you'll quickly understand why this wave is one of the heaviest on the planet.
The notorious point break is sheltered from the prevailing strong onshore winds that usually affect the Baja peninsula.
As a result, whenever a northwest swell hits the reef and the deepwater submarine canyon, waves rise to 60 feet.
In triple overhead conditions, a lip as thick as a car throw top-to-bottom at Killers.
Actually, the size of a swell is seldom doubled after approaching the region. It holds surf as big as it gets but can also be ridden on smaller days.
"When the Tanner Bank buoy is showing 18-20 feet and 20 seconds, the committed crews will have hit the road south to be in the line-up for dawn," underline Chris Nelson and Demi Taylor, authors of "Surfing the World."
Isla de Todos Santos Norte is also a surf photographer's dream shooting platform, as it provides the ideal geomorphological condition to capture the surfers' waves with maximum visibility.
On a perfect day, Killers allows its challengers to perform a full, well-rounded bottom-turn before drawing a higher line and eventually getting barreled.
The Mexican big wave arena draws off the energy of the Pacific Northwest's Gulf of Alaska to produce some of the most extreme walls of water in America.
The best time of the day to surf Todos Santos' Killers is early in the morning from November through March.
How and When to Surf
To access the remote surf break, rent a boat and/or crew at the Ensenada harbor or at La Bufadora. You'll need around 40 minutes to reach the islands.
During spring, strong trade winds usually cause upwelling, thus extremely cold water. A glassy or light eastern breeze is always ideal.
Pay attention to the small and large tidal ranges - the variation could easily be ten feet (three meters) - and paddle out in the mid-tide.
Also, make sure to wear a helmet.
The rocky/sand bottom is punctuated by exposed rocks here and there, and the currents could potentially put surfers in unexpected, uncomfortable situations.
Remember that you'll be catching waves on a secluded island, home to a lighthouse and a fish farm.
Wetsuits are also a good idea.
Get a 2/2mm steamer for summer surfing sessions and 4/3mm with booties for the epic cold water days.
Respect the local crew, and you'll get someone watching out for you.
"There are a couple of other waves on the north island - Chickens and Urchins. Both are good breaks," notes Mike Parise, author of "The Surfer's Guide to Baja."
"Urchins is a left that breaks on the other side of the rocks from Killers on the other side of the island. Smaller than Killers and away from the craziness. Chickens is a right found at the southwest corner of this island."
"The south island is home to at least two breaks - Rarely's and Thor's Hammer. The latter is a summer south swell break with lefts and rights, and the former is a winter break."
Brad Gerlach, Carlos Burle, Coco Nogales, Darryl Virostko, Gary Lindern, Grant Baker, Greg Long, Peter Mel, Mike Parsons, Nathan Fletcher, Shane Dorian, Taylor Knox, Ken Collins, Ross-Clarke Jones, and Rusty Long are some of the surfers known for taking on Todos Santos' famed sea monster.
Killers has been featured in several surf movies and videos, including "Gone Surfin'" (1987), "Overdrive" (1993), "Panama Red" (1994), and "The Reef at Todos" (1998).
The Bahía de Todos Santos is a World Surfing Reserve.
The area - which includes the spots 3M’s, Killers, Salsipuedes, San Miguel, and Stacks - was dedicated on June 21, 2014, by Save the Waves Coalition.
Killers, Islas de Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico | ID and X-Ray
Location: Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico
Type of Wave: Point Break
Length: 50-100 Meters
Best Swell Direction: W-NW
Best Wave Size: Triple Overhead Plus (60 feet)
Best Wind Direction: Light E-SE
Best Tide: Mid
Best Time to Surf: Fall and Winter
Best Board: Gun, Tow-In Board
Skill Level: Advanced and Professional
Crowd: Epic Days, Only
Water Quality: Good
Hazards: Currents, Big Waves, and Heavy Hold-Downs
Bottom: Rock, Boulder Reef, and Sand
Water Temperature: 50-68 °F (10-20 °C)
Getting There: Boat Only