James Barkman is a friend of Free Fly, adventure photographer, and certified dirtbagger. As a surfer and alpinist, he splits his time living on a sailboat and touring around North America in his ‘76 Volkswagen bus. 

His assignments have taken him to Iceland, Oregon, the Arctic Circle, Afghanistan, and most recently, on a trip through the Gulf of California with fellow surfers and vagabonds in search of peak summer and empty, offshore waves.


Dispatch: Gulf of California

Location: Loreto Baja - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

From: James Barkman @jamesbarkman


Cole Harmening is a man of the sea. For the last four years he’s been living and traveling on his Islander 32 sailboat, Slawless, in a perpetual search for waves and safe anchorages. It’s a lifestyle that most could only dream of, so when he asked me if I was up to join him for a passage from Loreto Baja to Puerto Vallarta — I didn’t think twice. 



Joining us was another seasoned sailor, Nate Stephenson. Nate lives full-time on his Wes Anderson-looking sailboat in the Santa Barbara Harbor. Our goal was for the safe arrival to Puerto Vallarta, the first stop for Cole on his voyage to French Polynesia (and hopefully around the world).



As a crew of surfers, we had heard tales of a remote island wave off the mainland Mexico coast, dubbed by Cole as “The Wave of Valhalla.” According to our weather models, there was a swell forecasted that seemed promising. After stopping in a few anchorages in the Sea of Cortez and spearing a massive yellowtail, we set off for a three-day passage to our mysterious island wave, with a fridge full of fresh fish.



The passage was bumpy and taxing. We traded three-hour shifts through the nights, dreaming of dropping our anchor next to an empty wave. As luck would have it, we found our “Valhalla” empty and firing miles out to sea. We surfed for several days before finally setting sail towards the mainland. 500 nautical miles later, we arrived in Puerto Vallarta — where we unloaded and Cole began preparations for the next leg of his journey.


Till next time, James


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