Friends and family of murdered Mexico surfers say the men weren’t reckless, they were nature lovers

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Family and friends of the three surfers killed in Mexico say they are frustrated at those claiming the men were reckless for traveling in remote Baja California — when actually the region has attracted surfers from southern California, and all over the world, for decades.

“They have been doing what so many surfers have been doing for years,” said Kara, who was friends and neighbors with Callum Robinson, an Australian who lived in San Diego.

Callum, 33 and his brother Jake Robinson, 30, along with their friend, Carter Rhoad, 30, of San Diego, were shot in the head execution style by car thieves on a surfing trip to Baja, according to Mexican authorities.

Kara spoke to Callum and Jake’s mother, Debra Robinson, after their deaths and told her how she’d personally camped over a dozen times in the exact location where the men were staying when they were killed – and how she had traveled even further down the peninsula to more remote areas with only two other women with her.

Kara and her friends on a trip to Baja California, Mexico (Kara)

“[Their mom] told me that it was so comforting to know that it was something I had done many times,” Kara, who asked for her last name not to be published, told The Independent.

The 35-year-old said Ms Robinson told her that in the day since her sons disappearance she had encountered people who were “insinuating that her boys should have ‘known better’ or that they were doing something they shouldn’t have.”

“I think it’s important to her that people understand that they weren’t doing anything wrong, or that they were being irresponsible,” she said. “This was a situation of just pure evil and lack of value for human life.”

The parents of the brothers’ friend Carter Rhoad have not yet publicly spoken. The 30-year-old was set to get married in August after proposing to his girlfriend last year. The couple’s engagement from July 2023 was the final post on the American surfer’s Facebook page.

His heartbroken fiancée and many of the trio’s loved ones have since talked with a man who went through a similar tragedy and are taking comfort in his words.

The couple’s engagement from July 2023 was the final post on the American surfer’s Facebook page (Carter Redd Rhoad/Facebook)

Further south down the peninsula, Ron Gomez Hoff, who is known as “Baja Gringo,” is at the heart of information sharing for the region.

His Facebook group TalkBaja, which began as an online forum when he moved to the area over 20 years ago, and is where news of the surfers’ disappearance first broke when the Australians’ mother posted a plea for help.

The Facebook group TalkBaja is where news of the surfers’ disappearance first broke when the Australians’ mother posted a plea for help (TalkBaja)

Hoff says it’s his own personal experience of being attacked in 2011, in which he and his Mexican wife were left for dead, that has connected him to the surfers’ grieving loved ones.

“I have spoken to dozens and dozens of their family members  – including the fiancée of the American, Carter, and it’s just heart wrenching,” he told The Independent. “It got to me. Because it made me relive what we went through.”

Following the murders of the surfers, he wrote an editorial for TalkBaja about his own horrific experience, detailing how he was beaten unconscious with a crowbar and how the men slit his wife’s throat and tossed her off the cliff in a case of extreme violence near his home in San Quintín, Baja California. Miraculously, both of them survived – and because of the community they found in Baja, they stayed.

He told The Independent that many people, including those who knew the three surfers best, have told him they read the editorial and appreciated him sharing his experience.

“Some of them have reached out to me and told me, ‘you do understand what we’re going through,’” he said.

“And yeah, sadly, I do.”

“It was tough to deal with. These poor people, I know what they’re going through. I wish I could provide words to comfort them,” he added. “To lose them this way, tragic. Unless you’ve gone through this, you can’t imagine.”

The tragic murders of the foreigners made headlines across the world, shining a light on the Baja peninsula where surfers and visitors are aware of the violence, but are still reeling from the shocking tragedy – a contrast to the stunning place with stunning idyllic remote beaches they travel to as an escape.

Driving near San José del Cabo, Baja California (Kara)

For Kara, who lived just two blocks from Callum, a drive down to Baja, something she does multiple times a month, is her favorite thing.

“You get to go and experience a different culture, you get past Tijuana and suddenly you’re on that stretch in between Rosarito and Ensenada and it’s such beautiful cliff sides and the most stunning beauty – and that’s when you can just leave everything behind. It’s my favorite thing.”

The 35-year-old surfer from Missouri has lived all over the world, including a remote area of Western Australia, settled in San Diego about six years ago.

She admitted to The Independent that the murders have left her rattled and she can’t shake the thought that it could have been her.

“If I had known Callum and the guys were there, I would’ve joined them,” she said, explaining that she was in Baja on the Friday before the men vanished, and had texted Callum, but they had already moved on from their current spot, so she decided to stay at K38, a famous surf break.

About a week after the three men failed to check into a local Airbnb and their families could not get in contact with them, their bodies were found on May 3 down a well in a remote area miles from where they had reportedly set up camp in Punta San José.

Callum and Jake Robinson were reported missing after travelling from California to Mexico on 27 April. Their bodies were found a week later (9News/Instagram)

Kara said that over the years, Punta San José has become more dangerous with roadside robberies but it hasn’t stopped surfers from going there. She explained she would’ve felt comfortable going with two vehicles and more people – especially Callum, Carter and Jake, who she described as strong and smart men who had their wits about them.

She’s close with many of Carter’s friends, who previously lived in Guatemala and spoke Spanish fluently, leading many to believe he would’ve been able to speak the language if needed.

Carter Rhoad previously lived in Guatemala and spoke Spanish fluently (LinkedIn/carterrhoad)

Kara added that as a surfer, “you are aware of elements of danger but you go in cautious, keep your head on you, don’t drive at night, set up camp, and pay the rancher to stay on his land - which affords safety,” she explained.

“Surfers don’t wanna live in fear - the thing that brings us life, the new waves that hardly anyone knows about - that’s what excites us,” she said. “Every surfer I’ve talked to - whether they knew they or not - many who did not - it feels so close to home.”

After what happened to her friend Callum, Carter, and Jake, who were such a big part of the surf community, Kara said other surfers are terrified.

A demonstrator holding a bodyboard written in Spanish ‘They just wanted to surf and they were executed’ (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

One of her friends told her, “this changes how we do Baja,” because we had this “illusion of safety,” she explained.

Kara said she’s hesitant to go back to Baja right now, but believes she will never go back to Punta San José.

“I just don’t think I could – it’d be too hard after knowing what happened there,” she said.

On Tuesday, Callum and Jake’s mother gave a moving tribute to her sons at a beach in San Diego.

“Our hearts are broken and the world has become a darker place for us,” Ms Robinson said, fighting back tears. “They were young men enjoying their passion of surfing together.”

Tearful mother of Australian surfers killed in Mexico: 'The world has become a darker place for us' (Australia TV)

She noted that her son Callum “considered the United States his second home,” and that Jake loved surfing so much that, as a doctor, he liked to work in hospitals near the beach.

“Jake’s passion was surfing, and it was no coincidence that many of his hospitals that he worked in were close to surfing beaches,” she said.

Choking back tears, Ms Robinson conveyed a final message that coincided with her sons’ adventurous lifestyles. “Live bigger, shine brighter, and love harder in their memory,” she said.

Debra Robinson paid tribute to her sons in an emotional speech in San Diego (AP)

The Baja California peninsula, a place visited for its stunning beaches and epic surf breaks, includes two Mexican states, Baja California, which borders the US state of California, and Baja California Sur, which is home to resort city Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip.

“There’s nowhere you can go in the world today that’s totally safe,” Mr Hoff added, explaining that it’s about being prepared the best you can, doing your research, and just being familiar with the area.

“But in Baja, where most of the region is extremely remote, there are factors working against each other – you’ve got smaller police forces with limited budgets, and then the fact that the vast majority of the peninsula is so remote with few paved roads, and there’s no cell phone signal in most places. You can drive hundreds of miles without even seeing a gas station.”

Baja California, Mexico (Shutterstock / sabine_lj)

The drive along Highway 1 from Tijuana to San Jose del Cabo is over 1,000 miles and is mostly a two-lane road that is often not paved. Side roads are “at your own risk,” Mr Hoff says as many are washed out or some have changed routes leading people to even more remote areas.

Chief state prosecutor María Elena Andrade Ramírez said on Sunday that she believed the alleged killers, three men who have been arrested, drove by and saw the surfers’ pickup truck and tents, and wanted to steal their tires. But “when (the foreigners) came up and caught them, surely, they resisted,” she added. After shooting and killing the men, their bodies were dumped in a well.

Mr Hoff said the tragic murders are nothing new to the local people and that there are hundreds of murders or disappearances of Mexicans in the region that are never solved.

But when it’s a foreigner, he finds there is pressure from their home countries and outrage on social media for arrests to be made swiftly, which was done in the case of the surfers, and also his case back in 2011.

“Something shifted with this event, and I think it has to do with the amount of coverage it has gotten,” Mr Hoff said. “Locals here are saying ‘finally someone is understanding what we’re going through. Someone is shining a light on what is happening.’”

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