Vagabond Tales: The lure of Baja’s Scorpion Bay

“Rich man or poor, surf star or surf bum, Baja all equally humbles us. Baja does not care.” -Anonymous-

From the dusty confines of an open air Mexican cantina, a sunburnt American man gnawing on a $4 breakfast burrito managed to ruin my day in a single breath.

“It’s been surfable every day until you got here” he smugly mused, a dribble of hot sauce inching down his chin.

We had just driven 20 hours through the desert, and we’d gotten completely skunked. We knew the outlook wasn’t looking great, but completely flat and unrideable wasn’t the end result we were anticipating.

In fact, before we undertook the arduous and systematic task of loading up the caravan back north of the border with gallons of water, camping equipment, emergency medical and mechanical supplies, cases of Tecate, and all other Baja desert essentials, we knew the surf was only going to be about knee high at best.

The models were showing an outside chance a swell might still develop, however, and we decided to roll the dice anyway and make the bone-jarring haul through the Mexican desert.

Apparently, we had failed.

Such is the lure of Scorpion Bay, Mexico, however. A well-known spot on any surfer’s lifetime or annual checklist, dedicated wave-hunters continue to make the pilgrimage through the desert to the sleepy little fishing village of San Juanico for a shot at what many deem to be the perfect wave.

Whether it’s offering up ankle biters or overhead, the wave at Scorpion Bay can be appreciated and experienced equally by everyone from full time professionals down to the regular guy just searching for a taste of endless desert perfection.

Notoriously a fickle wave prone to long flat spells, the gamble always hangs in the air as to whether or not to gamble on the journey, knowing that if you stay home, it could mean missing that connection from 3rd point all the way into town. Experience, however, tells you that realistically it probably won’t play out that way.

It’s that slight percentage, however, that constantly keeps people coming back.”It’s a drug” claims another palapa dweller I later encounter sipping a Pacifico in the cantina.

“Even though you know you shouldn’t come down, you get a taste of it, and it’s all you can do to get back here. It completely consumes you.”

According to Sean Collins, founder of the hyper-successful surf forecasting website Surfline, “if you get it once you’ll never forget it…she’ll play games with you and will drive you to insanity.”

One of the first accounts of the wave being surfed is by Collins himself in November 1969 while delivering a boat back up the coast. In those days people surfing the spot off of boats being delivered were few and far between, leaving many sessions to be spent completely solo.

“When surfing Scorps by yourself the hardest thing to do is to force yourself to paddle all the way outside and to not take any waves on the way out” claims Collins.

“You may paddle over 10 perfect waves that just barrel and spit without a single section. But if a surfer ever gets the opportunity to be out there solo, remember that it’s such a long wave you need to pace yourself and ride each wave to the maximum of your ability from the beginning to the end. Anything less seems like such a waste of such a perfect wave and may be better to leave it natural and unridden.”

On a recent trip I met a man who had ridden a bicycle for two weeks through the desert from the city of Tecate back on the border just for the chance to get back to San Juanico. Stashing a board the year before and camping solo along the way, the effort could only be respected, unquestioned, and understood by all there to witness the arrival.

One construction worker from San Diego once claimed that he was due back in traffic court in three days but had decided to skip court, pay the $700 fine, and catch the next swell, because according to him, if he caught enough waves to knock it down to about $10 per wave, then the whole mission was worth it.

So was our Mexican mission an absolute bust? Absolutely not.

When the surf finally bumped up to waist high late in the trip, even being able to ride the wave at such small levels erased any doubts of our making the journey down the coast.

As Collins so eloquently waxed in a past interview, “a single wave can make the whole trip worth it. One single wave. For all the planning, the travel, the camping in the dirt, the wind, bugs, flies, bad crowd, super inconsistent swell, etc. But if you get that one wave, and you’ll never forget that one wave, what’s it worth?”

Read more of the Vagabond Tales here.