Rich man or poor,
surf star or surf bum,
Baja all equally humbles us.
Baja does not care.”
“It’s been surfable every day until you got here”.
We had just driven 20 hours through the desert, and we’d gotten skunked. We knew the outlook wasn’t looking great, but completely flat and unrideable wasn’t an 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 it was only going to be about knee high at best—and yet we decided to come anyway.
Such is the lure of Scorpion Bay. A well-known spot on any surfer’s lifetime or annual checklist, dedicated wave-hunters in search of quad-burning rights and legendary campfire fodder 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 roll the dice and make the journey, knowing that if you stay home, it could mean missing that connection from 3rd point all the way into town—yet experience tells you that realistically it probably won’t play out that way. And that’s what keeps people coming back.
“It’s a drug” claims one longtime palapa dweller at the campground and cantina on the point. “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 Surfline’s Sean Collins, “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.”
The spot started gaining more notoriety and exposure during the mid ‘70s with the release of Fluid Drive, featuring J. Riddle on an epic 1974 south swell that is still recounted by seasoned Baja veterans to this day. With the completion of the Transpeninsular highway in 1974, access down the peninsula was made widely more available, and by the late 1970’s the cliffs outside the point would become a makeshift parking lot of campervans and like-minded travelers on a mission to grab the next incoming south swell. This, however, doesn’t mean that the trip has ever been easy. Campground manager Taryn Robertson claims that “everyone has their horror stories” of driving the north road in, from getting stuck in river washes, to bottoming out drive shafts, to even getting lost alone in the moondust for 3 days at a time with nothing but a case of warm Tecate and some melted chocolate bars for sustenance.
Even with seemingly ever improving road conditions (this past year an additional 10 miles of new pavement was added south of San Ignacio, erasing 10 miles of previously horrendous washboard), not all people make motor vehicles their choice for making the journey. Some choose to sail for days on end alone down the fog-lined coast for the chance to anchor offshore and paddle over to the famed lineup. On a recent trip, one pilgrim had spent 45 days and 17 different anchorages making his way down to this final destination. On another, a man had ridden a bicycle for 2 weeks through the desert from 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.
While past projects by the Mexican government such as the construction of the Escalera Nautica have threatened to essentially destroy the legendary break, monumental political and environmental efforts by organizations such as Wildcoast and Surfrider have helped to save the point from most certain death and destruction. Their work has made it possible for surfers of all levels to continue journeying far south of the border to share and experience the serenity and magic of the spot, no matter what the cost. One construction worker from San Diego once claimed that he was due back in traffic court in 3 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.
Bottom line is professional or amateur, first-timer or seasoned Baja vet, many times just a sliver of success at the famed point is all it takes to justify the trip and keep you wanting more. When the surf finally bumped up to waist high late in the trip, one first-timer claimed he was “simply astounded at the length of the wave”, and that even being able to ride the wave at such small levels erased any doubts of making the journey. Collins sums it up well by stating that sometimes “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?”