Scorpion Bay Hotel is getting STOKED
November 15th, 7:30 AM. – After driving down the Baja peninsula for many hours, we pulled off the road to sleep in a small fishing town. We woke up in a place called Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, a small fishing village, with the hotel walls covered in historical whale photos and SCORE Baja 1000 racing articles. This place attracts tourist form all over the world to watch the migration of grey whales. With an early wake up call, we enjoyed some huevos rancheros in San Ignacio to get ready for an exciting long drive on dirt road to get to our destination.
One of the more mythical surfer destinations awaits us, Scorpion Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. San Juanico, also known as Scorpion Bay among the gringos, is a surf spot that was a long kept secret. Around the 60s, not more then 100 surfers knew about this remote surfing destination. It was featured in some of the surf magazines but not many people knew where it was. Now things have changed and the town is known worldwide for the surf and because it claims to have the 2nd longest left wave in the world.
However, the town still has remains of those first settlers; local Mexicans that arrived to the enclave looking for a way of living, the fish and seafood, and become fisherman and then the first surfers that came to enjoy uncrowded waves.
An interesting mix of people makes Scorpion Bay a charming place; the long virgin beach, the rocky red mountains, the cactus deserts and the lively sea, each co-exciting. But before I go on and go on about how beautiful and exciting it was to be there for the first time, I’ll explain the reason we were there.
Together, with STOKE Certified and members of the Center for Surf Research, three people went that far south for two weeks for a different reason, no big swell or surf trip in mind.
Carl Kish a SDSU graduate with a degree in Sustainable Tourism and co-founded STOKE Certified, along with Dr. Jess Ponting who was his mentor while interning for the Center for Surf Research. STOKE Certified is a company that wants to see the world develop towards sustainability. They are the world’s first sustainability certification program for surf and ski tourism operators.
Alexandra Borrelli is also a SDSU graduate in Sustainable Tourism Management, as well as a Masters Degree from SDSU in Hospitality and Tourism Management, who now works in marketing and sales for the family run Scorpion Bay Hotel meanwhile collaborating at the Center for Surf Research. I, Ana Gutierrez, graduated in from Deusto University (Spain) with a degree in International Business and Innovation and Entrepreneurship and was given the opportunity to connect with the Center for Surf Research.
We all met during a Center for Surf Research get together and after getting to know each other we discovered we all had a similar passion and approach in \ surfing and sustainability. That is when decided to put together this rip down to Scorpion Bay. Three surf stoked individuals, who are passionate about sustaining the ocean, decided to embark on this adventurous journey down south.
Scorpion Bay Hotel decided it was time for them to go forward with the benchmarking process with STOKE and get certified. In a place that is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction mainly for surfers, they want to engage in sustainability and lead by example.
Carl on the entrance of the Scorpion Bay Hotel.
Therefore, our trip was to benchmark the Hotel with the STOKE Certified criteria, see how they were doing regarding to sustainability, and provide them with a strategic plan integrating better practices that clearly defines the next steps for them moving towards best practices to achieve the highest sustainable operations and certification.
The STOKE criteria measures the efficiency of sustainability management systems, surf resource conservation, quality and safety of surf experience delivery, as well as social, economic, cultural heritage, and environmental impacts, STOKE takes a comprehensive multi-sectorial approach to the assessment of surf tourism operators.
First, our team had to understand the hotel operations and then, learned as much as possible from the people, the town, the hotel, their practices, the culture, obstacles to overcome as a community, and finally their plans for the future.
During the first week, we took extensive data on how Scorpion Bay functions as system, educating ourselves on the important issues that came to our attention, such as basic logistics of the town, waste, energy, water and the education system. Basically everything that you don’t notice while on vacation as a tourist, but is necessary infrastructure for a town to work properly.
Having a conversation with the rancher that manages the waterhole for the town.
We spend some time on interviewing key stakeholders within the community to gather as much information possible. With that, we were able to understand how the hotel could be a positive influencer towards the community.
I am originally for San Sebastian in Spain and therefore a Spanish native speaker. So my main role on the team was to be the interpreter during the interviews. For me, conducting the interviews was the most enriching part of the trip. We got to know many people on the community and be able to create very close relations and really get that inside scoop on what Scorpion Bay actually was and where it was going from here.
We were some of the first ones approaching the community with other topic that wasn’t pure surfing or conservation of fisheries. One that touches them in a more profound way. At the beginning it took some time until people in town understood what we were trying to do and why it was important to talk to them. We wanted to know about their everyday life, their worries and their expectations in life. Some of the first people we interviewed understood our mission at the end of the conversation. Then later on the week they see us around town and stopped us and ask for a second chance to really talk about what they wanted without any filter. I certainly think they appreciated that interest and that is one of the reasons why they were so open and willing to talk to us.
Oscar is one of the first settlers of San Juanico. His mum was the first person that lived in San Juanico.
We spoke with the Delegado (mayor) of the town, teachers in the school, workers, fishermen, members of the fishing co-ops (their biggest organization in town), business owners, ranchers, land developers and people that lived in San Juanico for a very long time.
We rapidly broke that barrier of being “desconocidos” to each other in order to became agents with the same interest in seeing San Juanico move forward in a positive way. Everyone had something to say.
Scorpion Bay was a very unique place. In many occasions there has been documentaries made, there has been interesting citizens that had been interviewed for magazines, and interesting articles written. However, most of those just talk about what an amazing place it is to surf.
But there was so much more. There is so much more.
We went hiking to the red rocky mountains to see beautiful sunsets from above, we got to explore the virgin beaches of San Gregorio searching for fish on the river mouths and eroded shark teeth between colorful rocks on the shore, we saw really old paleo paintings on the rocks and anytime we were moving around cactuses was the perfect time to look for pitayas. It was a continuous search as you see not only for good waves. We had the chance to see the Mexican Independence Day parade in which the whole town went to see the kids perform all dressed in typical “guerrillero” costumes and share with our new friends a typical Mexican dinner at the Plaza later that day.
Mountains right next to San Juanico.
I found out what a special place San Juanico is, it has the surfing blessing but so many other incredible things to discover along with that. You never lose the excitement to keep searching and that place keeps surprising you.
I think that Scorpion Bay is reaching an inflection point right now. From which, it can grow exponentially as a beautiful town that knows their attractiveness and their points of interests and works to value them, conserve them and make the most of them, by attracting mindful tourists and raising awareness. Or it can start decaying, by not understanding the importance of conserving the nature, their resources and avoiding the fact that one way or the other they town won’t stay the way it is now.
Once the town gets 24 hour electricity, has a new water resource and new roads are built to facilitate the accessibility, the town would be ready to start progressing and getting new basic infrastructure that surely would attract more people, tourists, and most importantly jobs. There are people that have interests for the town not to get those basic needs for various reasons; fear to the unknown is one of them. They want to keep the wave for themselves, other towns are afraid they would lose investments and more things would gravitate around the Pacific rather than other already touristy places. Luckily, most people understand that change will bring progress and that it would affect directly to their quality of life. They are proud of living in San Juanico and are willing to make the effort to make it a better place.
But personally I understand that the key for the town to flourish is to really create awareness of the imminent change they are going to suffer. Stop thinking short term and start thinking long term, so the people in San Juanico can decide which image they want to project as a community to be able to drive the development in a direction that brings progress to the people in town. And that sustainable growth will be very positive for everyone in San Juanico.
The family business of the Scorpion Bay Hotels knows about all this. They want to embrace a change for the better and they want to make the whole community be part of it. Lots of exciting things are about to happen down south.
I can’t resist saying how lucky I felt to be in Scorpion Bay for some time and how thankful I am for the people that took me in and made me feel like family.
Gracias y hasta pronto amigos!
View over Scorpion Bay at sunset.