In Baja, Surfers Battle Over The Perfect Wave


In Baja, Surfers Battle Over The Perfect Wave
Developers and old time surfers are battling over the future of a sleepy, oceanfront village in southern Baja California.

A surfer rides “the perfect wave” at San Juanico, also known as Scorpion Bay.

By Jill Replogle

Friday, March 9, 2012

SAN JUANICO, MX – Nearly 900-miles down the Baja California peninsula on Highway 1, there is an epic wave.

“As far as I’m concerned,” mused a 73-year old surfer who goes by the name Lee of the Sea, “when it’s on, it’s as good a wave as there is in the world.”

He’s talking about the wave at San Juanico, or Scorpion Bay, as it’s more popularly known in the surf community. The place is remote: if you want to take the direct route — still about 650 miles — you have to brave a long stretch of mud and salt flats. One Scorpion Bay website warns surfers to “think twice” before taking this route. If you break through the brittle mud surface, “maybe no one will be along for days,” it says.

Despite the long, rough ride, in the summertime hundreds of American surfers make the journey in four-wheel drives and makeshift campers. They spend their days riding waves that can last up to a minute and a half. That’s a long ride.

Most spend their nights in the campground that occupies the rocky, cactus-studded point directly above the wave. This prime piece of land has caused a nasty legal battle.

It demonstrates the passion — and sense of possession — surfers feel for their favorite spots.

“We’re very selfish with our waves,” James Adkins, an Imperial Valley native, said matter-of-factly. Adkins, who now works as a real estate agent and developer in San Juanico, represents one side of the battle.

“I mean, we don’t want to have more people,” he said.

The conflict pits Adkins and another Southern California surfer turned would-be developer against each other. At stake may be the most sensitive issue in the surf community — access.

“Whoever ends up with that property has kind of a public responsibility to deal with it in a way that, I think, respects the traditional uses there,” said Ruben Andrews, the other side of the battle.

Andrews leases the campground land from the local ejido, which are communal agricultural groups that have been granted large tracts of land by the Mexican government.

Both Adkins and Andrews accuse each other of trying to block off the land. In the meantime, the ejido just wants to turn a profit from its coveted beachfront property.

“What good would it do me to have all these beautiful places if I don’t have the capital to develop them?” said José Jesús Meza, the ejido president.

Andrews and Adkins once ran the campground together, but Andrews eventually bought Adkins out. By then Adkins had moved on to a more lucrative business — negotiating land sales between American investors and the same ejido.

Adkins didn’t necessarily want to see his semi-secret surf spot developed, he said, but “I couldn’t keep putting on the brakes when the ejido wants to sell their property.”

“It was either someone else was going to take my position, or I had to step up to the plate,” he said.

Eventually, Adkins and a group of Southern California investors offered $3 million to buy up the campground land and build a cluster of beachfront homes at that perfect wave. The ejido sold it, with Andrews’ campground lease still in effect.

That’s when the war began.

Adkins said his group tried to buy Andrews out from the start, but he didn’t want to sell…

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