By Paul Lang
Not that long ago, La Ventana was nothing more than a sleepy fishing village down a nondescript road south of La Paz. Now, it’s hard to believe that there used to be nothing here except for a few basic houses and pangas, the small outboard-powered fishing boats found throughout Baja California.
Located in the middle of the most popular section of beach in La Ventana, Baja Joe’s resort has become an iconic place in the world of windsurfers and kiteboarders, but it was once just a piece of land covered with shrubs and cacti in an unknown Mexican village.
The owners/operators of Baja Joe’s are Baja Joe himself, a former Northern California logger with long white hair and a matching beard, and his wife Angie. You can usually find Joe quietly talking to visitors around the resort, and it seems like everyone who has ever been to La Ventana knows him.
Joe and Angie were among the first gringos to buy land in La Ventana after a change in Mexican law made it possible for foreigners to own real estate here. La Ventana is now a relatively bustling Baja town, but 15 years ago, you had to bring all of your supplies with you since there were not even any businesses there.
Before kiteboarding really took off, La Ventana was a windsurfing town. Even today, the campground is full of diehard windsurfers that set up camp for the winter. When kiters first started showing up here, Baja Joe was one of the few people to welcome them while some of the other resorts actually put up “No Kiteboarding” signs.
We had a chance to sit down with Baja Joe and talk about the changes that he has seen this small town go through over the years as it transformed from a quaint Mexican fishing village to a world-renowned windsports destination.
La Ventana has such a thriving windsports scene now that it is easy to forget that this was once an unknown and remote fishing village. How and when did you find this place?
Well, we first went to Cabo Pulmo south of La Ventana 16 or 17 years ago just to find a windsurfing spot. We had heard about this area with the island and we thought there would be more of a Venturi effect with the wind up here. We drove up to check it out and there was only a little fishing village here with about 20 of us staying in the campground.
You couldn’t even buy beer or vegetables in this town; there was nothing here. If you wanted to buy anything, you had to go to Los Planes. I was staying in the campground, and was the first one to have an ATV, so I rode down the beach to check it out.
After seeing what a pristine sandy beach it was, I thought if there was ever someday I could buy a piece of property in Baja, this would be the spot. I just happened to be here at the right place at the right time and was one of the first people to buy. We used to sit down here and wonder if we could get a few windsurfers to come down and hang out with us in the winter time.
At first, we were happy to just get enough people to have dinner with us in the evenings. Now, looking at a day like today, it makes me think back on those times, actually. We never had any idea it would turn into something like this.
Who were some of the other people here when La Ventana was first discovered as a windsurfing spot?
There was Ron and Irene, Chuck and Lorna, Rick Tenent, Captain Kirk came in about the same time we did, Esteban was in the campground next door here; there was just a handful of us.
What was traveling through Baja like back then in general? How is it different from today?
Back then gas was hard to find. You always carried 10-20 gallons of extra gas. Coming down here, we used to see them painting the white lines on the road with a paint brush. The first time we saw electrical poles going in, they were using a hand shovel with an eight-foot handle on it.
Now they have a lot of good equipment and the roads are great. The people were so great; we would break down driving down here, and there wasn’t a car that would go by us. They would all stop to see if they could help by giving you a ride or oil or anything else you needed. So, I fell in love with the place, not just because of the wind, but because of the people.
What was your career before operating Baja Joe’s?
I was a big logger in Northern California. I had log trucks and equipment. We did Cat logging and skyline logging and had up to 100 employees.
How did you go from being a Northern California logger to a windsurfer?
When I retired from logging, I wanted to get into sailing and go cruising on a sailboat. We had a 28-foot Catalina that we kept down in Sausalito. On weekends, we would go sailing out the Golden Gate and back into the bay. Angie and I were coming back in against the current one day, and we were basically just sitting in one spot fighting the current.
As we were sitting there, these windsurfers out of Crissy Field came out and did a few laps around our boat. We thought, “That looks like a lot more fun than sailing this boat,” so we took a six-week course on Black Butte Lake out of Chico.