|Prescott College Affiliation||Supporter|
|Business||Ventana Windsports Resort|
Like Prescott College students in every generation since the College’s founding, Stephen Winiarski started visiting Baja California’s sparkling beaches and dazzling blue waters as an undergraduate.
“The juxtaposition of desert and ocean really spoke to my soul,” he said.
After many years of kayaking and windsurfing trips to Baja, he bought a piece of unimproved beachfront in a little Mexican fishing village in 1996, adding a yurt, a tiny juice bar, and a composting toilet to accommodate visitors.
“I fell in love with the idea of building up this little resort. It didn't really start as a resort, just as way to make a livelihood for myself. I started building it little by little and got a lot out of working side by side with the local builders. That was back in the days when I was still single, and had time on my hands,” he laughed. “It’s a really good area for wind sports, kiting and windsurfing. The business model was: rent out the yurt and teach windsurfing.”
Today Ventana Windsports Resort hosts visitors in nine cabanas scattered around a little mesquite forest and palm trees by the beach. The juice bar has grown into a full-on restaurant and the resort rents paddle boards, bicycles, kayaks, and windsurfing gear to visitors from around the world who throng to Mexico’s beaches from November to May each year.
Being steeped in the family wine business for years, hospitality wasn’t much of a stretch. “We’ve done well with the business down there because I was following my passion. If you can find some congruency, some parallel between your passion and your vocation, chances are you are going to do well and to be satisfied.”
It didn’t take long for Stephen to make the transition from sea and sun to engaging with the local community. “I like the fact that we are able to employ a lot of the locals and there’s a good synergy between providing them with good jobs and enjoying the cultural connection, I have learned a lot about the Mexican culture and made some good friends here,” he said.
Ever looking to the horizon, Stephen sought other ways to bring the “gringo and Mexican communities together.” He is currently involved with the now annual la Ventana Classic, a weeklong event drawing paddle and wind sports enthusiasts from around the world, raising about $20,000 each year for the benefit of schools in the nearby villages of La Ventana and El Sargento. The organization has funded new bathrooms for the schools, built shade roofs for play areas, and purchased needed supplies.
Stephen says he has children on his mind full time now – his own. He and wife Shahnaz have a seven-year-old daughter and two-year-old triplets born New Year’s Day 2009.
“My job lately has been husband and father more than anything else. It’s a big change and it’s made it more difficult to be as involved as we’d like to be in the business.”
Although they call San Rafael, Calif., home, Stephen and Shahnaz make the trek to Mexico at least twice a year for a month or two each time. “But having triplets is really a full time job. It has taken over our lives,” he said.
The three girls arrived in a perfect storm of baby making. “We were in the Napa Valley trying to have one more baby and we find out that in the area that we were living there was a fungicide being used to spray the vineyard. We found out that the fungicide affects the ovaries and we were having these miscarriages. We moved three weeks later and started IVF (in vitro fertilization) and it was a combination of dynamics that led to triplets.”
Reflecting back on the factors that led him to the life he currently leads, Stephen feels that adventure education was the hook that opened a door on understanding the environment and cultures of the world.
"The thing that got me to Prescott College was the picture of Mike Goff kayaking in a whitewater river. I thought, ‘Wow. I can do that and go to school? I am there.’ Once I got to the College, what I learned about the environment, community, and natural history opened my mind to so much, and really cemented my love for the school.” It also lead to a degree in wilderness leadership with breadth areas in liberal studies and Spanish.
“I think that such a crucial part of the Prescott College education is the challenge and growth that come from the outdoor leadership and the experiences which give an increased confidence in your personal abilities. It makes you – it made me – be willing to take on something like this whole idea of building something down in Mexico. I was in a bit of unfamiliar territory but I had some skills, I had some Spanish language, and some confidence in my ability to tackle a project like the resort, and carry it through to fruition.
“I have been giving to the College. To be able to have Prescott College grow and give those same opportunities and education that I got, to others, gives me a lot of satisfaction and a sense of hope for the future. I am grateful for the education and the people I met at PC because I feel that was such a formative time in my life. It’s something that is really rare in higher education.”
For more information about Ventana Windsports Resort, visit ventanawindsports.com.