In mid-October 2010 we were terrified as we opened the door to a British couple who had paid us actual real money to come and stay, surf and practice yoga with us. Our first ever customers.
Sofie taught yoga and prepared breakfast. I took the morning surf sessions in our Hindustan Ambassador which we called Jason. And between Sarojini, Sofie and I, we cleaned, managed spiders and changed beds.
This was just going to be an extension to our mini-retirement style adventure, a sabbatical, change-of-direction type thing. Soul & Surf was designed to buy us a little more time away without haemorrhaging cash in Brighton, and for me to work on a couple of business ideas that were going to be the next chapter for us. All whilst ticking off some of our newfound life goals – live somewhere tropical, make time for daily yoga/meditation and surf every day.
Sofie & I are the ones that invite loads of people to ours for an overly ambitious meal that nearly kills us but turns out to be so good and nourishing – and in more than just a gluttonous way, in that life-affirming kinda way. So we carried that spirit on into Soul & Surf but on a slightly bigger scale (not that much bigger though, renting two 2-bed bungalows with us in one of the rooms). Sofie even worked part-time in a fishmongers for a couple of months when we stopped off in the UK so she could be great at prepping incredible Keralan seafood delights.
The other two (or was it three) business ideas never really took off. The downloadable yoga & pilates series of programmes for surfers limped on for a couple of years – with hindsight I should have kept that one going with all these online wellness businesses booming – before we realised the energy was all flowing through Soul & Surf and scaled it up enough to become a genuine business that could support us.
Our 10th birthday
This current winter season would have been our 10th had a pesky little virus – did you hear about it? – not got in the way. Of course all the events, films and celebrations pencilled in for it also got shelved.
At least we’ve been able to open though for Indian customers in Kerala this season. And it feels right somehow that it’s locals only.
In the early days we met so many of the small band of intrepid Indians who were busy pioneering surf in India and we were lucky enough for some of them to join our team. Their dedication and influence have now made it a ‘thing’ for Indian urbanites to get over their traditional fear of the ocean and to go surfing. And we are now helping to facilitate and operate an all Indian – staff & customers – Soul & Surf over there.
It was one of our earliest maxims to be able to remove us, foreigners, from the equation at some point (though we hadn’t imagined it would happen in this way), and have a locally-run and operated business that benefits and supports the local community as much, if not more than it does the founders.
Ten years on we still struggle with our conscience as foreigners owning businesses in developing countries. We worry about being in the global travel business in the depths of a climate crisis; we feel awfully uncomfortable about the disparity between a chechi’s pay and our own; plus numerous other angst-ridden moral conundrums that running a small, but multi-national, business throws our way.
Significantly, we still feel these are problems worth continuing to wrestle with, puzzles worth solving. Instead of walking away and doing something a bit easier to manage (that’s probably almost anything I can think of by the way), we feel we can address these issues from within the industry whilst actively operating – and therefore have a voice that might be heard, a voice that can be added to others in order to bring positive change
The magic that makes Soul & Surf
The main thing which keeps us going, that brings meaning to our workdays, that makes the sometimes insanely-stressful challenges of operating multi-culturally worth bearing are the ongoing, ever-changing, always vibrant, sometimes challenging, often inspiring communities that Soul & Surf generates week in week out, year in year out. Communities which, crucially, cross the traditional staff and customer divide.
So many people have sailed in the good ship Soul & Surf over the years. So many customers have become staff (which doesn’t always work out to be honest – being on holiday in the tropics as a foreigner is very different from living and working in the tropics); so many great teams have come and gone (as is the nature of such a seasonal business); so many great customers have become part of the family; so many great folk come and go, in a week, over a few stays or for a season or two and then move to pastures new; so many others have become the very fabric of the organisation.
So many friendships have been made across geographical borders that endure long after sailing with Soul & Surf, some of which have evolved into great businesses and others that have generated families.
So many stories have been heard and told around our breakfast and dining tables and so many lives have taken a turn (hopefully for the better) on our watch.
Time has its benefits
So much has happened but, for the last 5 or 6 years, we’ve been so busy helping to engineer it that we’ve not had as much chance to remember and recognise these wins as much as we’d like.
So, this here pandemic has brought with it, amongst all the nastiness, the gift of time, the gift of reflection.
Rituals are important, celebration is important. Recognition is important.
We had started to plan our 10-year celebrations back in Feb/March before… well, who else is bored of mentioning the C-word… Instead next winter season we’re going to celebrate.
OK, so it might be a 10 (+1) year celebration – it’s only a number – but we want to mark the occasion and recognise the people that have made this all possible. The people we have been blessed to work with, the people who have left us to continue following their path, the guests who became friends, the people who keep on coming back.
We’re planning a family gathering in Kerala next winter to give thanks and gratitude to the energy created when good people come together to do good things.
A 10 (+1) year party.
[Want to know what Kerala is all about? If you’re able to travel right now, you’ll find all you need about our very special clifftop retreat here.]Back to Journal