Phewee, we’ve come to the end of our first season in Europe.
Seven months – and plenty of blood, sweat, tears, gravy & egg – since opening Soul & Surf Portugal, it’s now time to slow things down a bit over the winter, with just a few more focused surf development weeks in the diary.
To say it’s been a busy season is kind of an understatement. But I figured rather than give in to the temptation to immediately start thinking about next season, now’s a good time to pause and look back. (We’re pretty good at promoting those moments of reflection for our guests – which doesn’t leave us much time for practicing what we preach…)
It is almost exactly ten years ago this week that Sofie & I spent a month or so free camping in our van at the beaches of the western Algarve near the start of our round-the-world surf trip which kinda morphed into Soul & Surf accidentally. So, setting up a Soul & Surf in Portugal was something we’d been quietly mulling for some time. While we were busy putting down roots over in the tropics, there was something about the Portugese landscape that kept calling us back. Miles of rugged cliffs, a coastline littered with both beach and point breaks, feasting on pastel del nata after morning surfs. There’s something magical, wild & rugged about this corner of Europe, which is why it soon became a regular destination for our pop-ups.
Three years of those pop-ups under our belts, and we figured it was time to make things more permanent. We announced our plan to open in the Algarve about this time last year…and then had that ‘oh shit’ moment of realising we actually had to do it.
Sofie & I have always been hands-on, sleeves rolled up setting up Soul & Surf’s before, but this time we simply couldn’t do it for geographic, logistic and educational reasons. So while Sofie and I did our trademark juggling act between keeping an eye on things in the jungle, and popping back when we could to check in, the brilliant Dan, Adam and Jade spent their winter building, gardening, tracking down suppliers, negotiating with local authorities and accountants, hiring a team… The list goes on. We were taking bookings throughout the winter – scarily slowly if we’re honest – all the while having barely anywhere to put our guests, let alone minor things like a decent yoga shala, therapies space or a full team in place!
I won’t try and list all of the slightly hairy moments we had but safe to say there have been a few. (Having our head cook drop out approximately ten days before launch was a bit of a scary one…although serendipitous because we seriously lucked out with Rachel, who joined us at the eleventh hour and has helped create and deliver an amazing menu along our Sunshine Food ethos.)
Before we knew it April was upon us, Sofie, Kit & I zipped back from Sri Lanka and ‘soft launched’ with a group of friends. We then had to go back to the UK and send Kit to his new school in Brighton and those bookings became real life humans who wanted to come and stay with us. Week after week, more people arrived and before long, thanks to some kind words in the Guardian, we were busy – really busy. A good problem to have that’s for sure, though our bookings team could barely keep on top of enquiries, our team on the ground were doing a few jobs each and pulling some crazy hours, and we couldn’t hire quickly enough. Yikes.
Luckily for us, our amazing crew hung in there. We managed to recruit more people to help us out. We (nearly) got on top of the creaks in the bookings system. We held our hands up when we screwed up – because of course, from time to time we did. Any business owner wants their new venture to run like clockwork from the outset, but after ten years of this crazy business, Sofie and I have come to terms with the fact that’s not always possible.
And, well, here we are. 7 months later, hundreds of guests through our doors, one very tired team and [blush] we’ve even been featured in Lonely Planet’s new book as one of the top 10 new openings globally to visit in 2020.
It’s such a cliche to talk about how grateful we are – but we are really grateful. Grateful to everyone who’s come and spent some time with us, and for the lovely reviews that you’ve shared. And STUPENDOUSLY grateful to our team for making it all happen – from those that spent just a couple of months with us, to those who’ve been with us right since the planning chats over a year ago (and who are now going to sleep for a month solid). You’re all wonderful and have been a joy to hang out with.
Let’s do it all over again next year?!
Pictures: Clare Lewington www.clarelewington.com/Back to Journal