The world is going to start opening up again. And soon (we hope).
Let’s be honest, a business like ours is desperate for the much-touted travel ‘bounce-back’ to bounce back hard. We need it. But however much we need to make sales, to have customers, to start paying off our loans and to get back to doing what we are designed to do, we need to do it well, for the right reason and with the guests who will get the most out of it.
There’s lots of choice in the surf and yoga industry these days and choosing where to spend your money, now more than ever, is important. We are not for everyone, we’ve always been clear on that. And we do try to be as transparent as possible about what we are not, as well as about what we are – because we’ve long held the belief that those organisations aiming to be all things for all people end up being… well, m’eh.
When we do manage to communicate what our offer is, what our ethos and focus is, what we care about and the experience we aim to provide, then we manage to find like-minded souls from around the world and bring them together to make beautiful little communities. These communities are our special sauce.
I’ll try to highlight these features, the bits that make us us. To help you decide if you’re one of these souls too.
Who We Are – Our Community
We are a bunch of down to earth, good people, doing good things as best we can. Fundamentally Soul & Surf is all about people, and in terms of people it’s more about our team than our customers…
“Hang on a minute Ed, did you get that right?”
Yep, our team’s wellbeing is more important than our customers’. There, I’ve said it. Both are important, but we don’t think our customers get looked after well enough if our teams aren’t looked after. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
We might sell our customers a bed for the night, a meal, a surf session and a yoga class but the magic they take away is the experience and inspiration provided by hanging out with our people and with each other.
These temporary communities, guests and staff, are the lifeblood of Soul & Surf and they don’t just happen by themselves. We can’t make it happen, but we’ve worked out the ingredients to nurture it.
If we can hire the right kind of team and match them with an open-minded and liberal bunch of guests from around the world who have been attracted to our Soul & Surf story and ethos… well, mostly that works out pretty well.
Yet still, 10 years later we struggle to describe what and who we are succinctly. The way we write, the way we style our communications and our locations, our appearance and choice of colours, the causes we stand for (and against), the way we focus on the details, the food and drink philosophy we have and much, much more all combine to give you a feeling about us. It’s funny, but we have always found it easier to describe what we are not than what we are. But if you can chip away what we are not, what’s leftover should be a little like what we are.
And, if this all sounds like we are exclusive, arrogant or condescending, know that’s not who we are, or how this is intended. At times some of us are some of those things and there’s a little bit of each wrapped up in Soul & Surf but it’s just not what we ‘stand for’. And knowing this might just help you decide how you want to spend your hard-earned holiday time (and dollar).
Integrity – Be Good, Do Good
That is not to say that all of our competitors are nasty, far from it. But because Soul & Surf was never meant to be a business, because it was set up as a thing that would feed our souls for a bit before we started real work again, the motives behind the way we operate, the way we hire, and the way we serve is inherently different from a straight-up business.
Being good, doing good, being honest and being realistic is deeply woven into the fabric of our business. It’s how we aim to take care of our guests, our staff, the local communities and our planet.
Since day one we committed to being good, doing good and using our business as a vehicle to add more than it takes. A vehicle to bring about positive change for us, our staff, our guests, our local area and our environment, inspired by Patagonia’s no-nonsense approach to business: people, planet & profit in equal measure – whilst not being embarrassed about the latter.
So why do we say we are sustainable-ish? Because a travel company cannot actually be sustainable. And feeling like we are always failing could make it easy to give up. We accept that sustainable travel is a process not an actual goal. However by doing something, making public pledges and commitments, by reviewing, improving, reducing, measuring and compensating we can at least become sustainable-ish.
We have always donated 1% of our total income to Surfers Against Sewage via the 1% For the Planet scheme. We’ve donated to SISP, Kerala and given employment to their protogés and we have run free surf clubs for local kids. Recently, we have upped our game and commitments, having developed a set of sustainable development goals, plans and actions using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals framework. Subsequently we have made the Climate Neutral Now Pledge and signed up to Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency.
The Pursuit of Now, Soul, Balance, Risk
These are our guiding values as a group of people, as a company and as your hosts.
What is the Pursuit of Now? More than just ‘living in the moment’, it is tapping into our ‘why’. It’s about living soulfully; it’s about balance. And it’s about being prepared to take a risk.
Purpose, passion and people drive Soul & Surf. We believe in becoming financially successful by pursuing purpose not profit. Money isn’t our why. It is our how.
As a way of living, and certainly as a way of running a company such as ours, the pursuit of the ‘now’ is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. However, it is at the core of what Soul & Surf is.
A surf holiday can be much more than just stumbling, hungover, to your feet on a massive foam-board whilst being fed a media diet of unachievably-perfect Hawaiian surf professionals. For us the difference is subtle but profound.
It’s not just ‘surfing’ that we are into, it’s Soul Surfing that floats our boat. Soul surfing is the creative, spiritual, expressive, wonky, leftfield, eco-conscious origin of surf culture. Nowadays it’s a subculture of the surfing world, which is dominated by big business and commerciality.
Soul surfing sits behind why we chose our name, our colours, the pictures we show and the way we write. It puts some people off, we know, but then that’s the intention.
We have been using the Covid time, where we’ve not been able to operate fully, to delve deeper into our surf offer and evolve our programme into something unique – something that’s valuable to every level of surfer, and something that reflects our love of soulful surf and the ocean more closely.
If we change the narrative, if the ultimate goal in the water is to play as opposed to to perform, then success can be measured in fun and failure becomes part of the process. At the same time we can help our guests develop a better understanding of, and deeper love for, the ocean environment. And all whilst riding waves of course.
So from 2021 onwards we don’t just teach surfing but the Soul of Surfing, which we break down into four key parts:
- Wave riding – having fun on all manner of craft as well as surfboards for all levels.
- Ocean literacy – understanding the ocean’s influence on us, our influence on the ocean, and what we can do to protect it
- Blue health – practising and understanding why we feel so damn good after a surf and continue to be drawn to the ocean.
- Soul surfing – getting to grips with the historical and cultural context of soul surfing and why we love it.
Yoga, pranayama, meditation and massage therapies are again woven into the centre of what we do. We called ourselves SOUL & Surf for this very reason.
These practices are equally as important to us as the surf, and absolutely not just tagged on as they might be in a normal ‘surf camp’ offer as something for the ‘girlfriends to do’, or hastily bolted on because “Surf ‘n’ Yoga” has become popular.
We’re firm believers that surf, yoga, pranayama, mindfulness and massage therapy all complement one another perfectly physically, mentally and, dare I say, spiritually. And what’s more they are all, when done with commitment, perfect ways to get you into the now, to get you experiencing the moment. And we all know by now how healthy that is, right?
Now imagine combining this with the Soul of Surfing, and that magic sauce that is our community. A week (or more) spent diving deep into all of this is a recipe for regeneration and positive change. But we do also realise that not all of it will be right for you. We’re not pushy, we certainly won’t frown upon anyone that picks out the bits that are right for them. Some people come and just surf with the odd massage thrown in. Some people come and don’t surf but dive deep into the rest.
That’s all good in our hood.
Also known as nourishment. Because we all need more of that, right.
So more than just the menus we create, the meals we cook, the drinks we serve or the ingredients we use; food at Soul & Surf is a way of feeding our souls. Our menu is all about wild health; yes, using nature in our dishes but without making it about #cleaneating – it’s far more down to earth than that.
There are modern twists on local Keralan, Sri Lankan & Portuguese classics but inspiration too from sunshine cuisines from around the world. It’s not insta-perfect hipster buddha bowls or Michelin-star fine dining but instead food with just the right amount of naughty indulgence and restorative goodness. So one minute you’re reaching for vegan raw energy balls after a surf, and the next you’re feasting on local curries and fish tacos. That’s what we call balance.
So why does price come at the bottom of this piece? Of course price is important, but we honestly do not try to compete for customers on price. The experience comes first and once we work out what it will take to deliver that we try to price our holidays as fairly as we can. Fair for our customers, fair for our staff so we can pay them reasonably (and give reasonable amounts of time off) and fair for ourselves and our company to ensure it is sustainable.
We aim to offer different accommodation levels in each location to suit different budgets, and to offer the best quality we can afford. We tend to be careful about using the term ‘luxury’ though as that is not what we are looking to achieve – we think luxury sounds exclusive, passive and divisive and, honestly, we strive for quite the opposite. That said some of our rooms or accommodation are really, genuinely stunning and the easiest and most direct way to describe them is with the term luxury.
Really what we concentrate on is finding a great site, with great space and then begin by getting the basics right… Clean, comfortable and welcoming. We add some stylish touches and details to make our spaces… feel good. And then we focus our energies on building a great team who share our values (hiring a much bigger team than most of our peers to ensure our service is good) and weave together a schedule that is attentive to surfing, yoga, therapies, sociability and community in equal measure.
All of which does mean that we are not cheap. But cheap is not our goal.
If so, it sounds like we might just be a fit. So maybe, just maybe, you might even want to come stay. Or if that’s taking it all a bit fast, you can get to know us a bit better first through our social channels (Global, India, Sri Lanka, Portugal), or sign up to our newsletter for what we call ‘a regular dose of the good stuff’.
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