How old are you and where were you born and grow up?
I’m 37 now and I was born in Bristol in the UK. I used to spend my summers down in Cornwall and as I got older I spent less time in the UK each year until in 2007 when I left permanently.
When did you first have the idea for Surf Simply?
About 15-20 years ago I was doing a lot of tradition entry level surf lessons but also working a lot with young competitors doing video coaching. As a result it became apparent to me that there was this big gap between then two styles of coaching. Traditional surf lessons prioritize standing up and length of ride but if you want to progress with surfing you need to approach it as being the game of trying to get your board as close the the white water as you can, without getting stuck in the white water. It’s a clumsy sounding sentence but it actually describes what 99% of surfing is quite concisely and that’s where the real fun is. I was often coaching people who did not just want an isolated lesson but instead wanted to make surfing a part of their lives. So I found myself having to tell people to forget what they had learned about standing up and start again with a functional approach to maneuvers. I would have to take people right back to laying down in the white water to teach them where the “secret buttons” are on the board. In other words where to put your weight to allow you to get the board to do what you want it to do on the wave. Standing up then becomes one of many things you learn in order to press those buttons more quickly and powerfully. Then comes the questions of why, when and how much should each button be pressed as well as all the profiler skills of wave prediction, agility in the water, decision making in the impact zone, self diagnose of errors, identifying limiting factors, the list goes on. We have found that this more technical and long tail approach to coaching is so much more rewarding and so much more fun.
So I wanted to set up a coaching center which could provide to surfers of all levels, the same type of technical coaching which was only available to competitive surfers. That was where the idea came from but I guess there was no one light build moment. It just became increasingly clear that this was, and still is something that is largely unavailable.
What was the most difficult part about setting Surf Simply up?
There have been a lot of challenges but nothing which has ended up proving prohibitive. Not making the same mistake twice is key. There’s probably some profound life lesson in there. I couldn’t say which has been the most difficult but certainly the most important thing has been getting the right people. Surf Simply now is a team of 26. We’re like family, we even vacation together sometimes. It’s the best team we’ve ever had. Everyone is a little over obsessed with making sure we’re the best at what we do but I like a little obsessive behavior in the team.
What made you choose the location you did, where there any other places in the running and do you organise any other trips around the world?
Year round consistent conditions are key. Without that you can’t stay open long enough to pay your coaches enough that they can justify making surf caching their profession, no matter how much they love it. The idea of being a professional surf coach, outside the tiny realm of elite surfers, has never existed before. In the past it’s always been a summer job for people before they go on to something else. The other reasons for needing consistent, safe, warm uncrowded waves are obvious and there are not many places that tick all those boxes. The key here is that we get both north and south long range swells due to our position in relation to the Pacific. We do run course in other parts of the world like France and Indonesia but not throughout the year. We call them satellite projects and they are only open to level 3 and 4 surfers (i.e. those who are mostly doing video coaching and do not need a coach in the water with them). When we announce a satellite project they usually fill up within 48 hours so now we have a waiting list system.
It looks like your guests don’t want for much, what is included when you stay at Surf Simply?
We try to take care of everything so that our guests can just focus on surfing, eating and sleeping. Our guests fill out a questionnaire a few weeks before they arrive letting us know their preferences regarding ever aspect of their vacation: massages, yoga, extra tours or actives they would like to do and most importantly their surfing experience and goals (we provide them with the vocabulary to articulate this to us clearly), then they simply land in Costa Rica, we pick them up for the airport and they don’t take out their wallet or worry about organizing anything for the rest of their stay.
How long have you guys been open for business?
I started teaching out of the back on my car in the car park at Playa Guiones, in Nosara in 2007. By 2009 I had built up our only;in presence sufficient to the point where we no longer needed a store front. In 2010 we moved to the resort which was really fun to design and build. Although every year we develop the resort a little more we still stick to just 12 guest per week.
It seems like you have the formula nailed for an amazing surf holiday. Where do you go from here, any plans to expand / other projects?
There are some fun projects which we are working on like our film project which is trying to tell the story of everyday surfers. Most surf films are about the elite and I am fascinated by the role surfing plays in the lives of the other 99% of us. They are called Surf Simply Stories on Youtube. We’re also enjoying doing the podcasts which you can find on iTunes and the magazine which we mostly put out through one of out Facebook pages, Facebook.com/Surfing. You never know what passion projects are going to turn into business. That FB page for example we just started to run for fun, alongside the Surf Simply FB page. It’s now grown to be one of the biggest surfing pages on Facebook and last week someone often us $30K for it. We’re in the fortunate position now where Surf Simply is a financially robust and so we can play with projects that we enjoy. I’m speaking with some industry folks about an apparel line too at the moment but again, for me it’s about do something fun or creating something beautiful. We’re also really interested in following the wave pool technology to see how that develops with a view to opening in land coaching facilities in the future. Mostly it’s about geeking out on anything coaching related. That’s what excites us.
Where do you get you inspiration from to provide and improve this excellence?
Someone once told me not to worry too much about what professional direction your life might take, just make sure that whatever is in front of you right now, you do to the best of your ability. Why not try to be the best in the world at whatever you do? Seeing something great that you have worked hard to build is so rewarding and that it provides it’s own motivation I think.
The surf coaching looks really comprehensive, does it matter what ability you are?
We work with at least one or two entry level surfers each week and we have a comprehensive program which equips those people to go away and makes surfing a part of their lives. Most of our guests however have been surfing at least a few years. The ironic thing is that most people think that as you get better, coaching is of less benefit when in fact the opposite is true. As you get better you catch more waves which means more repetitions of new skills, so you can learn new thing more quickly, also you can create more speed which opens up whole new sets of skills that were closed to you before like vertical surfing or tube riding for example. As you get better the benefits of coaching increases almost exponentially.
How does it work when you have very mixed ability groups?
We have 7 coaches plus myself working with our 12 guests each week. We have that ratio because it’s a golden rule to mix ability levels within a group. Surfing in a small group, all of whom are working on the same skill set as you is more productive than working alone however, as you get to learn from other people mistakes as well as your own.
Are there many other surf resorts in the area, locals, crowds?
It’s definitely busier here now than it was when I arrived and there are a bunch of people giving surf lessons here of various different types. The people in the water at Guiones are generally pretty mellow though. It’s a very friendly place to surf and the relationship we have with the other guys teaching in the water is great. I’ve worked hard at building a positive relationship with other businesses who share the ocean with us. I’ve seen the way surf schools sometimes argue with each other. It’s the norm all over the world but for me having a good relationship with other water users is really important. The ocean is a finite resource. There is only limited space. We are very aware of that and that is one reason why we will never take more than 12 guest each week, and never will even though the average waiting list for any given week at Surf Simply was 10.4 people in 2014 onto of the 12 who joined us. We consider it our responsibility to minimize our impact on other beach users whether they are professional or amateur.
What is the local cuisine like if you went out for a meal?
Most of our meals we do in house. Our chef uses fresh local ingredients and unsurprisingly mixes local Costa Rican cuisine with international menus. The typical dish in Costa Rica is a casado which is usually either fish or chicken with rice, beans and vegetables. If you’re traveling through the country that’s the best thing to order as everyone knows how to make it really well. Surf Simply guests eat out for 4 of their 7 night stay. We chose local restaurants either because we think the food is great or because they have beautiful views, or both.
(personal surf questions)
How old where you when you first started surfing?
I bodyboarded ever since I could walk but didn’t start stand up surfing until I was about 16. That’s pretty late when compared to other people who have made a career out of the sport. Personally I think starting late helped me because I learned everything in a more cerebral, less intuitive way. That made it easier for me to break it down for other people later on.
What was you first surfboard and have you still got it?
Haha! I think it was a town and country 6’1” with a full deck grip and a yin and yan logo on the nose. I have no idea where it is now though.
Do you follow the WSL, if so who do you think will win this year?
Yes actually I just watched Kelly lose to Adriano in the quarter finals at huge Margaret River. Kelly usually rides great boards but he lost that heat because he was under gunned. A rare mistake for him but he needed a 6’6” at least and his biggest board was a 6’3” which he broke then had to swap it out for a 6’1” by which time he never stood a chance. I really don’t know who will win this year but it would be great to see a 43 year old win a world title and I’m really enjoying watching John John too.
Can you describe the feeling the first time you caught a wave or got barrelled?
Of all the cultural baggage and mischaracterizing stereotypes that get attached to surfing, the idea that getting barreled is the most fun thing you can do on the planet is spot on. I don’t believe that anyone who has come out of a barrel would ever say that there is anything else they would prefer to get to experience again. It’s just such a surreal and wonderful sensation but it is also very hard to achieve. There are some barrels which stand out in my mind but it’s not like suddenly one day it happens. Like most things in surfing you fist get your head around the concept, then begin the process of repeated attempts with gradually increasing degreases of success. The process slowly becomes automated by your brain until it starts to feel intuitive which is what allows you to react in the timeframe necessary for success. When it comes to tube riding: you pull into close outs and gradually get better at traveling a few feet, then a few meters before falling. Eventually you starts coming out of shallow barrels, then deeper ones.
What is you favourite wave anywhere in the world?
I spent last May at Teahupoo which was a fantastic experience. It was the first time I have been scared in the ocean for years. So it was good to remember how that feels. I also had some of the best barrels I’ve ever had. It’s pretty nerve racking though. Honestly I love the waves here in Nosara. We have fun friendly waves at Guiones and heavy barreling sand bottomed beach breaks further north. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived where you can surf ever day. There are always waves. It’s amazing.