Tell us a bit more about your business Unleash Surf?
Unleash surf is a surf retreat for digital nomads. We set up everything a surfer or a beginner needs to be productive, live comfortably and be surf-happy: a private apartment, one-on-one surf-lessons with a professional surf-coach, a beautiful cowork space, surf-trips to empty waves, fast internet, waves in walking distance and incredible people to hang out with.
We manage everything so that all our clients have to do get on the plane. When they arrive they can get straight to work, surf and experience Peru in ways that few travelers get to.
We also include yoga classes, Spanish lessons, workshops on Peruvian music and culture, and weekly surfing-focused workshops like surf-forecasting, interpreting surf spots and waves, types of surfboards and their function, the surfboard-shaping process.
Where the idea came from to create Unleash?
A few years ago John and I were living in a coastal town in Peru and surfing every day. We were testing out our dream lifestyle of living somewhere warm and surf-ey in the winters.
We realized that this lifestyle afforded us more time to be creative, chill out and think differently about our work and our lives. We surfed twice a day, worked on our Spanish, met awesome people and we got to experience Peruvian culture in much deeper ways that we had on other trips. We also got to spend more time together.
We wondered why more remote-working surfers weren’t doing the same and batted around the idea of a surf-retreat for digital nomads.
But we hesitated. We didn’t want to start another surf-travel business in what seemed like a saturated market, but we felt like we were onto something no one else was doing.
When did you start?
We launched the business in 2017 and we ran our first season in 2018. We were really lucky because, without us knowing it, a writer from the Inertia ran a piece on us just days after we launched and we started to get applications from all over the world. We were just half full in our first season and in our second year we’ve been totally full! Word is out!
Why did you pick Peru?
Peru offers a cultural experience and wave consistency that can’t be beaten. It’s also in the same time-zone as the central US and Canadian cities. And the town that we’re in has everything in walking distance, the waves are uncrowded most of the day and surf-tourism hasn’t over-run the town’s character. I’ve lived here off and on for about 9 years, so I know the place like the back of my hand!
In addition to all this, the town we’re in is a World Surf Reserve as it is considered to be where the oldest evidence of surfing exists. It’s believed the people of this area have been surfing for 5000 years on reed-fishing crafts - the Caballito de Tortora - which are still used for fishing every day. They paddle past you if you’re surfing early in the morning.
I want to come to your spot, how long in advance do I need to book it?
I’d suggest booking at least 2-3 months in advance to ensure you get a spot - as we only have a small number of spaces each month. We filled up quickly this season, so it would be a good idea to book even earlier. And we will be offering an early bird special from now until the end of June - so if you’re thinking about it we suggest you snatch up a spot soon.
How would you describe the surf scene and community in Peru?
Surfing is really big on the coast and in Lima, but because the waves are so consistent here it is more of a relaxed “scene” of good surfers. It doesn’t necessarily define people’s identity anymore than their love of food or soccer does. It’s just kind of just part of what people do for fun - which is quite refreshing. Maybe because of the wave consistency, I find people are quite welcoming and relaxed in the line-up.
There are some phenomenal Peruvian women surfers (Anali Gomez, Sofia Mulanovich, Maria Fernanda Reyes) who are taking the world by storm, but it’s difficult to find women in the line-up or as instructors outside of Lima and Punta Hermosa. As in most places, the surfing community and sports associations in Peru have work to do to make surfing more inclusive and accessible to women.
What kind of people does Unleash attract?
Mostly well-traveled professionals and entrepreneurs who are extraordinary people. Their careers are varied, including: a National Geographic photographer, an improv specialist, a manager in the UN in Myanmar, several software developers, a Ted-ed writer, a product designer, a Time-magazine writer, a public finance consultant, Amazon product sellers, a Buddhism professor on sabbatical, a major coffee shop and sports stores designer, brand strategists, developers, an executive search expert, a Crossfit apparel company owner.
What's your biggest challenge to start and run a business in another country?
The town where we’re based has long been catering to a relatively small number of surfing backpackers, so finding apartments, partners and tour providers that meet the expectations of a “higher end” traveler has been a fair bit of extra work.
Also, the banks in Peru are severely under-regulated when it comes to bank fees for foreigners and Peruvians alike. When we need to take money out or pay one of our suppliers, we both pay incredibly high fees. It’s a shame because these massive corporations are getting the money that we’d much rather see stay with the small businesses we work with.
We do have our eyes on a location in South Asia and another in Europe, and I have long term dreams about doing Unleash in a certain part of Japan. It isn’t easy to find the perfect location for Unleash Surf as we need somewhere with consistent waves for a variety of levels, good internet, an affordable cost of living, chill vibes, and in a time-zone that is reasonable to North Americans and Europeans. It is really important that waves and food are all in walking distance too - as our clients need that independence to fit meetings and surf lessons into their day.
There are surprisingly few places that meet that criteria.
What do you like the most about running your business?
Without exception, it’s getting to know the people who come on Unleash Surf. We hoped it would attract interesting people, but were floored by the amazing people who come. Time and again down-to-earth, super-intelligent and adventurous humans show up. We’ve learned so much from them, and also from the partners and friends we have in the town we’re in.
I thrive on finding and sharing experiences that get at the heart of the community and culture here. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people take pride in (and also monetize) sharing a skill, tradition or food they love and simultaneously seeing how much our clients get out of that exchange. It demonstrates the value of things that are often overlooked.
What advice you have for someone that wants to come to Peru and surf?
It’s really not that much further or more expensive via airplane than Costa Rica or Panama and the food is rather amazing!
- Go anytime of the year, the weather is best from December to April and the waves are biggest from April to September.
- If you want to explore I’d recommend hiring a local driver, as it doesn’t cost much more than renting a car and means you won’t have to deal with the intensely aggressive driving in Peru and the possible complications of leaving a vehicle unattended while you surf.
- If you don’t want to bring aboard and suit, you can buy good surfboards and wetsuits in Lima (i.e. Klimax, Wilo Whilar) but it isn’t much cheaper than at home, and there isn’t much variety in wetsuits or surfwear for women.
- My favorite places for chill waves are Cerro Azul, Mancora, Huanchaco, and Lima. And Chicama, Lobitos, Pacasmayo, and Punta Hermosa have amazing intermediate to advanced waves.
- If you want to feel like you’re part of a surf town, and learn to surf or truly improve your surfing while you experience Peruvian culture, obviously you should come on
We’re set up to offer corporate or private group retreats in December 2019, January and May 2020 that include surf lessons, food, tours, workshops, yoga, Spanish lessons, and accommodation.
@CATH.BE Catherine Bernier