Surf is a Narnia word. Those four letters hold within them images of sandy feet and salty hair. Tanned boy-tribes roaming the world in VW campervans while the root beer-sweet sound of the Beach Boys drifts out of their rolled down windows on balmy breezes; of endless summers, hours spent watching the sunlight and saltwater dance with each other – and those brief moments of adrenaline when you actually catch a wave that makes everything else in your life disappear.
According to the International Surfing Association, the world governing body for surfing, more than 35 million people now surf regularly. And with surfing due to become a professional sport at the Tokyo Olympics this summer (the competition will be held at Shidashita Beach), this number looks set to rise.
While the sport and its surrounding culture has traditionally been associated with Hawaii, surf tourism is now happening in more than 160 countries: from Biarritz to Bali, from Tahiti to Thailand, from Morocco to Mui Ne to the Maldives. And it’s no longer just bare-foot beach bums wanting to sip beer and catch a few hours sleep in a shack before hitting the water. A new wave of high network urbanites are looking to carve up their own slice of the waves – and the many luxurious surf resorts that have washed up on pristine beaches around the world are proof that they’re prepared to pay for the privilege.
Part of the appeal for well-heeled types is the sport’s wellness credentials. Paddling against the current is a killer cardiovascular exercise, popping up works the core and scanning the endless horizon is enforced mindfulness practice. Alongside surf schools and kit hire, these ultra-luxe resorts offer a myriad of other wellness opportunities. Think state of the art spas, world-class restaurants specialising in vegetarian food, on-site healers and quirky therapies such as horse meditation. Surf widows (who are just as likely to be men as women these days) and little ones are well catered for with endless facilities and armies of highly-trained staff on hand to cater to their every whim.
Take Nihi Sumba, (nihi.com) located on a tropical island of the same name 400 km east of Bali. Founders Claude and Petra Grave actually chose the location for its private access to the legendary surf break, Occy’s Left. Named after Australian surfer Mark Occhilupo, this particular break is known as a challenge because it is so sensitive to different conditions: tides, size, strength and direction. Catching a good ride isn’t as easy as it looks, but the reward is a 300m long ride through crystalline water. To make it even more special, they limit access to just ten people a day.
The resort however is well worth the adventure even for those with no interest in surfing. It’s a collection of private villas inspired by the traditional architecture of Indonesia but infinitely more extravagant, with canopied beds and tasteful antique furniture. The yoga shala offers sweeping views of picture-perfect Nihiwatu Beach and there are free classes throughout the day, as well as the opportunity to book a private lesson in the jungle beneath a canopy of trees and exotic birds. The wellness programme also includes ‘horse meditation’ at the hotel’s private stables and a new series of breathing workshops that teach techniques developed by pro-surfers.
Just an hour away by flight, Bali is naturally home to plenty of high-end retreats and, as with so many other things on the Island of the Gods, holistic wellness is often the focus. Located on a powder-soft volcanic beach on the lesser developed east coast of Bali, Hotel Komune (komuneresorts.com)has unbeatable access to the Keramas surf break. Polish your skills in their 25 m exercise pool where they run a series of workshops, including breathing and big wave training. Their new health hub includes a kitchen garden where pineapples, greens and herbs are grown organically, before being reimagined into calorie-light dishes at the farm to table restaurant, while a skate park and kids club make this one perfect for adult surfers with ‘grommies’ (slang for ‘little ones’) in tow.
Over on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, where the consistently powerful waves of the Southern Ocean pound beaches with sand as soft as sugar, One&OnlyPalmilla (oneandonlyresorts.com/palmilla) has its own Tropicsurfcentre on-site with no shortage of local experts to guide you to the best spots. A combination of sand bar beach breaks, short and punchy reef breaks and long rolling pointbreaks make this area any surfer’s paradise, and you can spot gray whales breaching on the horizon. On dry land, the spa draws on ancient healing practices lead by a shaman from the Mayo tribe, a truly unique way to experience the local culture.
In Australia, the surfer’s paradise of Byron continues to attract its fair share of long-haired hippie types, but a more luxurious side of this chilled-out beach town is emerging. The last few years have seen the opening of high-end concept stores and acclaimed restaurants such as Fleet, as well as intimate guesthouses like 28 Degrees (byronbayluxuryaccommodation.com.au). It’s handful of rooms offer relaxed Aussie style at its most polished: think organic bed linen, outdoor showers and private plunge pools. Located just minutes from the beach in a buzzy part of town, this one is ideal for those who want to be able to shop and explore without compromising on the quality of the surf.
To try and understand more about what attracts high-flying adults to surfing, World Travel Magazine spoke to James Hendy, who has been president director of Rip Curl Indonesia for more than ten years. If anyone knows how to hustle like a boss both on and off the water, it’s him. He takes a while to put his thoughts into words, and then says: ‘When you’re out there, focusing on catching the next wave with the cold spray in your face, its each to forget the pressures of the daily grind. Each surf clears your head and makes you feel ten times more alive.’ We’ll see you at the beach. By Imogen Lepere ◼
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© This article was first published in Feb-Mar 2020 edition of World Travel Magazine.