Nine years ago veteran Chilean surfer Christian Acevedo opened El Ruco – a surf shop catering to a new breed of surfer. “They come in in their suits after work,” Acevedo tells Javiera Quiroga on Bloomberg Pursuits. “Many of them are bankers, stockbrokers, people related to the financial industry. We opened based on that segment’s needs.” Meeting those needs is becoming an increasingly lucrative business. But it’s also a symptom of a cultural shift.
“Bankers aren’t interested in working 15 hours a day” or discussing deals over a round of golf at the weekend, explains Quiroga. This new, younger breed wants to disconnect: “you can’t take a mobile phone on a surfboard, they joke”. It helps that Chile has some of the best waves in the world, if not the prestige or heat of Hawaii, California or Australia.
Still, business is business and “it isn’t unheard of to network with a beer… around a campfire, or to make work-related phone calls” once the sun has set. The trick is finding a work/life balance. Besides, says Acevedo, surfing “is definitely more fun than golfing”.
The endangered beach bum
The wealthy newcomers to the sport are not, however, content with taking over a pastime that has long been the preserve of hippies – they’re also taking over their homes in Malibu, says Alix Sharkey in Condé Nast Traveller.
The “Bu” – to use its old surfer nick-name – still has that “unreal” quality: “nothing can match that moment when you stand at the ocean’s edge, cool spume rushing up the hot sand and over your toes, the roar of surf pierced by crying gulls, Catalina Island shimmering in the haze [as] you spot a pod of gleaming dolphins… [cresting] the waves”. But the California surfing spot is also increasingly becoming “a byword for moneyed privilege, home to single-name A-listers such as Streisand, Dylan, Hanks and Gaga”.
The locals aren’t taking this lying down, says Skylar Peak, Malibu’s 33-year-old mayor and a passionate surfer. “It’s not this ‘Hollywood on the Ocean’ that people imagine,” he says. “There’s a rawness to the culture, a true sense of community, and a deep love of nature.” Fleeing the wealthy hordes, “the cool people” moved to Point Dume, Khalil Rafati, founder of fashionable smoothie outlets SunLife Organics, tells Sharkey. “It still has that laid back, old Malibu vibe. Meaning, the more dressed up you are, the less money you really have.”
Riding a wave of money
“I know it’s a bit of a cliché in surfing and travel, but the commodity we traffic in is a scarce natural resource,” Michael Ryder Thomas, a former New York investment banker, and the founder of Pegasus Lodges & Resorts, tells Maria Shollenbarger in the Financial Times. In the 1970s, almost no one outside of the Maldives knew about this surfers’ paradise in the Indian Ocean called Sultans.
“In 2017, perfect waves far from civilisation are as rare as frontiers still waiting to be scratched out,” says Shollenbarger. So it’s no surprise Four Seasons already operates two resorts here – Kuda Huraa (pictured above), and the “lavish” Four Seasons Explorer, a luxurious three-deck catamaran that embarks on three-, four- and seven-night cruises.
Elsewhere in the world, Como, “known for chic interiors and comprehensive wellness programmes, but not synonymous with surf-tourism expertise”, is setting up shop on Echo Beach in Bali, one of the island’s top surf spots. Also in Indonesia, Nihi Sumba Island is a “surf lodge-turned-ultra exclusive resort” for “free-wheeling fund managers”.
Ross Phillips, a soft-spoken Australian who helped organise the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions tournament, an invitation-only contest for renowned pro-surfers, runs his own tours to unvisited waves for “high-net-worth hardcore surfers”. His trips can cost tens of thousands of dollars.