The First Step in Living the Dream and Making a Living in the Surf Industry

By Matt G- 07/02/2016

That’s it, I’m hooked” – The phrase that comes out of almost every newbies mouth when they catch their first wave. Little do they realise that the implications of this momentous occasion go way beyond wanting to paddle back and go again.

Many say, “surfing’s far more than a sport, it’s a way of life”. Well, I think a more accurate statement would be to say that “surfing’s more than a way of life… it’s a drug”. As with many drugs it’s more than capable of chewing you (and your way of life) up and spitting you out before you’ve had time to make it through the comedown of your first real high.

Well, this article is my attempt at helping other junkies out there to manage their use of our unique drug, and guide you towards a life of euphoria, which directs you towards the dream life, and away from the gutters.

So, who the hell am I to start throwing out advise on how to run a successful business in the surf industry? Honestly, Nobody… I’m not claiming to be a god in any way, and the advise I’m giving is purely based on my experiences and how they relate to the academic theory I’ve learned over the past couple of decades. Take it with a pinch of salt, take it with a swig of beer or don’t take it at all, it’s up to you. Read on at your own will.

I’m just another guy who wanted to change my life and develop an existence in which I can actually enjoy the work I do and surf as much as possible. Of course, the obvious way to do this is to start a business in the surf industry. Doing this isn’t quite as easy as it sounds though, and I’m hoping that my attempted words of wisdom will help you avoid the mistakes I’ve made, increase your chances of euphoric success and reduce the likelihood of you cocking it all up.

I’ve broken this article down into three sections, based on the steps of business development, to make it more manageable reading: “The Plan”, “The Launch”, “The Existence”. In each section I’ll give a number of tips and fully explain them with based on my experiences and learnings.


As the popular military saying goes, “Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance”.

This is certainly true in the world business and is advise everybody should consider, regardless of their business concept. Creating a solid plan is vital for mitigating the risk of cocking everything up.

I consider the ‘planning phase’ to be everything in the run up to actually launching your business. We can compare this phase to the paddling for a wave in surfing. If you want to take a good wave, you need to make sure you’re in the right position, put your head down and paddle like your life depends on it. It’s just the same in business. Here are some key points to help you improve your paddle skills.

Concept Generation

The first thing you need is a good idea for your business, just as in surfing you need to make sure you go to the right break, based on your skills and surf style. In business though you consider whether you’re going to get creative and try starting a whole new concept, whether you’re going to put a twist on an existing concept to make a unique version, or if you’ll just do something that people are already doing. Each of these has pros and cons to consider:

New Concept

If you come up with an entirely new concept the main benefit is that you’ll be the first to the market and will have the opportunity to take a big potion of the market share and build yourself a brand name, before any competition arises. You might be able to patent or protect the concept, which would give you a period of time to operate without any direct competition. Also, you experience the benefits of natural word of mouth and PR. If your new concept is interesting, people will most likely want to read about it and share knowledge of its existence.

The drawback is that there is a huge amount of risk associated with developing a new concept. What if the customers simply don’t like it and therefore don’t buy it. A prime example being those crazy webbed gloves that we’ve all seen, but not bought. Also, as the concept creator you will undoubtedly put in a lot of hard work and a lot of money into developing the idea and making the market for it. Some may say, you’re a dummy for doing that, since you’ve then done all the hard work and once you’ve proven it to be a viable concept competitors can jump in and start doing it without having any of the initial risk. As such, it’s important to either protect your concept with patents, or to make sure you build a brand image and customer loyalty before any competition can get going.

Twist on Existing Concepts

You could put a twist on an existing concept. This way you have less of the risk and may still benefit from some of the points mentioned above. Of course, if you’re only putting a twist on an exiting product or service, then you’re less likely to be able to patent the idea. Instead, you need to make sure that you’re concept is planned extremely well, so you’re ready for competition to arise and you know that it’s not as simple as it appears to develop.

Wagon Surf Adventures is a good example of this. The concept is very similar to that of charted boats and combines the benefits from chartered boat trips, surf camps and traveling by van. There’s not doubt that people will have tried to do this in the past and they’ll try to do it in the future too, but luckily I realise that it’s not quite as simple as it looks, and many people who attempt to copy this business model won’t be able to make it work. It requires a number of specific skills and isn’t a high profit generating business, making it very difficult to operate successfully.

Use an Existing Concept

This is the safe option of course. It’s tried and tested and you’ll be able to easily see how to start the business. Whether it’ll be a surf shop, surf camp or hostel or even a surf bar, you can see others performing the business and try to copy their techniques for a share of the market.

The issue here is that there will already be a lot of competition and they already have industry knowledge and experience that you don’t. You might want to consider partnering up with an existing business, so you can ride off the back of their knowledge and reputation in the early stages.

Start Small

Regardless of your idea, it’s always wise to start small and learn the ropes of the business world while you have low risk. It’s much easier to learn the fundamentals of the corporate world with a simple business model and low risk, rather than diving in at the deep end. If the concept you want to develop is a large scale, high risk or complex model, this is very important for you.

Make achievable short-term goals and be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride towards whatever is in front of you. You’ve got an idea and you think it’s a good one, but avoid getting over pumped up on self pride and thinking that just because you’ve got a great idea you must be ready to deliver it successfully.

Again, this is just like surfing. So, if you decide you want to become a big wave surfer and you’ve managed to find an epic big wave break that could be perfect for you, even if you’re the first person to find that spot, doesn’t mean you’re ready to suit-up and paddle out. It’s best to start on smaller waves, hone your skills and build up to riding the giants.

My business may sound like a pretty simple one. I’m just taking six guests on a surf trip in a nice big van, and driving them to wherever the best surf is every day. Sounds simple huh? Well, once you delve into the details of logistics, online marketing tactics, international transaction methods and booking integrated website development, it all starts to get a little more complicated. If this was my first business start up, I think I would have been overwhelmed with all the unexpected complexities and had a heart attack when I realised the unanticipated costs.

I was lucky in that I had a very simple idea already, which I could set up and learn from. That business required very low start up costs and was extremely simple to implement. By starting and running that business, I learned a lot of useful information and experience that was very useful when starting up my next business, which was more complex and involved more financial risk. If you’re business idea is fundamentally complex or high risk and you don’t have a simple idea that you could try, don’t despair. There are a million different options that could work if you have a good think about it.

By starting small, you’ll certainly increase the chance of your main business succeeding. Of course you’re excited about diving into your main concept, but remember, “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”.

Ok, so this seems like a good point to end Part One. Hopefully, for those that are new to business and keen to work in the surf world, this will give you some food for thought. In Part Two, we’ll go into more detail as to what planning you may need to do before launching your new idea.