Boutique and luxury surf experiences are empowering more women to take the plunge, finds Fiona Ralph.
We’re in the middle of the ocean in Fiji, a 10-minute boat ride from the nearest land mass. I’m about to catch a wave, and I can’t even see the beach. My instructor and I are floating over a reef off one of Fiji’s northern islands, in a little-known surf spot.
This is my introduction to luxury surfing, a sport for those who can afford to chase waves at some of the world’s top resorts – or be lucky enough to write about them. That’s how I find myself, a beginner, surfing a perfect reef break with no one else in sight. I’m told it’s the kind of experience most surfers would give their left arm for.
The company behind the concept is Tropicsurf, which has an instructor based at Qamea Resort and Spa in Fiji. This is not your usual hippie surf shack. Instead there is a smorgasbord of beautiful boards – again, something other surfers would kill for.
Tropicsurf has bases throughout the tropics, in places such as Mexico, the Maldives, Noosa (where founder Ross Phillips is from), Costa Rica and the Seychelles. It even has self-drive itineraries through Mozambique and luxury cruises in Indonesia.
The idea is that surfers, who usually put up with pretty basic conditions, can enjoy a more luxurious surfing trip. They can take their partners or families, who can either learn themselves – there is usually access to beginner waves and 15-20 per cent of customers are beginners – or relax by the pool, all while enjoying five-star meals and service.
Phillips says the concept stemmed from running his surf school in Noosa. After 10 years teaching, students were asking to learn in more exotic locations. “Our first trips were to Fiji and the Maldives. Over time, the trips became more high-end and eventually we launched Tropicsurf. The idea was spawned from surfers’ desires to ride perfect waves in exotic locations.”
As well as seeing the luxury market grow in recent years, Phillips has noticed more women picking up boards. Venus Goes Gidget founder Claudia Hirschberger, an Austrian advertising exec turned Bondi surfer, says the same.
“There are so many more women in the water than 10 years ago,” she says. “I remember sometimes it was just me and another girl out in the line-up. Now on some days, the girls outnumber the guys.”
The Sydney-based women’s-only surf school and retreat company takes small groups out of the city to learn to surf or work on improving. Hirschberger also runs tropical surf escapes for more experienced surfers.
“It’s not just about surfing. It’s also about providing a space for women to get together and just be,” she explains. “It’s a different energy if it’s just women. We found the ladies are a little more relaxed if there are no guys around.”The company began as a blog about Hirschberger’s experience as a female surfer. “The original intention was to share what I’d learned about surfing from a woman’s point of view.
Most content/education material around surfing is targeted at men and written in ‘surf lingo’. When I started the blog, it got positive feedback and people kept asking me about teaching them to surf. It kind of snowballed from there.” Customers are all ages, she says, but most are in their late 30s to early 40s. They seem to appreciate the boutique approach.
“It’s very important to keep the groups small so it feels like time away with friends rather than a big touristy undertaking. Also, especially for beginners, it’s often less intimating to give surfing a go if they know they have lots of one-on-one time with a coach.”
At the other end of the boutique scale, a rustic escape is offered by Warrick Mitchell of Awarua Guides. Mitchell, who works with surfboard manufacturer and outdoor retailer Sitka, can arrange “wilderness experiences” at the guide’s family home in Fiordland. Here, you’re paying for the isolation, and the chance to surf waves in a money-can’t-buy location.
Mitchell’s home can only be reached by a five-day hike or helicopter trip through the mountains. Surfers come from all over the world to enjoy the spoils that this chef and outdoor guide has to offer. As well as surfing, there’s kayaking, beach-walking, hunter-gathering (lobster, venison, trout and more), sunset-gazing and relaxing off-the-grid. It’s a simple bach where simple pleasures are the point.
“It’s a unique experience. We’re not rushing to be super well known, we just like sharing this special part of New Zealand as it is,” says Mitchell. “People know they are experiencing a real slice of New Zealand wilderness and culture.”
Even though he has hosted top surfers, Mitchell says you don’t have to be a good surfer, or even surf at all, to enjoy his trips. “We’re not trying to run the ultimate wilderness experience in regards to being hardy,” he explains.
“Our female visitors often take time to enjoy the smaller things, like a quiet kayak paddle. You don’t have to be riding the biggest wave – there’s Indonesia or Tahiti for that. Just take the time to enjoy what’s going on around you. A rolling point break or fun beach break with friends and the chance of a dolphin popping up beside you is hard to beat.”
Escape to Sydney
The Australian city is one of the world’s surf capitals and has plenty of schools to inspire.
Sydney offers some of the world’s top surf spots and surf schools, and with flights more frequent now than ever, what are you waiting for? Departing regularly from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, Qantas offers a hassle-free beginning to your trans-Tasman holiday and the joy of turning left when you board is just one of the many reasons it’s worth splurging on a Business Class ticket.
It may not be the longest flight you’ll take but when you’re seated, legs outstretched (because you can) and a glass of bubbles in hand, you’ll definitely feel you’re on holiday – even before you’ve left the tarmac. The airline prides itself on its in-flight entertainment service, which is on-demand, so there’s no need to panic if you’ve left your iPad at home. There is a plethora of movie, television, news, games and music choices so you’re guaranteed to find something to keep you amused.
Making a decision is likely to be the hardest thing you’ll have to do on the whole flight. In June this year Qantas introduced its new Neil Perry, Rockpool-inspired menu, catapulting the food and beverage offerings to gourmet heights. Perry is recognised as one of Australia’s leading chefs. His restaurants – especially the flagship Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney – are top of the list for local and international diners, so his collaboration with the airline is something of a coup.
Business passengers can select from main and small plates and feel free to mix and match rather than sticking to a traditional three-course meal. You can even choose your meal online via Select on Q-Eat. Popular dishes include the signature chicken schnitzel and Swiss cheese toasted sandwich. Just make sure you leave room for the cheeseboard – it’s a winner.
The addition of tableware (nothing plastic here) created by Australia’s design guru Marc Newson will have you feeling as though you’ve reached rock star status. Award-winning wines, carefully selected to showcase the strength of the Australian wine industry, are also on offer, along with Champagne and assorted beverages.
The specially designed Kate Spade amenity kits for women and Jack Spade for men are a practical and inspired touch. They also work as a stylish clutch or make-up bag post-flight.
Service is top-notch, from the friendly welcome when you first board to touchdown at your destination. Cabin crew will ensure you want for nothing and that your flight is so enjoyable you’ll be eager to return.
Let’s Go Surfing
Founded by avid surfer Brenda Miley in 1995, Bondi’s only officially licensed surf school teaches adults, families and kids, and has locations in Sydney’s Maroubra and further north at Byron Bay.
Sherpa offers Fit4Surf lessons to get you ready for the waves, along with group and private surfing lessons. Located at Dee Why, north Sydney.
Venus Goes Gidget
Try a surf and yoga escape or simply a half-day class at this boutique women’s surf school. Founder Claudia Hirschberger takes guests out of Sydney on the hunt for waves and relaxation.
Life in the fast lane
There is no better place to relax and unwind before an international flight than the airport lounge. The hard part – the goodbyes, check-in, security, immigration – is all done and there is nothing left but to contemplate your forthcoming journey over a glass of something cold in comfortable surroundings. Many airport lounges, however, are a big disappointment with free WiFi the only perk.
Not so the Qantas International First Lounge in Sydney. It has garnered a number of awards and is described by designbuild-network.com as setting “an international benchmark in lounge design with the highest levels of comfort, service and luxury”.
Created by internationally renowned Australian-born designer Marc Newson and architect firm Sébastien Segers Architecte, the space is curved and, at 2,000sqm, big. Newson used “sculptural wooden dividers made from European oak to separate the long space into open, bay-like sections; aerodynamically shaped, like a section of an airplane’s wing, these open frames highlight the curve of the ceiling and slope of the window wall, and give definition to the entire space while creating a sense of intimacy and privacy by dividing the space into smaller areas”.
The masterful design is further enhanced by sweeping views of Sydney and Botany Bay, and by the incorporation of other distinguished brands in the furnishings. These include contemporary furniture by Cappellini, sofas by Poltrona Frau, Tai Ping wool carpets from Hong Kong, exquisite Carrara marble and lounge pieces custom-made by Newson himself. Of particular brilliance is the addition of several ‘living’ walls, which span 30m and include thousands of plants and were created by the father of vertical gardens, France’s Patrick Blanc.
The lounge comprises a 48-seat open kitchen restaurant with menus by celebrated Australian chef Neil Perry of Rockpool fame, (his signature pavlova with fig, raspberry and strawberry is exceptional), a private library, and state-of-the-art business facilities. There is also a day spa offering a full range of complimentary treatments – reason alone to arrive well ahead of take-off.
Additional bonuses include a chauffeur service to the airport, fast-track check-in so you can skip the queues, and First Hosts who will not only meet you curbside but also contact you the day before departure to ascertain if anything additional is required for your forthcoming journey. And, for those who really don’t feel up to dealing with the hoi polloi there is a dedicated boarding lane.
Comfort is not up for debate here and, with four choices of Champagne, top Australian red and white wines (there’s also likely to be at least one Kiwi medal winner included), spirits, beer, and even a range of stickies, your search for something cold to enjoy while you sit (or lie) back and relax, will be a joyous one.
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