We’re gonna go wayyyyy back and then jump forward for ya. This’ll spare you about 8 years of life story.
Back in 2006 my uncle passed away. He was a surfer, Huntington Beach legend, and just a stellar kind of human. He’d left myself and my brother Vince a few thousand dollars each in his will. We’re not talking about huge trust funds or anything like that. But it was just enough money to either eat In N Out burgers every day for a year, or as we chose, do something special with the money. So we put our chips together and booked a 16 day surf adventure through the Mentawai Islands in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Brought 2 of our best friends, and even paid their way just so we could go. The money was all spent and the adventure awaited. Little did I know this was not just a trip, but an investment into the rest of my life.
This was the first time I was introduced to the term/job “Surf Guide”. Our boat was run by 2 young Australians who immediately became lifelong hero’s to me. They coached us on the spots, fed us world class meals, and became great friends. We keep in touch to this day.
I went home from that trip forever changed. I was selling cars at a Volkswagen dealer and switching into a career as a surf guide just made too much sense at that point. But believe it or not, this job did not exist in California. There were summer schools for kids and private lessons, but nothing along the lines of taking adults on a proper trip and scoring them the best waves for their level. So I called Matt, who we brought on the trip, and said lets drink beers and talk about a new idea. We did just that and hatched a brand under a different name than TheCaliCamp. We built the worlds worst website, asked a neighbor to help us put it on the internet, and were just stoked we knew how to make text into a link. Very grass roots to say the least haha. Kinda cute actually looking back at it.
Jump forward a year or so, and well, nothing happened, we never sold a trip, Matt became a fire fighter, and I was struggling with a new job to make ends meet. Any money I had I would spend on surf trips. Mostly to Nicaragua which I’d become a huge fan of. After my 2nd trip to Nicaragua that year, I’d met enough American/International expats living the life of surf guides that I knew what I had to do. Get a job at a surf camp, get on a plane, and go do it.
I found Kima Surf Camp in Bali, filled out their job app online, and sent a few of my best pics. 24 hours later a nice guy named Roland wrote me back saying I could be hired as surf guide as long as I would commit to 3 months. I think I replied, wow thanks so much how’s 3 years sound Roland?? You get the point. I was excited.
Off to Bali on a thousand bucks I borrowed from a family member, I started my new life as a surf guide. Was paid $120/month, lived in a bunk room with 10 dudes, ate 3 free meals a day and took people surfing. I became close with the owner who had another company doing distribution for a couple big surf brands and boom… new job in Bali. Something that could keep me there for life. But 2 years later, I’d never lost the love for surf guiding, being around surf camps, and the people. Or the belief that a surf camp could work in California. By now I’d met a ton of people from all over the world and even a few that were influential in the business of surf camps. I began speaking with a guy named Urs, who I’d met in Bali. Over skype chats and emails we both became super excited about the idea of opening the first international surf camp for adults in California. It was 2010 now. In February of 2011 I moved back to California with $18 in my pocket and a dream. He visited, we were all psyched, but Urs eventually took an opportunity to take over as owner, one of Portugal’s longest running surf camps (The Surf Experience Portugal, in Lagos). Cant blame him for taking it. I would have done the same in his position.
But I wasn’t in Urs position. For 2 years I struggled. I worked in customer service call centers, washed windows, lived out of my car, disowned a lot of shitty friends I’d grown up with, was pretty much a mess of a 26 year old adult. I always kept the surf camp in my heart as exactly what I was going to do. A lot of friends and family worried about me, but I had no worries. This was going to happen and I was in it with every fiber of my body. I built websites on free platforms, and soaked up wifi at coffee shops to message and skype with old friends from Bali. Really cool people that I knew already who visited surf camps.
Always preaching the good word of this surf camp that would be opening in California. Every now and then someone would come over, have a friend in California etc, and I’d always meet up with these people just to hang and show them around the neighborhood. A few even wanted to “book the surf camp” but for some reason I couldn’t do it or take money for it. There was no surf camp. Just me, a busted ass car, and a rented room from craigslist. But I did make some great friends and met some really cool people doing this.
Eventually in 2012, I was working on a farm in northern California. One night standing on top of the rock which was the only place to get cell reception, I get a message from a Swiss guy named Daniel. Same old story mostly. He’d met someone in Bali who told him about me, and he wanted to book 2 weeks. I replied same as always: “Hey dude, we’re not open yet, but nice to meet you and lets get together when you’re here”. We exchanged Facebook messages for a few weeks and in December 2012 he was in town, staying nearby in Huntington Beach “Surf City, USA”. Of the handful of cool people I’d met through the 2 years of being being home from Bali, Daniel was really unique from the start. The first thing that struck me was that at 40, he decided to take a year and work remotely. Traveling around the world with a goal to stay in surf camps everywhere and learn the sport. I personally… found that shit to be quite legendary. Never surfed a day in his life, but using his time, and self proclaimed: first holiday in 20 years due to being a self made internet entrepreneur, to do exactly what I’d just mentioned. Travel the world and surf.
So we meet in December 2012 as he’s rounding out the end of his trip. We meet, surf, chill and make a stop by my apartment in Dana Point I now shared with my brother Vince and a friend. To describe the place accurately I’ll just say this: Sandy, smokey, and someone needed to do the dishes. But I could see Daniel was kinda loving life haha. Not a smoker and probably not a fan of dirty dishes, but I think he was sort of tripping out on how absolutely cliche our lifestyle would seem. Too many beautiful surfboards lined the floor and walls, top quality wetsuits hanging over balconies, and 3 dudes with no money and below average jobs. I now see the irony in this haha. Not to mention it was a Tuesday at 10 am. What were we actually doing there?? haha.
Anyways, on our second day surfing, we’re driving in my car I hope isn’t about to break down. Daniel doesn’t know how paranoid I am of this. (There was a little red wire I could jiggle around by the battery in case the car decided to randomly turn off on say… the freeway) Daniel was curious about the surf camp concept. Asking me some probing questions like; What’s your plan? When will it open? Normal stuff. But then things got interesting. We’re having lunch and the dude pulls out a computer and starts doing excel spread sheets. I found it kinda funny a guy would be on vacation doing spread sheets. But what I didn’t know is Daniel had been having a seriously impactful life experience on this round the world surf trip. He was a serial entrepreneur, and like me he could not understand why there was not a surf camp for adults in California. He’d been to France, Sri Lanka, Bali, Fuerteventura, and now California. California being the only destination he could not find a camp to book.
So Daniel, who’s not just a business partner and co-founder of TheCaliCamp, but also became a mentor to myself, really changed the game. We worked together via skype and messenger over a 2 month period after he left. His software company in Switzerland, NetLive, built a super effective website with ease free of charge, put it online and by February 2013 we sold our first trip to a stranger. May 5, 2013 our first guests arrived. And now by 2018 we have hosted more than 1,000 guests, have more than 120 perfect Trip Advisor reviews, have made friends and memories with people from around the globe, have a wonderful friendship and partnership, and a very bright future. And really, so much more to look forward to. Daniel gave me 1 rule to our partnership: It always had to be fun. Which is exactly how we work every day.
I’d say “The End” but honestly, things are just getting good. Not sure who said this but I heard once that, “Behind every overnight success, there’s about 10 years of hard work that has already been done.” TheCaliCamp is here for the long haul and if you’ve read this far, just know we do this with love, and appreciation for the lifestyle we get to live. Things haven’t always been so good.
Hope to see you soon.
PS… In March 2013 I was working as a painter where me and my boss started a massive fire at my sisters house and thankfully nobody was hurt. The point of that is:
Follow your dreams kids and if you’re not doing what you love, you might burn your sisters house down. Haven’t burned a house down since. Yew!
Written By: Dave / January 2018