“I had no idea you could surf in India” said pretty much everyone when I told them that I was heading to Kerala to stay at Soul & Surf for a few days. But having been to India and fallen off a surf board more times than I care to count, I can confirm that yes, you can definitely surf in India. Well, having ‘wiped out’ so often, I can’t really call myself a surfer in all honesty, but I definitely witnessed numerous tanned surfy types gliding through the waves with ease during my stay at Soul & Surf….
Luckily I wasn’t the only almost-beginner staying at the boutique surf hotel in the small Keralan seaside town of Varkala. One of the great things about Soul & Surf is that it caters to people of all abilities, whether you’ve surfed a few times or wouldn’t know the difference between the nose and the tail (hint: those are very basic surfing terms, ahem). And if you’re not into surfing? That’s totally fine too, book into Soul & Surf for the daily yoga classes and the hotel’s spectacular clifftop location, not to mention its excellent on-site eatery and beautiful gardens.
Opened in 2010 by a British couple tired of the daily grind, Soul & Surf started out with just three guest rooms and has since grown to include comfortable accommodation of 15 rooms within two buildings. Ed and Sofie Templeton quit their jobs to set up the first surf hotel in Kerala, having fallen in love with the area’s stretches of stunning beaches and the laidback charm of Varkala – although we think the sunny climate may have had a part to play too! Soul & Surf has recently opened a second surf resort in Sri Lanka, after successful pop-up surf holidays in locations such as Andaman and Banda Aceh.
So what can you expect from a stay at Soul & Surf? First of all, it’s a very chilled-out schedule of surf, sun and yoga – about a million miles away from the commute, the paperwork and the meetings. Days start with black coffee and bananas, followed by a few hours of surfing Kerala’s finest waves. Some of us spent most of our time walking back and forth, watching for waves, gracefully hopping onto the board and quickly falling back off it… But despite being ferociously difficult, surfing is a whole lot of fun – not to mention one of the most rewarding sports you’ll encounter both mentally and physically. And Varkala’s quiet, practically tourist-free beaches, perfect surf conditions and fantastic instructors only add to the experience.
If you’ve ever been surfing, you’ll be aware that great food is really key to a decent surf holiday. Regardless of whether you’re being bashed about by waves or riding ’em like a pro, it’s intensive, tiring stuff – and you’ll find you’re pretty hungry after a couple of hours surfing. One of the nicest parts of our stay at Soul & Surf was heading back to the hotel for a delicious breakfast after the morning surf session, eaten as a group in the gardens. Fresh fruit, pancakes, delicious juices and local specialties – the healthy yet hearty breakfast menu changes daily, with everyone from staff to instructors and guests enjoying a communal meal together.
Throughout the day, the hotel’s Soul Food Café serves up a menu of salads, nibbles, juices, cakes and excellent coffee, while in the evenings, there’s barbecue and incredible pizza from the wood-fired oven. It’s all international fare with an Indian twist, and suits the Soul & Surf vibe perfectly. So what is there to do when you’re not surfing, eating or hanging out in downward-facing dog? Most people relax in the gardens, laze about in the sunshine with a book, have a snooze in one of the hammocks or chat with the other guests. There are also outdoor film screenings – and let’s not forget the yoga of course!
Vinyasa flow classes take place on the rooftop every evening at Soul & Surf. And let us tell you, watching the sun set over the sea as you practise yoga make for a pretty special experience. Again, classes are suitable for all experience levels, and even if you’re not usually a fan of yoga, it really is the perfect way to unwind, relax and reconnect body and mind. Guaranteed, you’ll find the yoga sessions energising and uplifting – and that sunset… Instant Instagram material.
And what about the hotel itself? Soul & Surf isn’t about super luxe accommodation – rooms are bright, clean and comfortable, and a deal more attractive than in most surf resorts you’ll encounter elsewhere. Whether you choose a “quite nice room”, “nice room” or “really nice room”, all have en-suite facilities and most have their own balcony too. That said, we didn’t really spend much time in the room – part of Soul & Surf’s charm is the opportunity to meet a few new people and chat about life, the universe and everything over a chilled beer or fresh juice. And far from the daily grind and the tedious commute, isn’t that what it’s really all about?
Stays at Soul & Surf in Kerala are available from £189pp per week and include accommodation, breakfast, daily surf guiding, mineral water and use of yoga mats. Daily yoga and surf lessons are available from £145 per person per week or can be booked on a daily basis. To book, visit www.soulandsurf.com/retreats/india or call 01273 931 282.