Monday, October 2, 2017

My Experience Hosting My First Surf and Yoga Retreat

Experience Hosting Surf and Yoga Retreat

Hosting a surf and yoga retreat has being such an incredible experience. I loved everything about it: the promotion, the logistics, and sharing with new friends my two passions, yoga and surf. But we did face some tough challenges along the way.

When destiny knocked on my door

I discovered surfing just three years ago while traveling in Sri Lanka. It became a new passion right away. It was like "love at the first sight." After that experience I wrote in my blog:

From that moment on I had been daydreaming about combining my two passions, yoga and surf, by hosting my own surf and yoga retreat.

In October 2016 destiny knocked on my door. My friend Anna from Sweden invited me to co-host with her a surf and yoga retreat in Portugal.

I had never hosted a surf and yoga retreat before but, as you already know, this is exactly what I wanted to do. So once more I had to face my fears and venture into the unknown.

I accepted Anna's invitation, although at that moment I was actually focused on promoting my very first yoga retreat, a Meditation, Yoga and Ayurveda Retreat in India which was set to start November 23.

I couldn't think about organizing another yoga retreat right away, but as soon as that retreat in India was over, end of November 2016, I got in touch with Anna again to discuss or new venture.

We agreed on all the details and just three weeks after completing my yoga retreat in India we were already promoting this new surf and yoga retreat in Portugal for May 2017.

A trivial discussion: What's the right name?

Our first question was how to call this event. A surf and yoga retreat? Or perhaps a surf and yoga holiday?

After thinking about it for a while we decided not to call it "yoga retreat" but rather a "yoga holiday." So we named our event, "Surf and Yoga Holiday in Portugal, May 2017."

We thought that the words yoga retreat could give the impression of a more immersive experience in a nice resort with yoga hall, a strict schedule and all vegetarian-organic meals included.

We instead wanted to do something more chill and fun, considering also our facilities and our offering. The word "holiday" seemed to be more appropriate.

It might seem like a trivial discussion but for us it was important, specially for promotion. We needed to find the right name to give clear expectations and to be able to reach the right audience, or at least we hoped so.

But to be honest I'm not sure I will name a future event like this a "surf and yoga holiday." At the end it was always more natural for me to say surf and yoga retreat. I even decided to use surf and yoga retreat for the title of this blog post!

When promotion can't beat timing

We had four and a half months to promote our surf and yoga holiday package. Although I would have preferred to start promoting it six months in advanced four months seems to be all right.

But I was wrong.

I couldn't believe how difficult it was to get people booking the retreat.

I knew it would be a bit more difficult compared to my yoga retreat in India, since most of my blog audience is interested to travel to India and not to Portugal, but I didn't expect it to be so difficult.

For my yoga retreat in India I hardly did any promotion. I invested almost nothing in ads and shared it on social media just a few times, and I still got seven guests.

For the surf and yoga holiday in Portugal I invested ten times more money on Facebook ads and Google ads, and I was never before so active on social media.

And it was not just me. Anna was also actively promoting the retreat.

On top of that we had been too optimistic and perhaps a bit naive. We had originally planned to host FIVE surf and yoga weeks, one right after the other. Who does that?

Eventually, since getting guests was not so easy, we decided to cancel one week.

Later on we decided to cancel yet another week so that we could focus all our promotional efforts on three weeks only; the three weeks where we already had some bookings.

At the end we got six guests on our first week. That was not bad at all, but we got only two guests for the second week and three guests for the third week.

Please, don't ask how many guests we needed to break even! Lol.

But it had nothing to do with having only four months to promote it. I think it wouldn't have matter if we would have started promoting it six months in advanced. We did get a lot of engagement on our promotions. The problem was that none of them would convert.

It took me a while to realize that although the location and the offering were excellent, and the price really competitive, you can't just force people to take holidays when they don't want to.

May was just not the right month. Most people in Europe prefer to take holidays from June onwards and not necessarily before. Duh!

Afraid of what others might think

Before the retreat started I was feeling a bit frustrated because regardless of all our efforts we couldn't get more guests to join our surf and yoga weeks. We did everything we could but nothing seemed to work.

Yes, I was not feeling very happy at that moment. I was actually a bit afraid.... afraid to "fail."

I felt shame to think that I would have to tell others, "Oh we only got two guests," but I was also afraid that our guests would be disappointed because there were not enough guests to have a good time.

I was afraid they would feel bored, or perhaps cheated.

But after each surf and yoga holiday week was over I realized that all my fears had no foundation. Everything was perfect just the way it was. It was a wonderful experience for all of us.

Our two guests on the second week couldn't have been happier to be the only two guests. They had the whole house for themselves and they received all the attention during the whole week. We had a really good time hanging out together.

Our three guests during our third week became like a little family, they all connected really well. Not for a moment it felt that we needed to have more guests.

So although financially our surf and yoga holiday package didn't work at all it doesn't feel like a failure to me.

And I do mean that it didn't work financially.

Although we cancelled the two other weeks we still had the fix costs of the surf house to cover. In other words, it was a financial disaster! Lol.

But believe it or not I really don't care about the money issue, and not because I don't need it. Simply the thought that we failed to make money doesn't come to my mind, it's not that relevant.

I'm just grateful that I had the opportunity to organize and host this surf and yoga retreat and I'm happy to know that our guests for each week had a really good time from beginning till end.

I feel that we managed to give them something valuable and an unforgettable experience, and that's my main intention for my retreats.

It really doesn't bother me anymore to say that we had only two or three guests. That's why I can write about it without any issues. Everything feels just right.

The experience was invaluable, and not just because of what we learned but because of what we lived.

Being there with our guests and sharing yoga, surf and a wonderful time with them was priceless.

Our incredibly effective marketing

So, who joined our retreat?

During the first week we had a super fun group from Ukraine. They found out about the retreat because of worth of mouth. One of their friends had joined Anna's retreat last year and they recommend her.

Surf and Yoga Retreat 1st Week

The two girls during the second week were actually Nadine and Nina, two of my friends that I had met in Brussels and who had been following my journey since I left Belgium back in 2010.

Surf and Yoga Retreat 2nd Week

During the third week we had a lovely couple from The Netherlands, Namita and Theo. They had actually joined my first yoga retreat in India just a few months before and they decided to join this surf and yoga retreat pretty much as soon as we announced it.

Christophe, from Belgium, also joined the third week. He was actually the only guest that had found us online.

Surf and Yoga Retreat 3rd Week

Can you see how effective were all our marketing efforts? Lol. 90% of our guests were people that in one way or another already knew us.

That is not surprising. People mainly join yoga retreats with teachers that they know, that they follow or with teachers they have heard about.

Yoga teachers who teach at a local studio in the area where they live can attract their students to their yoga retreats but nomad yoga teachers, like me, need to rely more on their online presence to bring guests to their retreats.

It's all about them

We didn't need to do much for our first group, the super fun group from Ukraine. They were having so much fun by themselves, right from the moment they arrived, but I think I could have spend more time with them.

If I could go back in time this is the only thing that I would change.

Since the retreat didn't include lunch and dinner, and since I couldn't afford to eat outside all the time, I didn't join them during meal times, except for a few special occasions. But I didn't even join them for breakfast. I liked to have a different kind of breakfast for myself.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Breakfast Time
During the last breakfast.  Yes! I was there for that one.

I was not satisfied with this and by the end of the week I realized that this is not the way I like to host a retreat. I like to be more present and available for the group, if they want me to.

So I decided to make some changes for the following weeks.

Starting the second week I had the same breakfast with the guests and I joined them pretty much every single time for lunch and dinner. I was already broke but at least I could still have a good time, I thought. Lol.

We cooked dinner together a couple of times with the group of the second week, and we ate out almost every single day with the group of the third week, until my stomach said, "please no more!"

Surf and Yoga Retreat Cooking Time

Surf and Yoga Retreat Dinning Out

I think it was worth it and this is the way it should be. If I'm inviting people to join me for a yoga retreat or yoga holiday week I think I should be there with them, and one of the best times to connect is during meal times.

I know I still need to take care of my diet and my budget, and I also need time and space for myself, but I don't mind making some small sacrifices to be able to be with my guests. It is all about them.

Not everybody thinks like me. Yep, that's right.

I want things to be perfect. I would like to teach at a perfect yoga hall with a clean and smooth floor, with no bugs, and not too cold or too hot. The thought of teaching outdoors at the lawn of the surf house made me a bit anxious.

To my surprised everybody loved to practice yoga at the lawn. Christophe said that looking at the outdoor yoga photos motivated him to choose our surf and yoga holiday package.

Of course, it is really nice to practice yoga outdoors, but during the first week which started the 29th of April it was pretty cold in the mornings. It was so cold that my hands and feet would hurt while I was teaching yoga.

But although it was cold all our guests still wanted to practice yoga outside.

I was surprised. Every morning I would asked them, "Are you sure you wanna practice outside?" and they always answered, "Yes!" Well, except for Marwa, a lovely girl from Tunisia who was as cold as I was.

Even if the lawn was wet because it might have rained the night before, they still were eager to practice outside.

They would wear their socks and all the warm clothes they could get, and a blanket for the final relaxation, but they didn't mind practicing on the sometimes wet-cold-lawn.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Yoga Class

This was a good reminder of how different people can be, and of how difficult it can be to know in advance what will work or what won't work in an event like this.

Our daily routine... sort of

This was the daily schedule that we planned for each surf and yoga week:

07:00 to 08:30 Morning yoga session
08:30 to 09:30 Breakfast
10:00 to 12:00 Surf Class
12:00 to 13:00 Lunch
15:00 to 16:00 Workshop: visualization, breathing, ocean theory
16:00 to 17:30 Evening yoga session
19:30 to 20:00 Dinner

It actually worked quite well, but we were very flexible with it. Well, we changed it pretty much every day. We had to adjust the yoga class timings to the surf class timing which would depend on the tides.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Yoga Class

The yoga classes started actually at 7:30 and sometimes at 8:00.

When the guests arrived at the surf house and saw the board with the timings they were so happy and relieved. They were a bit afraid that they might need to wake up at 6 am for yoga. Lol.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Yoga Class

Surf and Yoga Retreat Yoga Class

I also had to leave time for my two workshops. A breath training workshop, where I taught them how to breath properly to be able to remain calm in different situations; and my favorite, a visualization workshop.

I use visualizations for pretty much everything, like developing new skills or specific states of mind. Using surfing as a new skill set I had the opportunity to introduce our guests to different visualization techniques. It was fun.

But with all the daily activities I realized that there was not enough time to do a one hour workshop before the second yoga class taught by Anna, so I decided to include the workshops during the morning classes.

So during the workshop days I ended up doing a one hour hatha yoga class and left 30 minutes for the workshop. That worked pretty well.

The program didn't include any pranayama class or meditation class, except for a short five minutes meditation at the end of each morning yoga class.

But our guests during the third week were very keen to learn more about meditation, so I decided to give them a one hour meditation workshop.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Meditation Class
Talking about meditation.  My favorite subject.

That's really not much time to teach meditation but good enough to give a short introduction and to answer some questions.

One day before our third yoga week was over Namita mentioned that she was missing the pranayama as we did in our retreat in India.

I wasn't aware of this but since she asked for it I decided to change the morning routine to include a brief pranayama practice, at least for the last yoga session.

Surfing time!

Oh and of course, the surf! That was the fun part of the day, no doubts.

Pedro, from Caparica, is a great surf teacher and he took good care of all our guests.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Surf Class

I felt glad Pedro was there cause as soon as we would arrive at the beach and get our wetsuits on I would grab a surfboard and disappear. I couldn't wait to go catch some waves.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Surf Class

Unfortunately May was not just bad timing to get more bookings, but also for getting good waves. We had a few good days, some average days and also some pretty bad days.

The waves were not so bad for beginners, since they need white water to practice at first, but there were some pretty rough days. Even for more experienced surfers it wasn't so good.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Surf Class

To put things in perspective, I spent about six weeks in Portugal starting mid April, and I had only two good surf days, my last two days in Caparica. Later on in July I went to Arugam Bay, in Sri Lanka for six more weeks. I had great surf sessions pretty much every single day!

But even though the conditions were not the best we still had a great time.

It was great to see how much fun our guests were having and it was specially rewarding to see them progress day by day. Otherwise I would try to be encouraging when I saw them dealing with their frustrations, as it's normal when learning how to surf.

Surf and Yoga Retreat Surf Class
That magical moment.  Photo courtesy of yesjohnnybegood

Discovering a new passion

I put together some of the photos and videos that we recorded during the retreats in a few short videos to summarize each week in a few seconds. It turned out to be a great way to keep our memories, and to tell a story.

All of our guests loved the videos. We have all seen them hundreds of times. Actually, every now and then I keep going back to my Facebook Page to view the videos again. Lol.

I really enjoyed working on those videos, it was a really fun project. I know they are still a bit amateurish but hey, practice makes perfect, and I was using a first generation GoPro and an iPhone 5S.

Now I just want to get a new GoPro and a new iPhone. I hope going full HD next time!

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The best is still to come

As you can imagine the whole experience has been completely rewarding for me. I feel so grateful to have been able to share with new friends these two things that I love, surf and yoga.

I love to built a good connection with my guests and to give them an experience that they will never forget. That is a great honor for me, it makes everything worth it and I hope that I'll be able to do it more often in the near future.

I've actually been planning for a while a surf and yoga retreat in my favorite beach in Sri Lanka but I haven't been able to convince the owner of the resort that I have in mind. But no worries, I'll keep trying.

If you want to know about my future yoga retreats you can subscribe to my mailing list so that I can let you know as soon as I have a new retreat ready. It would be great to have the opportunity to meet you in person and to do some surf and yoga together.

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