Unleash Surf by Amy Schwartz

Traveling all over Peru, surfing every day, getting business done in a rad co-working space, receiving surf lessons, supporting and mingling with the local community, living in a breathtaking apartment while being surrounded by likeminded people...

Amy Schwartz turned every surfer’s dream into a reality by creating Unleash Surf, a one of a kind surf-lifestyle co-working experience.

This is her chronicle:


First of all, share a little background about yourself.

Amy and John  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Amy and JohnSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

I’m just a big dork to be honest! How’s that for an intro? I love surfing and have been doing it since long before it was cool here in Canada (again: dork) and throughout my looooonnnggg time learning to be a competent surfer, I was also building a non-linear career and traveling solo to amazing surf spots at every opportunity. I studied international politics and worked as an adventure guide in my early twenties, then worked for a women’s rights advocacy org in South Africa, ran an outdoor-education charity for youth, did my masters in Disaster Management in Peru and worked in government on sustainable transportation for years. In every one of these jobs I was given a golden opportunity to learn a system - such as policy-making in government, leading a non-profit, and grassroots advocacy - but I’d never dabbled in the terrifying world of business - until Unleash!

Amy drinking local chicama with her baby  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Amy drinking local chicama with her baby Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

Amy and John (Unleash Surf business and life-partner)  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Amy and John (Unleash Surf business and life-partner)Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

Worth noting for this story: I met the man of my dreams in a surfboard building class in my home town and he became my best surf-buddy and later my life-partner and now business partner on Unleash.

The question that everyone is dying to know, how did you come up with the concept for Unleash Surf?

Unleash Surf lounging area  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Unleash Surf lounging areaSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

I knew I was crazy enough to start my own business because I often got critiqued for being “too entrepreneurial” when I worked in government. I also knew that, to be fulfilled as a human, I needed to be in new places learning new languages more often, and still be in the amazing place I’m from each year - but I couldn’t figure out a way to make that possible. Also - my partner could work remotely from anywhere, so the only thing holding us back from achieving our dream lifestyle was me - and that was horrifying to me.

Work mode at Unleash Surf   — Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Work mode at Unleash Surf — Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

So we took a 4-month surf-remote work sabbatical to think about how to rearrange our lifestyle. One evening, we were eating too much lemon-meringue pie on a beach in Peru, and it dawned on us: let’s set up this incredible surf-lifestyle for others who want to surf but need to get their work done. We could create a cowork space, ensure the internet was solid, provide people with surf coaching and find the great apartments to live in - take away all the headache that comes with doing it on your own. And we’d focus on being a business that truly involves, respects and benefits the local community.

Cowork Guitar Session  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Cowork Guitar Session Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

At first it seemed like too-good of an idea to be true. We let it float around for a while to see if it was just a random silly blip, but we couldn’t stop thinking and talking about it. Eventually we realized it was too good not to try.

So we went home and I got pregnant, and we started Unleash Surf!

What’s your day-to-day like running Unleash Surf?

Beach picnic  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Beach picnic Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

It’s wildly busy and unpredictable. Usually we do social media, connect with potential clients, work on local partnerships, write content, respond to media queries. When we’re on our program our days include lots of time lining up details to ensuring our clients have a seamless experience - so we set up surf lessons, tours, special workshops, small social events, collaborations with community partners.

Although it is full-on, it is the most fun work I’ve ever done. Building something yourself, that people love, is incredibly rewarding.

Could you explain the applying process for those interested in getting involved with your company?

It is pretty simple actually! You just go to our website application page and it’s a short form to fill out. Or you can email me and we set up a phone call and if we both feel like it’s a fit than you reserve your spot.

An Unleash Surf participant all ready to surf  —    Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

An Unleash Surf participant all ready to surf Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

What’s your fondest memory from Unleash Surf?

One of our participants was quietly working to improve her surfing but she’d hit a plateau (which is common). I could tell she was frustrated and it was wearing on her confidence. And then one day, I met her as she was coming out of a lesson where everything had clicked. She was beaming and practically floating on air. Witnessing her pride in that moment was awesome, but more so learning about how that impacted how she approached challenges in her life and work thereafter, was what really got me.  It reminded me that, in a supportive environment, the struggle of learning to ride waves of liquid energy is deeply meaningful.

Have you thought about expanding the location to other countries around the world? If so, where is your dream location?

One of the many excursions Unleash Surf plans for their attendees  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

One of the many excursions Unleash Surf plans for their attendeesSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

We’re still a couple of years away from adding another destination, but we’re considering spots Sri Lanka, India, Portugal and Japan. I spent part of my childhood in South Asia so it is definitely a dream to go back to find Unleash a home there.

What would you tell your younger self now that you’re running a successful business?

Having a baby and starting a business at the same time is a crazy idea, but also an awesome one.

What’s the #1 tip you would give to a solo traveler before they embark on their first big trip?

Chicama surf  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Chicama surfSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

Don’t chicken out.

Don’t worry, you won’t be lonely.

You can get all the medicines you need in most other places, so don’t pack a pharmacy.

Learn some words in their language.

Always bring a bathing suit and really good quality sandals.

What’s your favorite part about running Unleash Surf?

Watching our clients and local partners get energized and inspired. And meeting incredible humans in a special part of the world.

Amy sandboarding  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Amy sandboardingSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

Any advice for someone who is brainstorming of starting their own business?

Put up a landing page up with a sign-up option as soon as possible so you can start getting feedback about your idea from your real (potential) clients. The sooner you can test out and tweak your idea and get fans the better. Don’t wait until things are perfect. And talk to them! Set up ½ hour long interviews to get their honest opinions about what they think of your product. We did that just after we launched and it was hugely instructive to how we did our marketing and refined our product.

What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make?

Following other people’s shiny ideas or growth models instead of their own instincts. I think it is important to be open and willing to share, but it’s equally important to choose who you take advice from quite carefully.

Do you have a podcast, blog, book, resource you refer to often?

I tend to surround myself with smart people in a wide variety of professions, who will answer my random questions about various things! So I feel like I refer to them depending on what kind of inspiration or advice I need at the time.

What’s next for you and Unleash Surf?

We’re looking into setting up programs for private groups, as well as continuing to grow our core offerings.

What do you love the most about being a creative person?

I get a lot of joy from connecting people to experiences that make them feel more courageous and alive.  I love seeing how a concept I created can provide a platform for others to do great things. Having the opportunity to see the ripple effects of Unleash Surf in our clients’ lives, and also in the lives of our partners in Huanchaco, has been more energizing than I ever imagined.

Unleash Surf attendees exploring the surf  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Unleash Surf attendees exploring the surf Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

The market  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

The marketSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)


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Amy smiling after a successful surf session  —    Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Amy smiling after a successful surf session Source: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

Sunset yoga class  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Sunset yoga classSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

I DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS TO THE PHOTOS ABOVE UNLESS STATED OTHERWISE

ALL PHOTOS WERE BY CATHErINE BERNIER (@CATH.BE)

Amy surfing  —  Source: Catherine Bernier (   @cath.be   )

Amy surfingSource: Catherine Bernier (@cath.be)

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