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Digital Nomads Unleash Surf In Peru

Challenging the 9 to 5 status quo, working remotely and surfing empty lineups under a desert sun. We catch up with surfing digital nomad John Furness for an inside look at Unleash Surf and one of the world’s best surfing destinations, Peru.

January 31, 2019
Words by Amy Schwartz
Photos by Catherine Bernier & Jonathan Slather
unleash surf peru surfer pointbreak surfing by cathbe - Playa Chicama the worlds longest left wave
unleash surf peru surfer desert surfing by cathbe - Playa Chicama the worlds longest left wave
unleash surf peru pointbreak surfing by cathbe - Playa Chicama the worlds longest left wave
unleash surf peru chicama beach surfing waves by cathbe - Playa Chicama the worlds longest left wave
unleash surf peru chicama surf van by cathbe - Playa Chicama the worlds longest left wave
surf peru desert landscape by cathbe unleash surf peru chicama surf van - Playa Chicama the worlds longest left wave

John Furness has always been a quiet kind of a rebel in how he’s set up his lifestyle around his surfing and mountain biking habits. But with Unleash Surf he’s invited other entrepreneurs and freelancers to challenge their own status quo and live their surf-lifestyle dream - without compromising their productivity. We interviewed John about why he felt compelled to start Unleash.

What is Unleash Surf?

Unleash surf is a surf retreat for digital nomads. We set up everything you need to be productive, live comfortably and be surf-happy: a private apartment, a gorgeous cowork space, fast internet, waves in walking distance and really incredible people to hang out with.

We manage everything so that all our clients have to do is show up – and they can get to work, surf and experience Peru in ways that few travellers get to.

unleash surf peru chicama beach surfing by cathbe - Playa Chicama the worlds longest left wave
THE WORLDS LONGEST LEFT AT CHICAMA, PERU

How did you come up with the idea for a surfing forward experience for remote workers?

Three years ago, my partner Amy and I were living in a coastal town in Peru and surfing every day.

I was working remotely from there on my web design business but, without all the social, family and house obligations of home, we seemed to have more time for the things we love. We surfed twice a day, worked on our Spanish, met awesome people and spent more time together.

We started discussing how we could live like this permanently, and wondered why more remote-working surfers weren’t doing the same.

At first we didn’t consider ourselves to be so naive to start another surf-travel business in what is a fairly saturated market, but we felt like we were onto something no one had considered.

We asked ourselves what it would take for people like us to join a surf-travel retreat. The answer was: our own apartment with a real kitchen and nice sheets; solid internet; a great place to work; uncrowded surf; excellent surf coaching; everything in walking distance; unique travel experiences and a small group of interesting  people that had similar priorities in life.

We realized those criteria were a tall order, but we were pretty sure we could produce that exact experience for others.

unleash surf peru surfer girl by cathb - Hunchaco beach morning surf
HUANCHACO BEACH MORNING SURF

So how did you get from the idea of Unleash to action?

We interviewed dozens of successful entrepreneurs and freelancers who surf or want to surf and we learned a couple of things:

  • Everyone wants to be somewhere they can surf more and still get their work done
  • Most don’t have time to research a location with great waves and solid internet and can’t take the risk that they’ll end up somewhere with bad internet or crappy surf
  • Many don’t want to deal with all the details of setting up their remote-working lifestyle in a new place
  • Some people want to learn how to manage a digital nomad + surf lifestyle before doing it on their own

So we designed Unleash Surf to overcome all these barriers for aspiring remote worker-surfers. And a year later we were scoping locations, crafting a website and receiving applications.

It’s been a lot of work to deliver on the standards we set for the Unleash Surf experience, but the people who’ve shown up for Unleash and our partners in Peru are phenomenal humans. It’s been rewarding as hell.

unleash surf peru chicama beach Cooking Class - for Digital Nomads in Huanchaco

How did you start surfing?

I’m from a landlocked province of Canada so I started surfing in my late 20s on a trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks with friends. We rented boards and it was life-changing.

I soon moved to coastal Nova Scotia so I could surf more. I met Amy there on a surfboard building course, she showed me some spots and we became inseparable surf buddies. Twelve years later we’re in pretty deep with a new business and a baby!

unleash surf peru surfer John Furness surfing cutback - Digital Nomad and adventurer

Of all the possible surf destinations in the world – why did you start with Peru?

We have a small list of criteria to qualify an Unleash Surf destination: consistent waves for all surfing levels; relatively uncrowded surf; safe; fast and reliable internet; great weather; nice places to live and eat and a chill vibe.

It seems like a simple list, but when you dig into these criteria, it is actually pretty challenging to find a perfect match.

We scoped places all over the world but there were a couple spots in Peru that easily fit our criteria. Since we’d lived there we thought it would be the perfect place to do our first season of Unleash.

Also, the region where we’re based is considered the birthplace of surfing with a history that dates back three to five thousand years.

unleash surf peru surfing Huanchaco Playa by cathbe - birthplace of surfing traditional surfcraft
PERU BIRTHPLACE OF SURFING

Who are your clients and what do they say about Unleash Surf?

They’re creative professionals, entrepreneurs, freelancers, people taking time to cultivate new ideas and people who work for companies that know the value of work-life-surf balance.

All of our clients have told us that Unleash was a life changing experience. They are moved by how they become connected to the community through our workshops and tours with cultural/social/environmental experts from the area and they adore how relaxed they feel on Unleash – even if they are working full time.

All of our clients express deep pride in how much better they get at surfing. When you’re in the water everyday for a month with several coaching sessions, you make huge improvements.

unleash surf peru chicama beach coworkspace Huanchaco by cathbe - remote working for digital nomads
UNLEASH WORK SPACE IN HUANCHACO

What’s your advice for people who aspire to work remotely so they can surf more?

Start small – try a week or two somewhere that you know has good internet and is close to surf to see if it actually suits you. Then you can work your way up to a month or more over time in more far-flung locations. Over time you’ll get better at setting it up, which will allow you to continue to push your comfort levels and learn what’s essential and what isn’t in your day to day work-surf routine.

Two important things I have learned are; 1. Be open to and build in time for mistakes and issues (i.e. what will you do if the internet goes offline for an hour?) and try to use them as learning moments; 2. If you have an item that is essential for your work (i.e. a second screen for designing), bring a backup or be sure you can get a replacement where you’re going.

unleash surf peru chicama beach roof top view Huanchaco - remote working for digital nomads

Where is Unleash Surf going next?

We’re still a couple of years away from adding another destination, but we’re considering spots Sri Lanka, India, Portugal and Japan.

unleash surf peru chicama party Amy John family - Huanchaco digital nomads

John Recommends

To watch: Colinfurze, Seth’s Bike Hacks.  Also the Shred Show is a little dated now but it’s always been one of my favourite board review channels – I’ve replaced it with Surf n Show Reviews

To listen: Godspeed and ASIWYFA

To read: Probably one of my favourite design resources is Inside Design and of course for all things working remotely and surfing our Unleash Surf blog. We also send out a great monthly newsletter with tips on surf-travel and remote working.

Click the product names for a closer look, or use the link to shop all surf.

Shop Surf

UNLEASH FIELD WEAR

You can find out more about becoming a digital nomad in Peru at Unleash Surf, here. Plus if you like the imagery you can discover more of Jonathan Slather‘s and Catherine Bernier’s photography on Instagram.

Mr John Furness is the Founder of Unleash Surf a remote-working experience for surfers in Peru. Originally from Canada, he loves coffee and suffers from a benign form of surfboard kleptomania.

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