Surf’s Up: Coworking Operator Rides ‘Workation’ Wave to Success

Surf Office, Gran Canaria
Surf Office, Gran Canaria

In 2013, OT spoke to the founders of a new coworking space in Gran Canaria, The Surf Office, to hear about their innovative plans for a beachfront workplace.

Back then, the Surf Office was a little-known coworking space with big plans. The founders, Peter Fabor and Michal Kostal, were preparing to set up shop on the shores of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria to offer an innovative mix of coworking and accommodation. They wanted to blend work and travel, bringing surfing enthusiasts out of their hum-drum offices into a fresh, vibrant coworking community where they could work, live and play to their hearts’ content.

We thought they were set to make waves in the coworking industry. And we were right.

Since 2013 the Surf Office has grown to three locations, and is now sitting pretty on the shores of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, Santa Cruz in California, and the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

“No brainer”

Peter Fabor, co-founder of the Surf Office, told us why he decided to expand his original coworking space in the Canary Islands to the sunny shores of California, and beyond.

Surf Office, Gran Canaria“Santa Cruz is exactly the type of vibe that fits perfectly with the Surf Office concept,” says Peter. “The combination of a hippie, surf and startup culture is what makes it special and right for Surf Office.

“So when a local partner approached us it was a no-brainer.”

Peter explained that back in 2013, it was a toss-up whether to launch their first coworking space in Las Palmas or Lisbon.

“Las Palmas won because of its incredible climate and the city beach,” he said. “Lisbon is a very interesting city in terms of culture, nightlife and history, but there is no beach within walking distance.”

Yet Peter eventually circled back to Lisbon, settling on Cais do Sodré as the location for their third coworking space.

Although there is no beach on the doorstep, it has a beautiful waterfront location and benefits from regular public transport routes to the popular surfing beaches of Carcavelos, Caparica and Ericeira. In fact, Peter admits that Surf Office is “not that much about surfing anymore”. Rather, it’s about a community of people who want to “kill the routine and enjoy their lifestyle.”

Perhaps most importantly for a community-rich coworking space, Cais do Sodré has a “relaxed and hip” environment with plenty of local restaurants, cafes, market and shops.

“Awesome, but complicated”

Peter explained that one of their biggest challenges lies in finding locations that tick all the right boxes.

In the early days, the team had to overcome various challenges, which included an understanding of how to hit the right balance in terms of capacity and community. How many guests is too much, or too little?

“Another challenge was to figure out how to scale,” he added. “We tried a franchise concept in Santa Cruz but we decided to close that location after 6 months. We’ve learnt a lot about the concept of scaling. Now we’ve made a step back and want to focus on our own locations.”

So with a tried-and-tested model and the world at your feet, how do you choose the next location in which to scale-up?

Surf Office, Gran Canaria“We visit new locations very often to research and meet potential partners,” Peter explained. “What is really important is the exact location (neighborhood, with a good local infrastructure).

“Having an airport close to the office is another important factor. That’s why we had to exclude some Canarian Islands like El Hierro or La Palma, which are absolutely awesome, but are complicated to get to.”

As such, Peter admits to having a rather long wish-list of potential future locations.

“We’ve identified about 50 locations that would be perfect for Surf Office.

“These are places we know well because we visited them a couple of times or have lived there. Then there are places that are repeatedly recommended by our guests or places that our potential partners propose to us for opening a Surf Office.”

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Returning guests

Recommendations by guests and visitors isn’t just good for identifying new locations, but for repeat custom too. This is particularly important for the residential side of their business.

Peter explained that the biggest contributor to their success comes from guests who have visited Surf Office and promoted it between their friends, which he describes as “the main drive of growth and also our motivation to make things better.”

He says the average length of stay for most Surf Office guests is 11 days, although this depends on the location.

“In the Canary Islands for instance, people generally stay longer than in Lisbon. We have quite a lot of guests who visited us more than once – I think the record was 5 visits.”

“State of mind”

So who actually uses Surf Office? Is it young travellers working to fund their next trip, or entrepreneurs looking for an alternative working holiday?

“I wouldn’t describe our guests as travelers, they are rather traveling professionals: freelancers, contractors, or employees who can work remotely for a period of time,” Peter explained. “They are often startup teams who need to concentrate on their projects or entrepreneurs with no time to go on vacation.”

While most of their guests come from an IT and technical background, Peter says that they are keen to attract more people from different professions to give the space more variety.

“We’ve hosted artists, yoga teachers and burned out managers who didn’t work during their stay but wanted to find inspiration among like-minded people.

“The average age is between 26 and 36 but we’ve hosted guests into their 60s. It’s more about the state of mind.”

A sustainable business model

Surf Office, Gran CanariaProbably one of the most-asked questions on every coworking operator’s lips is, how does the space generate profit?

The Surf Office is not a ‘classic’ coworking space given its on-site accommodation. The fact that Peter refers to visitors as ‘guests’ rather than clients suggests that the emphasis lies heavily on the lifestyle experience, rather than a workplace with beds.

To Peter, it’s really quite straightforward.

“We charge a fee per day for a work/accommodation package. It’s simple and our guests like it. There’s no complicated pricing or hidden costs.

“We have some additional revenue streams, like merchandise, but they are not as relevant at the moment.”

Having grown to three locations in three years, Peter revealed that their next step is to focus on expanding their current spaces and to find local partners for new and upcoming locations.

“Even though we do many side projects they are mostly for fun and our main focus is to grow Surf Office,” he added.

Coworking offshoots

And the good news is, he doesn’t see the coworking market fading out anytime soon. He believes there is still plenty of potential for the industry to expand into new avenues, although he believes it “will take some time” to discover them.

“I’m a big fan of rural coworkings like Sende in Spain or Casa Netural in Italy,” he added. Although, as the founder of a successful coastal coworking business, he naturally sides with projects of a nautical theme.

“One of the latest cool concepts is Coboat, a catamaran that also works as a coworking space. We’re big fans of this project.”

Coworking has experienced choppy waters over the past few years, with an alarming rate of closures. Yet the Surf Office has carved out a successful niche in the ‘workation‘ trend, and is riding the wave of an enormously promising market. We look forward to keeping up with Peter and the Surf Office as he continues to barrel into the exciting world of creative workspace.

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