Airbnb sets its sights on surfing

Shivani Vora
Surf Days are here.
Bobby Schutz | E+ | Getty Images

Surfing is about to become part of Airbnb in a big way: on Thursday, the home rental and travel company will introduce more than 75 surfing-related activities in its Experiences category, a service where travelers can book unique activities and tours with Airbnb hosts in more than 20 destinations worldwide.

The new Experiences are launching in collaboration with the World Surf League, the professional sport's global governing body, and cost an average of $50 to $100. Airbnb's chief executive, Brian Chesky, said that it's the first time that the company has officially partnered with a sports organization for its Experiences platform.

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To start, the surfing activities will be available in 20 major surfing locations globally including Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa; Chiba, Japan; and Pupukea, in Oahu, but Mr. Chesky said that by the end of the year, the number of activities and the locales they're offered in will grow to several hundred. "Surfing is, by far, the largest sports offering in Experiences, and that's why we're making it a stand-alone category," he said.

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According to the company, it had 170,000 guest arrivals in 2017 to surfing communities, an increase of 54 percent from the year before.

It was the W.S.L. organization that tipped off Airbnb that many surfers were fans of the company's rentals. The chief executive of the league, Sophie Goldschmidt, said that surfers prefer to stay in homes versus hotels and frequently book their stays through Airbnb. "When you have a big surfboard, it's easier to stay in a house, and many top surfing destinations don't have a lot of hotels anyway," she said.

Ms. Goldschmidt also said that the surfers hosting the Experiences are an integral part of W.S.L.'s community and have been vetted by the organization. The activities they are offering on Airbnb range from surfing lessons to surfing photo tours to surfing adventures in the ocean.

In Biarritz, France, which is one of Europe's premier surfing destinations, two brothers who are former W.S.L. competitors, Edouard and Antoine Delpero, are offering longboarding lessons through their Delpero Surf Experience. In New York, the well-known big wave surfer Will Skudin will offer surfing lessons in Rockaway Beach, Queens. In Haleiwa, Hawaii, on the North Shore of Oahu, the renowned surfboard shaper Carl Schaper will teach guests how to cut foam to create their own surfboard. Most of the surfing activities can be customized for guests to take into account their level of expertise.

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Mr. Chesky himself is a novice surfer but said that he enjoyed the sport when he tried it last year in Cape Town, South Africa, by booking the Surf with a Purpose Experience, where he took a two-hour surf lesson in Muizenberg Beach with the surfer Apish Tshetsha and also learned about the surf therapy that he provides for free to low-income children. "It was then that I realized that surfing is an exciting sport even if you're just trying it once in a while," he said.

Airbnb isn't the only player in the travel industry that's paying more attention to surfing: several hotels, too, are introducing or have recently launched surfing experiences for guests.

This month, Mukul, Auberge Resorts Collection, in Nicaragua, introduced a Surf Sensei program for $165 a person where beginner surfers learn how to advance to the next level in the sport. In June, the property will begin offering a Siren Surf Safari for women that includes a surf lesson, along with meditation (pricing is still to be determined).

One & Only Palmilla, in Los Cabos, Mexico, has a new Art of Luxury Surfing program where guests can take lessons with famous surfers on select weekends throughout the year — the Brazilian-born women's star surfer Tatiana Weston-Webb is hosting one from June 18 to 20 (nightly rates that weekend start at $890).

Hotels may be introducing these surfing options because a growing number of travelers who have never surfed before seem to be showing more interest in the sport. Kristiana Choquet, an adviser with the New York City-based travel company Artisanal Experiences, said that, in the last year, many of the company's clients have begun asking for vacations in surf destinations such as Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica so that they can take lessons.

"There's a new allure to surfing," she said. "Travelers are definitely more interested in wellness more than ever before, and surfing is a part of that trend."

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