Couple ditch Toronto jobs to open surf resort in Guatemala
After falling in love years ago while surfing on vacation, one couple from Toronto shared a dream of one day opening their own surf retreat.
Now, that dream has come true, and they're sharing the magical slice of paradise they discovered with the world.
Sarah and Walter were self-proclaimed surf bums when they first met in the waves of Costa Rica. Walter is a jewellery artist and the owner of One Heart in Kensington Market, and Sarah is an archaeologist.
Despite their careers here in the city, they always held onto their dream of owning a surf camp. After exploring all along the Pacific Coast, one magical beach town in Walter's home country of Guatemala captivated them both.
"We were really just two kids when we first had this dream many years ago," says Sarah. "I don't think it would have happened if we hadn't found this tiny town and slowly worked on this dream for over 15 years."
The long term dream slowly but surely manifested into reality. They are now welcoming guests to their own surf resort called Hidden Wave in El Paredon, Guatemala.
El Paredon was once a very isolated fishing village, but Sarah and Walter noticed the potential of its almost-undiscovered beach, which happened to have incredible waves and very few surfers.
It used to take about 8 hours to get to the village through various means of transportation, but it has now become easily accessible from the airport as people are discovering and falling in love with the town.
Guatemala itself also has so much to offer, with a rich Mayan history, jungles, crater lakes, volcanoes, and beaches. Vogue even named Guatemala in it’s '12 Best Places to Travel in 2023,’ citing its breathtaking landscapes to discover without the masses of tourists, and the ability to connect deeply with Guatemalan people and culture.
The first years they spent in El Paredon, Sarah and Walter camped in an agricultural field with no electricity or running water. Building little by little, Hidden Wave retreat now has four stunning casitas within a big tropical garden, and they just put in a pool. Rates start at just $70 a night.
The biggest challenge of building a resort in a less-developed area was getting materials for construction and furnishings. "There's no Ikea, there's no Home Depot. That forces you to be very creative," Sarah told me.
The casita roofs are made onsite in the traditional way from local palm leaves, and they have become resourceful in using materials that are locally harvested and available.
Hidden Wave is more than just a surf camp; besides surfing and exploring the huge uncrowded beach, a national park nearby has a lush mangrove river to explore by paddleboards or canoes. The camp offers daily yoga, hammocks to relax in poolside, and the unique town of El Paredon is a delight to wander through with its laid-back vibe.
"We have surfboard rentals and lessons, a communal kitchen to cook up some fresh fish, and everything in town is within walking distance. We are right on the beach and you can hear the waves from your bed," Sarah says.
The couple also has three kids who have grown with the business. Sarah and Walter appreciate the value of raising them with Guatemalan and surf culture.
"Surfing is a great sport for being in touch with the ocean and immersed in the natural world - that love for the ocean is something we are passionate about passing on to our kids," Sarah told me.
"Plus Walter and I love having our own family business and showing the kids that you can follow your dreams. That is something we really value."
The couple and their three children are back and forth between Toronto and Guatemala, living the snowbird's dream by spending the winter months (and best surf season) in Guatemala, and the rest of the year in Toronto.
"We like the balance of life in the city, having our jobs in Canada and our kids in school there, while also to be able to show them this barefoot life."
Sarah and Walter have come full circle. They used to take surf lessons together, and now 15 years later are teaching surf lessons themselves daily at their own surf resort.
"The most rewarding thing is being able to leave behind the busy lifestyle in Toronto for a break, and as surfers, have one of the greatest waves right on our doorstep."
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