How two friends have brought the surf resort trend to SoCal

Across the globe, in the world’s most desirable surf destinations, a trend is emerging: Whether they’re called surf hostels or surf resorts or surf camps, more and more travelers are choosing to stay at places that specialize in making sure every aspect of your surfing vacation is taken care of.

But for whatever reason, despite being one of the global meccas for surfing, that trend has never really hit Southern California. Now, two longtime friends are attempting to change that with the Nomads Hotel and Canteen in San Clemente.

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“The original idea behind Nomads was simple,” Jeff Gourley, the co-owner of Nomads, told GrindTV. “I’ve lead diving expeditions all over the world, and I always found it curious that there was no place in Southern California that takes care of you like the rest of the world, where resort staff will pick you up and take you surfing, show you around town and feed you.”

“For my life I couldn’t understand why there weren’t many places like that in California,” he continued. “We want to give you the whole enchilada.”

Nomads surf resort southern california
Gourley said he wanted Nomads to have the laid-back vibe he saw at surf spots across the world. Photo: Courtesy of Nomads

According to the 49-year-old Gourley, the idea to begin a sort of all-inclusive surf resort in Southern California had been in his head for nearly a decade, but he had never found the correct location to do it until he stumbled upon a property for lease about one mile east of the San Clemente Pier in 2012.

“I immediately leased it under a longterm lease and started planing the property’s renovation,” Gourley told GrindTV.

Gourley wasted no time in getting Nomads up and running.

He brought on his friend, surf photographer Sean Rowland, to be a partner in the business and went about literally building Nomads by hand.

Nomads surf resort southern california
Gourley (left) and Rowland (right) teamed up to bring the all-inclusive style they found at surf resorts across the globe to the waves of Southern California. Photo: Courtesy of Nomads

“We hand built every item in Nomads,” said Gourley. “We did everything from the framing to the electrical work to the plumbing. We installed sinks and counter tops all by hand and furnished the place on a shoestring budget. How many resort owners do you know that literally built their hotels by hand?”

Gourley said that he and Rowland spent about a year and a half building Nomads into a post-surf hangout, opening the restaurant portion of his business (where he trained all the chefs) in 2013.

As the restaurant became increasingly popular, Gourley continued to build out the hotel portion of Nomads until it was ready to open in 2015.

Since then, Gourley said Nomads has been essentially booked to capacity.

“We’ve been booked pretty solid. Weekends of course are almost always fully booked,” Gourley told GrindTV. “But most importantly, we haven’t had to put a penny back into it. We’ve stood on our own two feet since day one.”

The hotel portion of Nomads has seven rooms.

The rooms run the gamut from a hostel-style, seven-bunk communal room to a more intimate two-bed private room that costs about $200 a night. While the rooms each feature a unique, eclectic styling that evidences the fact they were built and outfitted by hand, what ultimately keeps customers coming back are the array of surfing packages Nomads offers.

Nomads surf resort southern california
Nomads has everything from hostel-style housing to private, upscale rooms. Photo: Courtesy of Nomads

“If you go to, say, Nicaragua, the surf camp or surf lodge where you stay will take care of everything for you,” Gourley told GrindTV. “So that’s what we do. We’ll give you surf lessons if you don’t know what you’re doing. We’ll rent you gear.”

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“We’ll take you where you should be surfing around here,” Gourley continued. “Surfing is a very cliquey sport: People are overwhelmed paddling out on a crowded day in a new location unless they have someone to lead them and say, ‘Come here. Don’t mind these guys, here’s what you need to know.’ We do all of that.”

Starting at $799 per person, Nomads offers weeklong, all-inclusive surf excursion packages.

The packages include pickup from the San Clemente train station, housing, board and wetsuit rentals, three meals a day, guided surf sessions at any of the famed local surf spots including Trestles and T-Street and the chance to use Nomads’ 28-foot boat to get to some of the more remote breaks in the area only accessible by boat.

Nomads surf resort southern california
The restaurant at Nomads has been a popular hangout for surfers in the area since t opened in 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Nomads

“People have been beyond stoked about it,” Gourley told GrindTV. “We have everyone from first-time European surfers staying with us to Aussie pro surfers.”

And now, Gourley says that he and Rowland are hoping to expand the Nomads brand to more surf spots.

“Our plan is to have three locations in the long run,” Gourley said. “Probably one more in SoCal in the San Diego area and one in Nicaragua, as well as one potentially in Hawaii. We definitely want to bring it to new places and show more people our take on a surf resort.”

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