The Surf House is many things to many people, it’s a great cafe for meeting and chilling with friends. It’s a surf shop - reminiscent of the spots many of us grew up with around the world - a chilled out space selling all the essential elements to complement a coastal lifestyle. They also do equipment rental; getting 100s of people per week into the water on surf boards, stand up paddles, hydro foils and more.
But more than anything, the Surf House is an authentic and super strong community of like minded people, that find peace, happiness and camaraderie through their shared love of the ocean and a healthy active lifestyle.
Talking with Dan Vandooren - co-founder of The Surf House
Tell us a little bit about the early days
I was born in Bahrain in 86. and moved to Dubai in ’87 when I was only one. My father was a pilot flying for Gulf Air in Bahrain, and was one of the first pilots to join Emirates for their launch. Back then, no one knew of Dubai. Emirates Airline almost literally put Dubai on the map.
Cool! and what was it like growing up
We grew up in a place called Chicago Beach Village, which was a compound where Madinat Jumeirah Hotel is at the moment. There was about 300 families living there.
We were right on the beach. Fishing off of the pier, which is now Pier Chic restaurant, and then learning to surf. Surfing became a big part of our lives. Back then we couldn't get surf boards, because there were no shops, no suppliers. So we used to get boards and shorts and things from Australia or America, when my dad would fly there.
The coastline of Dubai never used to have The Palm or The World islands, and we used to get waves along the whole coast; and you could surf any of the beaches and pick and choose. I don’t know if it was because I was smaller and younger, but the waves seemed a lot bigger back then.
How did your childhood passion become your profession
Scott, who is the other founder of The Surf House started the business in 2005, when he bought a couple of foamies and began giving surf lessons to Russian tourists. At that time I was at university in Australia. As soon as I graduated, I came back and joined Scott and started giving surf lessons with him. It was very grassroots.
And how did the ‘House’ become part of the Surf House DNA?
We began with a trailer on the back of a Jeep Cherokee, boards for the lessons and some surf supply retail from the trailer. Then one morning we stumbled across a villa at sunset beach which had a ‘to-let’ sign on it. It was during the 2008 recession, so we were able to negotiate a good price and moved in.
It gave us more room, and we opened a proper shop there. We lived there and operated the business from there. It became a really popular spot for hanging out, gatherings, parties. It was a special time.
Then you made the move to your current location
Moving to the new villa, a block or two from the original Surf House, we were able to open our Single Fin Cafe; food is such an important part of our lives, and we as founders of the company and our community are really passionate about healthy food and positive lifestyle.
So the inclusion of the cafe allowed us to close the circle, you know, we had this large community of people who would surf and rent boards and buy equipment, but the cafe then gave everyone a reason and a place to sit and hangout and commune.
When thinking about entrepreneurship or marketing, a lot of people talk about the importance of building a community. You guys have such a super strong community around The Surf House, but the way you’re doing it and pulling it off, it can only be done with such authenticity because you guys are nothing but authentic. From hearing your story of you and Scott growing up on the beach here, then moving to be right on the beach to having the Surf House grow right out of your home.
It was definitely our passion and I think that was the main thing. We loved what we were doing and we just lived and breathed it every single day.
It's fairly rare that people would get passionate about the loss of a business, for example, but I'd say if you guys were to ever close or to not be there, people would be really upset and a big part of what they love about Dubai would not be there anymore.
How is your routine atm?
I’ve started ice bath. That was my savior during lock down when we weren’t able to go in the ocean.
We purchased a chest freezer, like the one that you keep all the frozen food in and just filled that up with water and chill it down to about three or four degrees. Wim Hoff was a big inspiration.
I think the benefits of it are endless, from your joints to muscle recovery to mental health. It's super challenging to get in there at the start. So if you can overcome that, I think, it helps you with challenges throughout your life.
Any departing words for the people?
Don’t be afraid of failing, turn it around and improve what you did wrong so you can succeed next time. Tough situations build strong minded people.
I see too many people scared of trying new things because they’re worried of failing, not being good at it or feeling embarrassed in front of others. Don’t worry what others think. If you never try, you won’t succeed.
Even worse, you won’t know what you’re actually capable of… You’ll be surprised!