Soul & Surf - Recommended stay in Varkala, South Kerala
‘How good a swimmer are you?’ asked the form the manager at Soul & Surf handed us to fill. This seemingly innocuous dart in our direction was actually one of those existential questions in the true sense of the word. And as we were to find out soon, the answer possibly determined our survival in the middle of an ocean. The sea waves charge at 55 kilometres per hour. Can we be faster? After all, we are just pool swimmers!
These were the thoughts that lingered on hindsight when we filled the ‘You will not be responsible if we die surfing’ form, sitting in the 200-year-old reception building at Soul & Surf in Varkala. Yep, we had signed up for the beginners surfing lessons with them, and though we knew that the instructors were ISA qualified, we were apprehensive. Turns out, we weren’t required to be that great a swimmer to surf. Let us rewind a bit…
As we had stated in our earlier blog on Places to visit in Varkala, we wanted a quiet and secluded place to stay (away from the North Cliff’s hullabaloo) and wished to learn surfing. When we stumbled upon the Soul & Surf’s website, we were sold. The place single-handedly satisfied both purposes – The hotel is located on a quiet street on the South Cliff, and it has its own in-house surf school. Soul & Surf brought us an unforeseen fortune, and we booked right away; both the stay and the surfing lessons. In this article, we will highlight our stay and surfing experience with Soul & Surf, Varkala.
Soul & Surf, Varkala
Soul & Surf’s website claims that it is a ‘hotel’, but ask us, and we would classify it more as a mix of a hotel, a homestay and a hostel. Hotel because it gives privacy and access to all modern amenities, homestay because it made us feel at home, and hostel because of the laidback yet energetic vibes it triggered within us.
Layout of Soul & Surf, Varkala
Soul & Surf is located on a secluded street on Varkala’s South Cliff. The property’s boundary wall is covered with thick shrubbery, with a profusion of pink bougainvillaea flowers growing all over the gate. Riding inside, we came face-to-face with an old Keralan traditional house. The signpost outside the house indicated that it was the reception. We later realised that it is a 200-year-old structure bought by Ed and Sofie Templeton when they first thought of establishing Soul & Surf in 2009. The building was quite airy and rendered much-needed comfort after a ride in the scorching sun.
This old Keralan heritage structure at Soul & Surf houses the reception office, a merchandise store, a large and cosy lounge area with a small library at one end, a shower/ changing room, and a veranda. Right beside the old reception building is a vast cliff garden that directly overlooks the Arabian Sea below. The lush garden is bedecked with several outdoor lounge chairs and hammocks for guests to hang out under the canopy of trees and play with pet dogs. It also houses Soul & Surf’s in-house café cum restaurant named Soul Food Café. The dining area gives a beautiful view of the sea.
On the other end of the old building is the surf school – a small room with loads of surfboards and all accessories required for surfing. And besides that is where the accommodation block is. It is a new, modern, simple, clean building with elegant designs and an eye for detail. It is a three-storeyed building with an open-air roof-top yoga shed.
Accommodation block at Soul & Surf, Varkala
Soul & Surf’s accommodation block contains three different types of rooms, and they have named them pretty straightforward yet peculiarly. The categories are Quite Nice rooms, Nice rooms and Really Nice rooms. Nice rooms are basic, clean and are ideal for budget travellers. Quite rooms are good-sized, stylish rooms with a balcony and an optional air-conditioner. The Really Nice rooms have an air-conditioner and are pretty big, open and airy with a sea-view balcony. Each room has an en-suite bathroom with solar-powered hot water. Soul & Surf also lets out a few rooms present in the old Kerala heritage building with a cottage vacation vibe.
When we entered the ‘Really Nice’ room at Soul & Surf, we were transferred to a different world altogether. The sea green and white colour décor instantly soothed our senses. The rooms are designed to give a classic beach décor look with sheer white curtains that provide a screen for the room without blocking out the light. It felt like entering beautiful sets of a Bollywood movie being shot at a beach.
The Really Nice room at Soul & Surf, Varkala, is quite big, airy and has a balcony that gives a good view of the sea (slightly obstructed by trees but no complaints whatsoever). The balcony has a small sit-out with chairs, a table and a cloth dryer that proved extremely useful. The room is air-conditioned with lots of natural light from the large windows and a small sit-out area (our favourite) that gives a view of almost the entire property with the patch of the garden looking out over the ocean.
Amenities at Soul & Surf, Varkala
The furniture includes a king-size bed, a study table, a sofa, a centre table, bedside tables with lamps and an enormous wardrobe. Everything in the room was thoughtfully placed, and we loved the designer’s attention to detail. The room was adorned with some very often ignored but practical things like laundry bags, beach bags, an extra set of towels, magnifying mirror, ash-tray, a full-length mirror, glass water bottle, and extension cord for charging multiple devices. What turned out to be the most helpful is their A-to-Z guide, placed in every room, that lists down all valuable things to know about Soul & Surf and beyond.
Guests at Soul & Surf are free to re-fill their glass water bottles provided in the rooms from the water filling stations placed all across the property. They are also free to pick up and read any book from the library as far as they put it back by the end of their stay. And oh, they also provide free Wi-fi that actually works pretty well as per Indian standards, making Soul & Surf an excellent place for long workations (work vacations).
Surf School at Soul & Surf, Varkala
The Surf school at Soul & Surf operates seamlessly in the old school way. On the ground floor of the accommodation building is a wall blackboard at the entrance. The guests who wish to take surf lessons have to write down their name on the board before mid-day and be ready for the lessons the next day morning by 6:30 AM. Everything else is taken care of by the surf instructors. You will also be required to fill a ‘Waiver form’ to take the surfing lessons. The surf instructors at Soul & Surf, Varkala, are International Surfing Association (ISA) certified and are experts in water safety and rescue operations.
Our time at Soul & Surf, Varkala
Well, let’s talk about an average day at Soul & Surf. We had enrolled for the Beginner’s surfing lessons with Soul & Surf for 3 days. Each day, we rolled out of bed at 6:30 AM and meandered over to the surf house located next to the reception. Then followed a meet-and-greet session with the instructors and other surfers over a cup of black coffee. Later, we mounted our boards on top of a tuk-tuk (autorickshaw) and headed to the beach. The tuk-tuk followed the instructors who assessed and searched for a beach with the best waves. Once at the beach, we did some warm-up exercises and were split up into groups based on the ability levels (beginners, intermediates and experts).
The ISA certified instructors at Soul & Surf are super patient, easy-going, humble and attentive. They taught us how to paddle and pop up on the board with other useful tips and tricks like how to carry the board (beginner boards tend to be long and thick and are a real pain to handle), how to tie the surfboard leash string, and when and how to lay on the board once inside the water. Finally, after some practice on the sand, we were ready to catch some waves.
The first day entirely went in learning how to be one with the sea and understanding the board. It didn’t take us time to know that consistency is the key to master surfing. Standing on the surfboard for a few seconds on the wave gave us a tremendous sense of achievement; of course, after a lot (read: assload) of falls, rolls and tumbles under the water. If you take the process positively and try to have fun, you nail it sooner than others.
By the end of the first day, we caught a few waves (more accidentally than regularly). Our little successes were celebrated each time by other surfers and the instructors. That gave us more confidence and willingness to learn more. The following two days went in further learning, watching other surfers, understanding the cues, and manoeuvring the waves with helpful guidance from the instructors. We took breaks in between to lie on the shore and soak ourselves in the goodness of Vitamin D.
After two days on the waves, we were getting the hang of it and couldn’t wait to get back out to surf for the third and last day. Slowly but steadily, our timing of paddling, catching the waves and popping up on the boards became better by the third day. Finally, we felt confident riding a few bigger swells and felt really powerful nailing them. Our instructors took to the waves too and showed us what real surfers look like! Not only were they catching the biggest waves, they were one with their surfboards flashing the biggest smiles, making us realise that we still have a lot to learn.
Like everything else in life, surfing the waves successfully depends a lot on timing. It is incredibly crucial that you choose the right wave, paddle at the right moment, and pop up on the surfboard at the right time.
By the time we were done with surfing lessons, the sun used to be all bright and shiny, and we forced ourselves out of the water, bargaining for some more time from the instructors. Then, finally, we had to find the last remnants of energy to carry our boards back to the tuk-tuk. Back at Soul & Surf, everyone used to be in high spirits, chattering about the morning surf.
All of us, along with our instructors, used to sit around the big wooden table, eating the healthiest energy-packed breakfast prepared and served lovingly by the staff, boasting about the big waves we caught and laughing about how many times we nose-dived and rolled under the board. Honestly, late morning breakfast sessions, which sometimes lasted for hours, were the best times we have had at Soul & Surf.
After all the stories that were told and tips and tricks exchanged, we dragged ourselves to our cosy rooms. Voila, they were cleaned and ready for a nap! In the afternoon, we mostly fell asleep because we were very exhausted by so much physical activity. Also, because the heat and humidity of Keralan afternoons did not allow us to step out much.
Evenings were mostly spent sipping refreshing drinks at the Soul Café, networking with other guests in the lounge area of the garden, or reading a book that we picked from the small library at Soul & Surf. Sunset times were special at Soul & Surf, as it brought with it a cool breeze and the magical colours lingered on the horizon. Down from the cliff garden, we would see people taking a dip in the sea and up there, there were tourists paragliding. One evening, we also climbed down through the private beach access stairs from the cliff garden to the beach. We hardly found anyone at this part of the Papanasham beach, and it felt so good to have quality time.
Late evenings, we rode down to the Varkala town to sample some of the fantastic array of restaurants at the North Cliff – the most active area of Varkala. And again, the nights were early, and we would get ourselves some much-needed rest to prepare for the next day’s surf.
Soul Food Café at Soul & Surf, Varkala
Soul Food Café is the in-house café cum restaurant at Soul & Surf. It is open to the guests who are staying at Soul & Surf and any walk-in guests or tourists. The cafe is located in the clifftop garden with a gorgeous view of the vast ocean and makes for a good hang-out spot. Soul Food Café has a short but delicious menu that includes sumptuous meals with generous proportions. The complimentary breakfast that they serve after the surf sessions is nutritious and fulfilling, starting with a healthy juice and followed by choice of mains. The staff also mixes up a variety of ingredients to make refreshing drinks.
Other activities at Soul & Surf, Varkala
When Soul & Surf goes full-house, the staff organises outdoor cinema nights where they serve mouth-watering stone-baked pizzas. The environment at the hotel is always lively, and you could also request a night with a bonfire, barbeques and live jamming. Yoga classes are conducted by certified instructors in the morning and evening at the roof-top shed. Soul & Surf also organises free surf lessons for local kids every weekend, hoping that they might make a living with an increase in surf tourism in the region. They hire staff and surf instructors from the local community and pledge to give 1% of their profits each year to the environmentally focussed ‘1% For the Planet’ charity. They also organise beach clean drives and have partnered with ‘Mossy Earth’ to plant two trees for each person that books a holiday with them.
Few surfing tips for beginners:
Surfing can be really trying for your arms and shoulders. Start training them weeks before your surf lessons.
Wear fully covered clothes. As we write this from the backwaters of Munroe Island, our arms and fingers are numb, while our knees and elbows are bruised (Damn, we wore shorts on the first day). But we have the biggest smile on our face for having learnt a sport.
Fix a point at the shore and keep your eyes concentrated on it to master balancing on the board.
Even if you are into yoga and surfing, Soul & Surf is a beautiful place to do nothing, hang out, relax, eat, sunbathe and lounge around, making it ideal for every type of traveller. You can book your stay and surf lessons with Soul & Surf through their website.
It’s fun adding a new skill to your repertoire every year. Try surfing this time! Let us know if you liked our review on Soul & Surf, Varkala or if you have any questions in the comment section below.
PIN THESE IMAGES