Tropical Paradise

How to Build a Surf Resort

30th Sep 2020

It’s the last day of your dream surf trip. You’ve caught a fish or two, enjoyed a couple beers by the pool and delicious fresh food, you’ve scored endless empty waves, and you’ve slept bloody well because of it. You’re soaking up the last few moments of pure bliss in your bungalow before your airport transfer arrives and reality slaps you in the face. You think to yourself, “I could totally do this forever”, and you wonder how…

A similar thought entered Dave Ryan’s mind some 30 years ago, but we’ll let him tell the rest of the story…

From a daydream, to reality…

“My most significant surf adventure was to Vanimo on the north shore of PNG, where a fledgling local boardriders had invited a group of us to join them in launching their club.

We were greeted with tribal dancing, ate delicious local food and surfed unreal waves at Lido Right and Left. It was only our crew in the lineup with waves reeling off over the limestone reef for up to 300 metres in crystal clear waters. I came back from that week touched by the overwhelming local hospitality shown to us and my body aching from the hours spent surfing world-class waves.

Vanimo would play on my mind for the next 14 years. I’d fondly recall that incredible week and kept wondering about the countless quality waves to be had there, but it was relegated to a daydream. 

Many years later in 2007, an opportunity came up to build a surf lodge in Vanimo. I didn’t think twice and immediately got on the case, organising finance to build the lodge for the estimated $50K. With finance in place I organised a flight back to Vanimo to meet the local landowner and have the site surveyed. It was finally happening, I kept thinking on the flight over, or so I thought…”

The building process…

“News spreads fast in Vanimo and word got out about our plan, with a number of hustlers sensing an opportunity to make a quick buck. Eventually, after wasting time and considerable funds, I was introduced to the real landowner, the quiet but well-respected John K, and we agreed to proceed with building the lodge in front of the peeling Lido Right.

The $50K budget dwindled quickly thanks to the tout, land registration, local accounting as well as building and legal fees, but there was still much to do before the lodge would be anywhere near finished. Instead, I was amassing major debt and had nothing to show for it. My dream was starting to look very fragile. That’s when a couple of old school mates from Crescent Head, Tim and Peter, came to the rescue. Not only did Tim and Peter inject cash into the project, but invaluable design and building expertise. I breathed a major sigh of relief. Sourcing the building materials was a logistical nightmare, however.”

“Vanimo only had one major hardware store and going in there was like stepping back in time, plus you were paying about 300% of the price you would pay back home. Despite this, nothing was compromised in the quality and strength of the build, and we kept the design aligned to the local houses so that it would blend in with the neighbourhood. The morata roofing we used is made from palm fronds tightly thatched and weaved together, and takes months to be prepared and aged before being placed methodically, row upon row, and hand-sewn into position. It is truly an art form and was an eye-opener to see what could be made from materials grown in the surrounding jungle.

We employed a team of six local labourers who were fantastically enthusiastic and had tons of energy, but lacked any real skill. It ended up making for a great relationship, though. The lads learnt heaps from Peter and when Peter got too exhausted from the heat and humidity to go on, they would power on until dark.”

“Occupational Health and Safety didn’t seem much of a concern, though. No matter how much we protested, the lads would shrug off our objections if we deemed something too risky. One of the most hair-raising feats of craftsmanship I witnessed was John K, standing about 12 feet off the ground on a two-inch timber crossbeam with a 24-inch blade chainsaw, expertly shaping the tops of some of the timber uprights and not blinking an eye. Eventually we just had to resign ourselves to the fact that this is how things were done here.”

Vanimo Surf Lodge is finally open for business!

“Miraculously, within six months we had a lodge that we could open for our first season to get a small cash flow to build from, and we haven’t looked back since.

The lodge has been improved year upon year, and the village is seeing the benefits that have flowed from it like medical supplies and training for the Vanimo Base Hospital, local employment and school supplies.

It’s humbling to see what we’ve achieved together with the Vanimo community, and it still feels like a privilege every time I get to fly down the line on a Lido Right.”

Read the full story in White Horses Magazine Issue 31 ‘Islands’.

Check out this amazing video of Vanimo and the waves you will surf during a surf adventure.
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