Sami Khalaf – Star Surf Camps

When did you start surfing?
I started surfing during a family holiday to Bali. I was turning 16 and my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday. All the surfer dudes were spending their days surfing these giant waves, hanging out with babes in the sunshine and generally just loving life and I said to myself,  "I wanna be part of that!” Having never surfed before I, of course, went for totally the wrong equipment. Instead of going for a nice, buoyant beginner foamy, I got a 6'0 pin tail tooth pick that was meant for getting barreled. What’s worse is I later found out the board was snapped in half, stuck back together and cheekily spray-painted. Nonetheless I took to the waves and I was hooked. I’ve never looked back.

What is it that you love about surfing?
This is a huge question to answer and a difficult one to answer without sounding cheesy. It’s a mix of so many elements. Not only is surfing my hobby and passion but it’s my work and my livelihood too, and I am grateful for that. I especially love the travel and adventure associated with surfing and sharing those experiences with your best friends, which luckily enough for me are my business partners. I love being in the ocean and outdoors in the sunshine. I often describe to my non-surfing friends that going for a good surf is like going to a theme park to hit up some roller coasters, except the queues aren't so bad, its all natural and it’s good exercise. 

Did you go to university and what did you study?
Originally I did not want to go to university. I was pretty much forced to go by my parents, to whom I am eternally grateful. I was 17 and, after only having surfed for little over a year, my major life decisions were already being dictated by surfing and that lifestyle. I choose to study in the UK due to finances and the fact the application allows you to apply for six options. I chose the six most southerly and coastal towns and ended up being accepted to the University of Plymouth. I studied Business & Tourism over four years, with a years work in industry during the third year, where I headed off to Australia. 

What was your first job out of university?
We had already planted the seed for Star Surf Camps in our final year at University, so I guess this was my first ongoing job. However to support the business, as we didn't have any revenue until the next summer, I did a number of odd jobs. These included surf instructing, renting boards and part time work at exhibitions. I even found myself in Costa Rica between our first and second season working in a surf shack for $2 an hour! I had moved over especially for a surf instructor job and that had fallen through. 

How did Star Surf Camps start?
Star Surf came about as many amazing things do in life, through good luck. I had wanted to teach surfing to earn pocket money and the surf club had some lifeguard and surf instructor courses going at half price, so I booked myself in. Joe and Pablo were there for the same reason and we hit it off. We used our fresh qualifications to earn some pocket money by teaching first year students how to surf on the weekends. We went on to throw some of the best parties of the year! Joe and Pablo had both had experience working in a surf camp by our final year. I wanted to run a surf tour in Bali and Joe brought the two ideas together. It made sense to bring the three of us together as we each had only a few thousand in savings available. We all needed to back each other. We signed the documents to set up the business with my now girlfriends pen in the same building we took our classes in. We mailed it off, paid the £20 administration fee and that was it! We were off! I remember that day so well.

What is your average working day like?
There is no average day. I'm currently sat on a bus having just visited Plymouth to try and push sales for the university trip we organize for them. The winters are spent in the Canary Islands where we have a surf school, office and surf lodge. Most days I would probably wake up and do an hours work from home with breakfast and then head to the office to work on projects. Of course when the waves are pumping this is a little different. The summers are spent in France making sure our camps run well and the customers are satisfied. This workload ranges from sorting logistics to having a beer and a chat with the guests. I could not do the average desk job after all this. 

What do you love about your job?
Everything! The people I meet, the flexibility, my business partners and the staff, and it’s never ever the same job. Also the exotic locations and always being on the coast is the dream for me.

What do you dislike about your job?
Sometimes the seasonality can mean I can't do some things I would like at certain times of the year and sometimes living where you work for months on end can get a little tiring, but this is me being very, very pernickety. There isn't anything I don't really love.

What advice would you give other people trying to make it in the surfing industry?
Think things through carefully. You have to actually see if you are getting into it for the right reason. Being in the surf industry doesn't automatically mean you get to go to work in board shorts and surf all the time... unless you work for Star Surf obviously…

If you could do it all again what would you do differently?
Take our time with important decisions whilst not dwelling on the insignificant details. When there are three stubborn guys, all with different ideas and opinions it's best to not put everything up for debate. I can't tell you how many times Joe has been rock, Pablo paper and myself scissors and we’ve become stuck on minute details.

What has been your proudest moment in business so far?
Not sure if there are many pinnacle moments, as everything takes time to grow and build. However, just recently we opened our surf school in Fuerteventura and kitted out a nice new office. One day we had seven members of staff in the office and I remember thinking, “Wow things have really changed from part time surf coaching for beer money...” The only thing that is the same is that most of the money still goes on beer.

Where is your favourite break?
Cloudbreak in Fiji, Lakey Peak & Desert Point in Indonesia and at home in Dubai when we get that rare bit of swell and all the boys are out.

If you could go surfing anywhere, where would you go and who would you go with?
I think for me it's got to be Kelly Slater! The man is a legend. I also recently learnt that Steve-o from Jackass is a keen surfer! I wouldn't mind where, somewhere warm, Indo is a favorite or maybe Central America and Mexico.

Where can we find you online?



Posted by: Sarah Price, on April 18, 2014
Categories: Interviews