Kjeld Schigt just wants to make people happy. That’s the simple way to explain why he left a career with BP and other global corporations to run a resort in Costa Rica. Obviously, most people dream about ditching the rat race and settling near a beautiful beach, but for this visionary, it was about taking a concept he already loved and turning it into what he believes to be the perfect version of it.
That concept is a surf resort, and Schigt had already been taking trips to such a property in Brazil to hone his water-based talents before he began to question his path. “I like to have an impact,” he explains. “I like to be creative.” So, he discussed his future with the people closest to him and eventually realized that while he loved taking that trip, it wasn’t consistent. Sometimes it was great, sometimes not so much. After some soul searching and studying, he realized what he wanted to do and ultimately founded the luxurious Kalon Surf resort in Costa Rica.
A lot happened along the way to beginning this courageous endeavor, including choosing a destination, hiring the right team, and, before everything, his first attempts at surfing during various trips to Argentina and Brazil. “Surfing is incredibly difficult,” he readily admits. “It’s a struggle. But when you’re in the water, everybody’s the same. It depends on your own capabilities and how much you put into it, but in the end, everybody can learn to surf.”
Also a struggle is opening a resort of any kind, let alone one that promises to teach guests how to ride waves. It was a huge investment for Schigt and his wife, but all great dreams require immense sacrifices. The result thus far is a beautiful property that offers stylish accommodations that allow guests to kick back and revel in a glorious day spent learning new tricks, honing old skills, or even overcoming lifelong fears. Six Luxury Ocean View suites deliver stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, while a pair of Junior Suites boast jaw-dropping jungle and ocean views, and these backdrops are enhanced so magnificently by the creature comforts of each room.
Guests seeking extra privacy and space will undoubtedly love the Toucan Bungalow, a two-bedroom setting just a hop, skip, and a jump from the main building, so the exceptional amenities are always nearby with the benefit that other guests aren’t. In all, these rooms serve up the best of what adventurous travelers have loved about Costa Rica for so long: immense natural beauty, unmatched serenity, and excitement around every corner.
Beyond the rooms, however, is the reason guests have chosen to make this resort an annual vacation destination: the surfing. It’s easy for a property owner to post a job ad for surf instructors and just hire any board-rider off the beach. But for Schigt, HR was the hardest part of getting Kalon Surf up and running. He wanted the best of the best so that guests are guaranteed an exceptional, authentic learning experience, and that required a lot of time for choosing instructors, both locally and from other countries, and then luring them to Costa Rica with an opportunity that’s as good for them as it is for guests.
So, what does a visit to Kalon Surf entail? Shockingly, Schigt explains, there’s no surfing on the first day. “We pick (guests) up from the airport and get them to the property. They eat, they get to know the people.” After the first day, the surfing depends on the water. “The ocean dictates what time we go surfing, so let’s say we go surfing at 10, then you have your breakfast afterwards. We do a pool session to make people a little bit comfortable with the board—how to sit on it, how to pedal on it, those kinds of things. We show them some videos of intros on safety and what they need to be aware of at the beach.”
The team also makes guests aware of the beach’s dangers, but fortunately there are no sharks here to worry about, so mostly it’s a lesson on currents and understanding where other surfers are, because no one needs War Child showing up to deliver wave justice. After the surfing, there are delicious snacks and meals, plenty of video analysis, and even some yoga to keep the arms and legs fresh and loose. There are also off-property tours and excursions because this is Costa Rica, after all, and there’s just so much to be explored.
One of the best things about the Kalon Surf experience is the group setting. Guests work and learn together each day, so more experienced surfers can play the role of motivator as well, and everyone can cheer for their peers as they advance and improve. That makes the nightly dinners even more fun, because friendships have been made between people who would have otherwise never met each other.
Encouragement and comfort always go a long way in convincing people to keep trying something so difficult. Everyone is built differently—mentally and physically—so surfing might sound like a fun thing to try, but one bad lesson could murder ambition. This makes the instructor’s task even more difficult, especially when dealing with varying ages. Schigt estimates that most guests are between the ages of 35 and 65, with 82 as the oldest.
That begs the question: Can everyone leave Kalon Surf with the confidence to keep surfing anywhere else in the world? If they’re willing to put in the practice, Schigt is confident that almost every guest—he estimates 90 percent—will return home with a new skill to brag about.
“I saw it last week,” he recalls, “we had a woman staying with us. She was 32. It was her dream to learn surfing and her Instagram story on day one was, ‘This was the goal for my week and I got it in day one.’ Like virtually everybody stands up on day one, and then we practice. We teach them throughout the week to make small turns, and then usually on Thursday, Friday, we take them to the green waves and often they’re good with surfing them.”
The most common misconception that guests have, he says, is that surfing is easy. Another is that strength is important, which it is but it’s also not the key to success. Most importantly, guests just have to overcome their mental obstacles and his team will handle the rest. And the strong connection between instructors and their students is what will hopefully keep the latter coming back for more.
“Maybe it sounds corny and cliché, but we really love them,” Schigt says. “You come to us for a great experience and our job is for you to have a great experience.”