Interview with Travis Bays, owner of Bodhi Surf School
Location: Uvita, Costa Ballena, Costa Rica
Today's Date: 11/11/2017
How did you get started with owning a surf camp and why did you pick Uvita as your location for Bodhi Surf School?
From 2005-2007 I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in the Community Economic Development program. My role was to help start small businesses and support the growth of the local economy. After serving for two years I went to work at Peace Corps HQ in San Jose. After finishing my contract with Peace Corps I was offered a job with Fundacion Integral Campesina to develop and improve community credit enterprises, essentially non-traditional community banking systems. In order to execute the project I had to move back down to the southern pacific area of Costa Rica which is truly rich, both culturally and environmentally, speaking. A few years later, my wife and I, along with my buddy Gibran and his spouse, started to discuss combining our passions for surfing, yoga, community economic development, conservation and education. Thus, Bodhi, a sanskrit word for awakening, consciousness, enlightenment, was born.
What separates Bodhi from other surf camps?
Bodhi has a higher purpose to awaken, enlighten, and bring consciousness. We use surfing, yoga, nature immersion and community engagement as tools to facilitate unforgettable learning experiences in nature with the intention of bolstering individual long-term pro-environmental action. We teach inside a Marine National Park and limit our capacity to 12 people in order to provide high quality personal service. We are the only surf and yoga camp in the world to earn the distinction of being B Corp Certified, which means we have a rigorous set of standards that will continue to drive our business forward as an agent of change at the grassroots level, and serve as an example that inspires others — individuals and businesses alike — to be conscientious of their own impact.
What is a typical day like for a guest at the camp?
Our guests are excited to learn and so we start our week with a local community walking tour that provides them with a great opportunity to engage with the town. During the stroll guests receive an overview of the history, flora and fauna and local digs. The following days start early around 7am with a morning surf lesson followed by a healthy breakfast. Now that we have a small pool, I suspect guests will take a splash, otherwise they might rent a bike and take a ride around the small town of Bahia Ballena - Uvita to scope the local scene and re-visit some of the places they became familiar with during the community walk. In the afternoon they will enjoy a very thorough yoga class and finish the evening with a family like group dinner. Lights are usually out by 8:30-9pm as everyone is stoked to get some rest for the next challenges and achievements tomorrow will bring.
What special programs do you offer for potential visitors?
Visitors are always encouraged to join community events and projects when their help is needed and their knowledge and skills can be used appropriately. Some of the programs we are currently working on are a coastal reforestation project called Semilla de Ballena and a plastic free initiative called Bahia Ballena Plastic Free. Every now and then we will invite a community leader to have dinner or provide a short discussion on responsible travel, local environmental initiatives, or another topic of interest.
What does it mean that you are a B-Corporation?
In November 2016, Bodhi Surf School underwent the application to become (and was approved as) a Certified B Corporation. B Corporations are for-profit companies that voluntarily commit to meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance in the social and environmental realms of their business. They are certified by a global, third party nonprofit called B Lab®, which meticulously reviews nearly every aspect of the business: governance, workers, community, environment, as well as the product or service that the company offers. Currently, there are 1,966 companies in 50 countries spanning 130 industries that are able to claim this designation — 296 of them are in Latin America. Bodhi Surf is the fifth business and the only tourism company in Costa Rica that is B Corp Certified. Not to mention we are the first surf and yoga camp in the world to become a B Corp!
Describe your involvement with the community to reduce plastics.
In 2016 we hosted the winners of our annual Ocean Guardian Contest, Jay and Chantal from Life Without Plastic. Hearing their story and learning about their business made us re-evaluate our business model and environmental impact. From that moment on we decided to make the journey to refusing single use plastics as much as possible and to inspire others to do the same. On June 8, 2016, World’s Oceans Day, we invited people from approximately 15 local businesses to gather at the offices of local boat tour operator, Bahía Aventuras, located in Bahía Ballena, Osa, Costa Rica. The mission of the meeting: to discuss the environmental problems caused by single use plastics and develop realistic, implementable solutions. From that initial meeting, several companies made the change to start refusing and reducing single use plastics. That same year, the tourism operators association of the Marino Ballena National Park decided to reduce single use plastics during their annual Whale and Dolphin Festival.
Then in 2017, three local nonprofit organizations and the recipients of Bodhi Surf + Yoga’s Travelers’ Philanthropy Program donations (ASANA, Geoporter Costa Rica, and Forjando Alas), gathered to develop a strategic plan on how to use that funding. During the meeting, all three organizations decided to support the formalization of the Bahía Ballena Plastic Free Initiative. Finally, on Earth Day (April 22, 2017), these organizations along with Bodhi Surf + Yoga launched the initiative, with the primary focus being to refuse and reduce single use plastic consumption, provide alternatives, create awareness about how plastics are suffocating the oceans, and provide viable solutions in their home community. The focus of Bahia Ballena Plastic Free Initiative is based in the communities of Costa Ballena (Dominical, Uvita, Bahia, Ojochal) located around the Marino Ballena National Park, a high-profile coastal tourism destination which hosts up to 170,000 visitors annually.
What issue are you working on with the United Nations?
We are currently evaluating how to better incorporate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into our business model. We will probably select 3-5 goals and develop a platform that will allow us to innovate and grow. We are constantly looking at ways to improve and I feel the SDGs and B Corp are great launching pads to build businesses that can be used as a force for good.
What are your plans for the school’s future?
Short term or long term? Short term, be present. Long term, be even more present. The more present we are, the better we can serve others, adapt to change, innovate and continue to serve. I'd like to think we will build out a model that can be duplicated by others. My hope is that the surf and yoga tourism industry will start to share best practices and improve upon itself, to be the best version it can be, constantly. Surf and yoga camps/resorts/schools truly have an important role to play in creating a better world, the majority just haven't realized that yet.