Surf + Love = A Little Bali in Montauk

The story of Journey Surf is a love story and a travel story and a change your life story. Just don’t call it a real life Eat, Pray, Love story. Okay, maybe you can call it that, Tara Lee, co-owner of the paddleboard and surf expedition company based in Bali, told Pulse.

“I guess I am the real life Eat, Pray, Love!” She laughed. “It’s a story about loving what you do and loving who you’re with,” the Wading River native said from her home away from home in Echo Beach, the expatriate haven and resort town on the western coast of Bali.

After a youth fueled by what she calls her wanderlust from a gypsy soul, Lee’s travels brought her to Bali in 2011 where fate, both business and personal, hinged on an impromptu surfing lesson.

“I fell in love with surfing,” she remembered, “and my surfing instructor.”

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That instructor was Markus Gneist, who moved to the island from Germany to create handmade surfboards that also double as one-of-a-kind works of art. The boards, made out of locally harvested woods such as teak are unique boards for surfing but are also hung up in homes as objects of aesthetic beauty. Gneist, a one-time chemist, hand shapes only about 12 of the high-end boards per month which retail for around $900.

The boards are as unique as Journey Surf’s business model: Part travel company, part sport expedition outfitter, part life philosophy dispensary.

Gneist experiments with new kinds of pleasure craft, with one result a cross between a catamaran, a surfboard and a stand up paddleboard (SUP) that’s popular with Journey Surf’s travel clients, and dubbed a “SUP-cat.”

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When Lee and Gneist got together, they combined forces, Lee’s hospitality background complementing Gneist’s surfing and handiwork. The result was Journey Surf, a company that designs custom surf travel adventures in Bali for visitors from all over the world.

This past summer, Lee’s globe trekking came full circle, as she launched the Long Island outpost of Journey Surf at The Surf Lodge in Montauk. At the famed beach chic hotel and restaurant on Fort Pond, Journey Surf offered SUP tours, a “pop-up shop” and lessons in both stand up paddleboarding and surfing.

Lee likes being able to offer SUP and paddling on their SUP-cat boards because it’s a way to open up the philosophy of surfing, with its appreciation for nature and health in a more accessible way. People sit and have drinks, bring their kids, go on overnight camping trips (the catamaran boards dismantle into three portable pieces) all while enjoying the bonding and physical fitness benefits.

Journey Surf still spends half the year in Bali where customers go to Bali for customized retreats organized around surfing or stand up paddling.

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A typical day for a Journey Surf client in Bali reads like an escapist dream: Picked up at the airport by a VIP handler in a 1982 Land Rover nicknamed “Valentine,” the lucky traveler is adorned with the traditional Balinese flower treatment and then whisked to a private villa for the night. The next day starts with a family-style breakfast showcasing the local cuisine before a surfing lesson complete with a dedicated surf photographer taking photos and documenting the entire trip, both on land and in the water. A five-day expedition might also include forays into SUP paddling and instruction in Balinese line fishing, before culminating in a big local fish barbecue on the beach. And it’s all done on island time, a state that Lee describes as magical and a special kind of lawless.

“It feels kind of like the Wild West,” she said. “We want you to find your happiness,” is their elegantly simple business credo.

Lee customizes those individual trips for a myriad of occasions like family reunions, bachelorette parties, fitness and yoga retreats or simply personal vacations for travelers who are inspired to escape the tourist trap and see an authentic and varied Bali. Travelers don’t need to be salty surfing veterans to experience the Bali retreat.

“Most of our clients are beginners [at surfing or SUP] and a lot of people who want to do something different with their family and create a memory.”

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The Journey Surf love story extends to a wider inclusive philosophy of love, said Lee. That’s why the company donates 10 percent OF all profits to charity, offers military discounts and is working on a way to get clients on wheelchairs onto the paddleboards. And when Lee comes back to New York, she hopes to bring a little bit of that Bali calm with her.

“I definitely won’t be complaining as much. Bali teaches you to be patient, and slow down. There’s a saying here, ‘tidik apa,’ don’t worry about it.”

But Lee is a little worried, at least about the big things—She recites a to-do list of “Follow your heart, do things that are good for you and good for your body and help people on their journey”—and so maybe a half-Long Islandese, half-Balinese existence is in order. A business that is trying to strike a balance between fun and meaning, pleasure and purpose, with a bunch of travelers trying to balance on boards: It’s a metaphor fit for even that best-selling memoir.

Jacqueline Sweet

Jacqueline Sweet

Jacqueline Sweet is a freelance journalist and writer who covers local news and writes features for local and regional publications. She has published work in national magazines like Salute magazine, Family (military) magazine, Triathlete magazine, regional publications like Long Island Pulse and Long Island Parenting, and reported local news for online outlets like LongIslandWins.com and Patch.com. She has been covering health, wellness, fitness beauty, spa and travel for Long Island Pulse for several years.