Life, Love, and Surfing
By Tori Phelps | Photography courtesy of Surfari Charters
When your days are spent surfing, fishing, and hanging out on the beach—all in the name of helping guests enjoy the adventure of a lifetime—the line between work and play gets pretty fuzzy. Lance and Kristin Moss, owners of Nicaragua-based Surfari Charters, aren’t sure whether their life is all work or all play, but they’re loving every minute of it.
Trading a comfortable existence in Florida for the rigors of building a life and a business on a remote Central American coastline isn’t for everyone. When the couple first began exploring Nicaragua two decades ago, the universal response from friends and family was, “Are you crazy? Isn’t there a war there?” But witnessing their undeniable success, not to mention their contagious happiness, has a way of changing minds. It’s safe to say that today, nobody who knows the Mosses could imagine them doing anything else.
Not surprisingly, the couple’s road to both Surfari and happily ever after started on the sand. Pennsylvania native Kristin turned down a Division I lacrosse scholarship in favor of Saint Augustine’s Flagler College because one was on the beach and one, well, wasn’t. During her freshman year, she tucked a surfboard under her arm and headed to the shore, where she none-too-politely shot down Lance’s offer to give her surfing lessons. She concedes that she could have used the lessons but was wary of the Flagler junior who seemed a little too “freewheeling” for her tastes.
Lance did live in a beach house and tear around campus in a pickup truck, but he was also a business and accounting double major who was pretty darn serious about his life plans. Raised in Niceville, Florida, the son of a fighter pilot stationed at nearby Eglin Air Force Base, he had always been into water sports like boating, fishing, and surfing that were simply a part of life on the Florida Panhandle. And though he opted for weighty degrees, he couldn’t imagine life without surfing. So when he recognized a feisty kindred spirit on the beach, he persisted until she agreed to a date. Before long, the two were inseparable, and their 2005 wedding took place—where else?—on the beach.
They had already been operating Surfari Charters for a couple of years when they tied the knot. Lance had bought the tract of land while still in college, unable to resist when his landlord mentioned that a friend was selling property in Nicaragua. “I met with both of them, and they showed me a VHS tape of a truck banging through the jungle and pulling onto a secluded beach,” he recalls, adding that a Costa Rican surfing trip the previous year had ignited a love for Central America. “I was sold on the property sight unseen after two waves on a VHS tape.”
Thanks to reliable offshore winds, their fifty-mile stretch of southern Nicaragua coastline is replete with beach breaks, point breaks, river mouth breaks, reef breaks, and other waves that make it a surfer’s paradise.
With some help from his roommates, he pulled together the five-thousand-dollar purchase price and, later that summer, took his girlfriend, Kristin, and her sister, Lauren, to scope out the property. They discovered that the land was, indeed, in the middle of nowhere, with zero transportation, restaurant, or hotel options. They eventually found a local willing to rent them a room in his house and, after a while, got used to the chicken who laid eggs on their pillows. In the meantime, they fell in love with the fantastic waves and the even more amazing Nicaraguan people. By the end of the trip, Kristin and Lance were determined to make it their home.
Two college graduations and many nights of waiting tables later, they had saved enough money to start Surfari Charters. Loading up a Toyota Land Cruiser and making the (permanent) drive from Niceville to Nicaragua may seem like an act of blind optimism only the young would dare, but the pair had a number of things working in their favor. For starters, both spoke Spanish; in fact, Kristin had double majored in Spanish and Latin American studies. And their property was located in a perfect spot to launch a company that specialized in surfing and fishing charters. Thanks to reliable offshore winds, their fifty-mile stretch of southern Nicaragua coastline is replete with beach breaks, point breaks, river mouth breaks, reef breaks, and other waves that make it a surfer’s paradise. It’s the most consistent surf zone in the Americas, Lance contends.
Even so, most vacationers need a little more than great waves and freshly laid eggs on their pillows, so the couple invested in beautiful beachfront accommodations and a lodge where their all-inclusive guests can enjoy meals and a full bar. This combination of an exotic destination, a pristine environment, and a modern-meets-surfer-chic vibe is why Surfari Charters is booked out for months. The demand is so high that they’ve partnered with two neighboring properties to offer visitors a luxury beachfront stay that can be upgraded to include Surfari’s meal plan and charters.
Whether they’re hosting a group of die-hard surfers who also crave some serious fishing time between wave sessions or families looking to make lifelong memories in the surf and sand, all guests receive fully tailored service. Surfari only hosts two groups of three to four people at one time, allowing not only a customized experience but a smooth, seamless holiday. “Surfari takes all of the guesswork out of the equation,” Kristin says. “Our surf guides are great at putting guests on the best breaks for their preferences and abilities, and now that we’ve grown alongside so many of our guests over the years, we know what they hope to achieve during their stay and can make it happen.”
She’s not exaggerating when she says they know what their clients want. About 75 percent of their business is repeat customers and, thanks to the quality time the Mosses get to spend with guests on the charters, the relationships run far deeper than vacationer–business owner interactions. It’s like having a group of family members come to stay with them every week, Lance says.
“Lance and I are big believers that the energy you put out there creates the energy you get back. We try to live our lives as positively as we can for ourselves and our kids, and things sort of come together.”
They do have some first-timers, too, and part of welcoming them into the Surfari family is introducing newcomers to the real Nicaragua. Contrary to what’s often reported stateside, the country is generally very safe, and the area in which Surfari Charters operates is even more so. The Moss family, which now includes sons Hunter, 4, and Ryder, 2, wouldn’t stay if security was an issue. They believe the area is safer than many US cities.
What enchants new arrivals most about Nicaragua, though, is its people, whom the Mosses have found to be extraordinarily kind and humble. “They’ll take the shirts off their own backs to help someone out,” Kristin says. “The Nica people are very family oriented, and many have become our family over the years.”
Of course, other members of their family still live in Niceville, where the Mosses return each year from mid-December through April. The annual visit allows the kids to soak up some Americana and to spend time with their grandparents, who live just three doors down from the family’s Niceville house. Both halves of this dual-nation life contribute immensely to the boys’ upbringing, their parents say, and they don’t intend to mess with that model.
What started as Lance and Kristin’s desire to create something they love with the person they love has turned into a legacy they believe is worth passing on. Sure, they want the business to be financially successful, but they measure the real value of Surfari in the relationships they and their boys have forged with Nicaraguan locals and guests that have become friends. Calling it a lifelong gift, Kristin says they wouldn’t trade those connections for anything.
With seventeen years in Nicaragua under their belts, Lance and Kristin have spent nearly half their lives in the country, and its culture has seeped into their souls. Both are naturally inclined to laid-back, mindful living, but the time in Nicaragua has strengthened their belief in the power of now. “Lance and I are big believers that the energy you put out there creates the energy you get back. We try to live our lives as positively as we can for ourselves and our kids, and things sort of come together,” Kristin says, poking fun at herself for the seemingly flighty sentiment. “But truly, life is short. We want to run Surfari with all of the people we love, put aside some savings for our kids’ futures, visit family when we can, and keep living in the moment with our awesome little dudes.”
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Visit SurfariCharters.com to book your trip!
Tori Phelps has been a writer and editor for nearly twenty years. A publishing industry veteran and longtime VIE collaborator, Phelps lives with three kids, two cats, and one husband in Charleston, South Carolina.