“Drop in as a guest. Take off as a local.” That’s the motto guests hear when they stay in any of the eight rooms at Surfhouse Boutique Motel, hosted by Superhosts and brothers Nikki and Sander.
“The way travel is going, I think it’s all kind of pulling away from big hotels and resorts. People want to connect with someone who knows the area and gives an authentic local experience,” Nikki said.
And the brothers are stoked to do it. Nikki and Sander, who began as a bellhop and Airbnb home host, respectively, are now riding their second wave in hosting. From 2016 to 2017, they converted a former convalescent home in their hometown of Encinitas, California into eight surf-inspired Airbnb rooms, collectively known as the Surfhouse Boutique Motel.
“We didn’t have the space to cram guests in our own homes, and there weren’t nice places to put people up,” Nikki said. “It’s such a cool little surf town, but the only accommodation options were lower-end chain hotels—not something that represented our area.”
Nikki and Sander designed the property with Encinitas’s local culture in mind: everyone who worked on it, from the designer to the contractor, live in the area; each room features artwork by local artists and is named after a well-known surf break in San Diego, such as Moonlight, Cardiff Reef, Stone Steps, and Swamis. Also inside every room is a discount card the brothers created by partnering with area businesses, so guests can play and pay like locals.
More, the brothers designed the overall stays—which have surf lessons and beach yoga on offer—with family in mind. “Our mom is originally from Norway, so when we were growing up we’d always have our Norwegian relatives out here. We’d teach the kids how to surf, take them to Padres baseball games, and teach them to live as we did for a few days,” Nikki said. “Now, we want people to go into a coffee shop next door, go to the beach all the locals load their kids into a wagon to go to.”
Despite running a boutique motel for the past two years, Nikki and Sander say they identify more as hosts than hoteliers.
“My experience hosting guests prior to opening Surfhouse was nothing but positive. I really enjoyed meetings travelers from all over the country, and even the world,” said Sander, who helped a friend list his condo on Airbnb and then parlayed that experience when they opened Surfhouse.
“We started pretty low with our rates so that we could get as many reviews and achieve Superhost status as quickly as possible. This helped us get more bookings and show up higher on search results,” said Sander, who still works full time in residential real estate, on top of handling the boutique motel’s finances.
Nikki handles the day-to-day interactions with guests. “When I was a bellhop, I was the first and final touch in welcoming guests — I enjoyed that.” To connect with Surfhouse guests, Nikki personally sends emails, talks to guests about any questions and things to do in the area before they arrive, and pops by if guests want surf lessons or want him to show them around town, as he lives a block away.
The brothers say it’s all to focus more on the experience than the rooms themselves: “People will book a beautiful room once, but they will come back many times when they are given a memorable experience.”