10 Years in San Juan del Sur
… and What I’ve Learned
David Alan Golichowski owner of Good Times Surf Shop on “Good times” and bad and how he got his nickname.
I could tell you that the secrets to success in business are keeping your nose out of trouble, having patience to work daily toward long-term goals and always treating your customers with attention and respect, or some other golden bologna. But the fact is, anyone who knows me also knows I’ve seldom done any of those things.
When I first came to San Juan del Sur I had no idea I would be opening a business. But in those days you couldn’t just get a job. There were none. As a foreigner I was expected to be an “inversionista.” An investor, a job creator. I wanted to stay, I wasn’t ready to go back to the 9 -5 routine and I was petrified of looking for a job again. (Looking back 10 years later I’m certain I’d be worth millions if I had gone back to California. But I don’t have any major regrets about that, my friendships here are priceless). So I took my $7,000 and bought “the business” – 30 shitty surfboards, a rental contract, and the paperwork – from my Spanish teacher’s brother in law.
So why the surf shop? It was actually my local friends who gave me the idea, and the encouragement. People were so welcoming in those days. I couldn’t say no. Sometime during my first month here I stopped into the Republika bar. I said something to the effect of “I really like it here.” Yaoska, the owner at the time said, “You should stay!” (Sorry Yao, but you are the first person who made me think about staying in Nicaragua permanently.)
The idea terrified me. Not the idea of running a business, but of running a surf business (because I was really a lousy surfer and believe me, although I love the water, I still am today). I didn’t want to be seen as a fraud or a kook. I cringed when people referred to me as “Surfer Dave.” That is why I called the shop “Good Times Surf Shop”. The original name was “Outer Reef” and I realized one day (while shuttling some young English folks back from Remanso) I would probably never surf the Outer Reef, nor would 99.9% of my customers. But we would always have a hell of a good time out there.
It wasn’t until years into my life in Nicaragua that I realized that somewhere in my teenage subconscious there had been a dream of driving a 4×4 through the jungle with surfboards tied to the roof. I literally had that dream, sometime during high school. And it came true.
It was beautiful in those days. Incredible, being on that boat, surfing virgin beaches with nobody else around, places where there are billion dollar resorts now. Back then just a few coconut palms.
My biggest obstacles in the business were not my competition, local government, the global financial crisis, the index of the average daily expenditure of a tourist in Nicaragua. None of the above. My biggest obstacle was that I was an anarchist and a rebel who had left the US in search of authenticity, and the last thing I was going to do was to disgrace myself by commercializing adventure, or fun, or to rob my fellow of the audacity that his soul so ached for. Nicaragua was the last authentic place on earth. “Unica … Original” is our tourism slogan. I believed in it and still do. For that reason I hated the idea of advertising outside of Nicaragua. I saw it as a cardinal sin. If you went on one of my boat trips I wanted you to feel lucky enough to have found me, lucky enough to have wanted to go where few had gone before.
Contrary to some rumors, I had no wealthy backers, no family money, just a bunch of shitty surfboards, a rental contract, and some loyal friends who encouraged me. One day my neighbor came by and said “David. I admire your work ethic. I see you working so hard. You’re up at sundown, repairing surfboards, with your shirt off. You look so great with your shirt off.” I said “Take it easy there buddy!”
I worked very hard. And I expected others to work hard. And that’s how I got my nickname, “Boss.” It surprised the hell out of me when people who never actually worked for me started calling me “Boss”. Maybe I’ve been hard on people. But I don’t mind the nickname. I’m an inversionista. A lot is expected of me.
Times change, and not just in Nicaragua. The whole world has changed. We have Instagram, Facebook, etc. “Life in San Juan del Sur” is not even a real thing now, it’s a Facebook group.
I’ve had ups and downs, strikes and gutters. But all in all, “That’s life, I’ve done it “My way” and of course “With a little help from my friends.” This year we are opening a new shop in Gigante with a surf school in partnership with Liquid Sessions. Early next year Popoyo Surf will open in Las Salinas. And I am hoping my experience and dedication to authenticity will add value to my work as a part-time agent with Aurora Beachfront Realty, which is a truly a terrific organization with a team I appreciate equally as much as the staff at Good Times.
So what have I learned? 1. Keep your nose out of trouble. 2. Work patiently towards long term goals. 3. Always treat your customers with attention and respect.
Good Times Surf Shop is a full service surf outfitter dedicated to authentic experiences. We offer core surf accessories and clothing. We buy, sell, trade, and rent a full range of new, used, and interesting surfboards. We provide world-class surf instruction. We offer tours and transport to the Nicaraguan surf breaks.