Running a business in Byron Bay can be a transient affair of high rents, a fluctuating tourist population, and the bid for that prime location. But what if you just come up with a formula that works? Enter Woody’s Surf Shack. They are that winning formula of surf culture meets nightclub hot-spot, replacing such night spots as The Carpark, The Verve and C-Moog in the North-Eastern corner of Woolies Plaza.
CG chats to Caitlin Leiweke and Loren Nowland of Woody’s Surf Shack on the eve of their birthday party on December 8th about their successful business. To honour the occasion we have a $100 bar-tab giveaway which you can find out more about HERE.
Tell us a bit about yourselves and Woody’s Surf Shack?
LN: I grew up in Canada but ended up in New Zealand because my dad is a kiwi. New Zealand was really the land of opportunity for me. I learned a lot and really cut my teeth in the industry there- which definitely prepared us for Byron’s well established market. We still have ownership in the bar in Queenstown, so it’s nice to have that connection, but we really feel like Byron is home now.
CL: I’m from the West coast of the States, studied fine arts in San Francisco and then ended up in sales and marketing after uni. My background in art and design really informs my approach to the business, so it has all come full circle.
Our partnership works well because each of us brings something unique to the table. That allows us to really hone in and focus on what we love doing. My pivot point is the creative side of things and I have so much fun with it. It’s so liberating to not have to be a jack of all trades and to really specialize and focus on your strengths. That’s the beauty of a great partnership.
Loren’s been in ‘hospo’ for 15 years and he’s just a natural. He’s one of those people that found his career path really early on and has never veered from it. I’m partial to him of course, but I think he is just amazing at what he does.
How did the idea come about of bringing a surf themed night spot like Woody’s to Byron Bay?
LN: Every time we visited Byron we longed to find a place to hang out that really captured the Byron vibe. So we saw a niche in the market.
CL: Definitely. When we travel we always find we really want to feel like we’re in the place, if that makes sense. You want something genuine and unique to where you are. That’s what we tried to create with Woody’s. We wanted a concept that was really authentic to Byron and we were inspired by the eclectic group of surfers who laid down roots here in the 60s and 70s. Our goal was to create a space that was attractive to locals, but also something that enhanced and built on the Byron experience for visitors.
Your location has seen the Carpark Nightclub, The Verve and C-Moog (all of which have come and gone), what is different about Woody’s?
LN: I think our approach is a bit different. All the past incarnations have been true blue nightclubs. We were keen to create a more relaxed vibe that appealed to a broader range of people. Every night we go to work, we try to throw the legendary house party- you know the ones where you’ve got people dancing in the lounge, a group having a yarn in the kitchen, people getting it on in the toilet. (Only joking, only joking). No but really, the vibe at a great party comes about because you get such a mix of people and a mix of stuff happening. It’s inclusive, rather than exclusive.
CL: Absolutely. Working with a concept that’s both iconic and relatable, and executing it in a way that’s specific to Byron- was really important. Plus, that 1970s era of surfing in Byron is still so relevant- you can still catch that vibe in town. There’s something so seductive about that era.
Why Byron Bay, what drew you to the place?
LN: Lifestyle. It’s tough to beat the Byron lifestyle. We love it. We always said we wanted to end up here someday and that day came sooner than we expected.
CL: For sure. Lifestyle and opportunity. We were living in Queenstown and looking for another project there. One thing led to another, we expanded our search and found an opportunity in the Byron market. And after those cold NZ winters dragging the heater from room to room, we were keen to wear our thongs year round!
Woody’s is involved in a big way within the Byron Bay community, can you give us more of an insight?
CL: We consider Byron home, and we’re laying down roots. When you have that long term vision of living in a place, that just further incentives you to have a holistic approach on how you interact in the community. There are so many people contributing positively to the community here and we just like to be a part of it.
LN: Totally. We think it’s important to do our part in the community and to support the efforts of people who are really going out on a limb for others. We’ve worked on a few projects with some different charitable organisations this year. We recently worked with Simon Jones of Morning of the Earth surfboards and together we donated an autographed Michael Peterson board to Aussies for Orphans for their fundraising auction in August. It was an exact replica of the board that MP rode in the MOTE movie, so it was a pretty unique. Simon shapes a board for us every week for our Big Wednesday surfboard giveaway, so it was cool to take that concept and do something over the top for a good cause.
What’s one of your favourite things about Byron Bay?
LN: The waves, the weather and Beloporto.
CL: There’s a lot to love about Byron, so it’s hard to pin it down. The fact that it’s a small town with a global vibe and a creative spirit is brilliant- and really rare. There are so many small businesses, designers, artists, farmers and entrepreneurs in town and there is something really satisfying about living in a community that sustains that. It’s magic.