Get Up, Stand Up

Tim Campbell is a former Australia postman who landed on Phuket for a short holiday on his way to South America, fell in love with the island, and started a surfing business

Tim Campbell is founder of Talay Surf, a pioneering Phuket business which runs surf tours and stand-up paddle lessons, as well as rents boards to daily chancers like yours truly. I first met the heavily bearded Tim at his beach restaurant Skyla's. Located at the northern end of Kamala beach, one of a chain of stunning stretches of sand that make up the west coast of Phuket, the rustic wooden structure had a handmade feel, and I had the distinct feeling Tim and his friends had done exactly just that. Newly arrived on the island I was overdressed in pink polo, chino shorts and flip flops, while he was wearing singlet, boardies and barefoot. He offered me the chance to go for a paddle, but it wasn't until a few months later that I took the plunge, and became immediately hooked, even taking part in the island's annual SUP races. While I've moved off the island and back to cities (though writing this I'm already feeling the pull of the ocean), Tim is still living the dream, raising his young family the only way he knows how.

Mate, what are you up to these days? How's the surf?

Island life on Phuket is fantastic, at the moment though it’s bittersweet as we have no international tourists and aren’t making any money - but at least we do have southern Thailand and all of its islands, reefs and white sandy beaches all to ourselves. And with less tourism the waterways are increasingly pristine and sea life seems to be coming back, with more sea turtles being seen. So we are definitely appreciating what we have and making the most of it. There is also a great connection with the people who are still living here, The island feels like what it was over a decade ago, where people are doing life and business with only other locals and it’s definitely a much more real and rich living experience rather than just existing for the traveler who blows in and out.

How have Thailand’s surfing, stand-up and skateboarding communities evolved since you first started your business?

Thailand and especially Phuket has seen a boom in surfing and SUP in the last 12 months. With the loss of international tourism, it has been very timely with an influx of Thais travelling to the coast to try the country’s latest fads, namely surfing, SUP and surf skating. Tied with the government’s local travel support programmes, it’s made it easier and cheaper for Thais to travel around the country and embrace these crazes. It’s amazing to see so many locals embrace these new sports, as only a year or two ago it was difficult to get them into the water as many of them are not water confident and afraid of the ocean, but right now they are literally jumping in and getting amongst it.

What do you consider to be the main attractions of SUP?

The peace that you get when you are floating in the middle of the ocean and the beauty of nature that you experience while you’re out there, it definitely fills the soul. Not to mention the added physical benefits. When SUPing correctly means you are engaging your core muscles and having a strong core is the foundation for all your other muscle groups. After some regular SUPing, your back, hips, legs feel so much better. When you’re able to get just a morning surf or SUP in, the rest of the day feels like a bonus.

I’m always impressed when we get older people coming along to try, I once had a 65 year old lady from Europe come to try surfing for the first time, she was brave and had a lot of guts. These type of go getters inspire me that life can be embraced at any age.

Not many people know this, but you were once a postie

Haha, yeah, I found myself living in Sydney, Australia after a stint of world travel and I applied to be a postie [postman], which seemed to me be a cruisy job that allowed me to not be in an office all day and help me make some quick cash. The Australia Post interviewer must have had a sense of humor because she still ended up hiring me even though I rocked up to the interview wearing thongs (flip flops, to non-Australians).

How did you land on Phuket, and what has kept you there?

Phuket was just meant to be a stepping stone for me, only a few weeks then moving on to South America, but the island bit me and I fell in love. Now with a wife, three lively daughters, a community of friends, and being in a unique position to pioneer and also contribute to the growing surf culture here, it would be very hard to consider leaving.

How have you seen the island change since you arrived?

Phuket being swamped with travelers does take its toll on the environment. There is so much that is good about Phuket but as it develops, the infrastructure lags behind and so does the education and government push for better sustainable environmental focus. I just hope that it’s not too late, and Phuket’s beauty is protected not destroyed.

You've said skateboarding is finally taking off in Thailand?

Ridiculous is the word to describe this new ‘surf skate’ boom. You literally can’t buy a surf skate board in Thailand right now, everything is pre-order only. The Phuket government have started using surf skate as a way to promote tourism to Phuket and they are running regular skate festivals around the island, not to mention every hotel is now offering skate and surf hotel packages. Like I said ridiculous - 12 months ago you would ask people to come and try surfing or even skating and they would be too shy or scared to try, or even have this strange blank look on their face because they don’t know what you’re talking about. Now everyone can’t stop talking about it. It’s very exciting to see, especially for surfing as Thais are embracing the ocean in a big way.

You mentioned you’re building a beach house in Phang Nga?

Yup! We are very excited as we are about to break ground on our new community style accommodation, which we hope will be a place where travelers and locals can connect with others, forming a fresh community. Guests will be able to participate in our ocean related activities but also volunteer with our other community projects. Phang Nga is a great central hub, close to Phuket international airport and all that Phuket has to offer, the surrounding stunning islands, the wow factor of Krabi’s landscape, Khao Lak and the delights of Phang Nga Bay. Watch this space my friend - and then come and stay!

I’ve always wanted to know, what’s 'Yeewll' mean to you?

‘Yeewll’ is a vocal expression of how you are feeling in the moment, it is a word that is always pronounced loud and with excitement. It’s used when you have done something that has made you really happy or it’s for someone else who is doing something really cool, and you want to show your encouragement to them. A good example might be catching an epic wave or seeing someone else catch an excellent wave. It’s one word that just encompasses so much feeling, respect and appreciation. Got it? Yeewll!