“So many of us come from challenges and struggles in youth and then learn to emerge into a place of joy,” explained Rainbow Surf Retreats co-founder Rich Overgaard. “In the surf space too, that joy just comes through when it’s a bunch of queer folks. There’s more solidarity, there’s more fun, there’s more laughter while doing this [objectively] challenging thing. You don’t feel like you have to code switch. You can high five and hug, and that’s so often missing from heterosexual male spaces.”

Founded in 2023, Rainbow Surf Retreats is a globetrotting retreat focused on building queer community in the waves. “This is a runaway hobby for the both of us,” laughed Steven Redant, the second half of the Rainbow duo. “Basically we’re going where we would like to go surfing and taking a bunch of people with us so we don’t have to surf alone. That’s our business model.”

Surfing had always existed as an idealized possibility in the back of Redant’s head growing up. But his home country of Belgium wasn’t exactly close to the ocean and while moving to Barcelona may have put him closer to water, the flat Mediterranean didn’t offer any breaks to explore. It wasn’t until life hit a breaking point for Redant that he escaped to the Canary Islands for one purpose: to surf. “I’m pretty sure if I didn’t have surfing, I would have overdosed by now,” said Redant. “It literally saved my life. I was really busy with my DJ career, but I was extremely unhappy. I was going through a divorce. I had some problems with substances and I wasn’t behaving well. My escape was packing my shit up and then I went surfing.”

He continued, “A friend of mine told me, surfing is going to ruin your life and save it at the exact same time. And that’s what it did. The more important surfing became, the more it was ruining my old life, which I wanted to get rid of anyway.”

Overgaard fell in love with the sport after a surf safari in Costa Rica in 2015. “I was always connected with sport in my life, and I loved it,” he explained. “I was a hockey player growing up in Canada, then I was a rower in university. I’d always been interested in surfing because I just love the water. Then I went on a trip to properly learn to surf and I fell in love with it. It was a spiritual thing to surf when you’re out in the waves and there’s other people.”

The cold waters of Tofino, a several hour drive from Overgaard’s home in Vancouver, Canada, lacked a certain appeal for the new surfer. Instead he opted to travel tropical, surfing in warmer waters a few times a year. In fact it was one of those trips, or rather its aftermath, that set Rainbow Surf Retreats into motion.

Steven and Richard hanging out.

“I came home from a trip to Mexico super sick,” he explained. “I was stuck in bed for two weeks right before Covid took off. I was so bored. [Also when] I came home I was like, Where are all the queer surfers? So, I created the surfergays Instagram account. I started searching for people and sending them a little message. Like, ‘Hey, can I feature you?’ That’s how Steven and I first connected.”

A year later Overgaard reached out to Redant with a crazy idea. It turned out, Redant was on the exact same wavelength. “I was already thinking of setting up a surf house, or organizing trips,” he explained. “Then [Rich] hit me up and said, ‘Hey, you want to organize something together?’ I think it took a week. Then [Rainbow Surf Retreats] was launched.”

That inaugural retreat was the first time Overgaard and Redant met in person. Redant laughed as he recalled, “I arrived completely heartbroken because my ex had dumped me three days before. I was in a super mood. My friend, [who was joining us], was already there for three days. He just took me by the hand and 10 minutes later I was in the water. My heartache was over. That was it.”

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Taking over the hotel in Panama, the Rainbow Surf Retreats group made up the majority of the quiet line up. Redant explained, “The experience is so different to go on a gay surf retreat. You don’t have to butch up. No throwing elbows. No having to paddle extra hard to make sure someone doesn’t drop in on you. We take the testosterone out of the line up.”

“I’ve been on [other] surf retreats. Most of the time I was the only gay guy. Not a problem, but it’s not as comfortable as just being around your [people]. There’s no need to explain. There’s no need to hide. There’s just you. And that makes such an incredible difference.”

Rainbow Surf Retreat doing yoga together.

Some of that feeling of safety is intentionally crafted by Overgaard and Redant, working with the coaches to create a welcoming environment. “The team we work with at our host camp is wonderful. They’ve embraced us. They’re bros, but they’re sweet, caring, and respect what we’re doing but,” said Overgaard. “There’s an intensity still. Out in the water, it’s loud, there’s a lot going on. Keeping people safe is an important part of the job. But one of the [coaches] is fierce. Tough. Very go, go, go style of coaching. A couple of folks came up to us and were like, ‘Can you guys talk to the [coaches] about how they talk to us?’”

He continued, “We all have experiences as gay guys in male athletic spaces where it didn’t go well. Some memory of gym class from our youth where we felt bullied, ostracized, or less than because of who we are or are pretending not to be.”

“That’s now a basic thing I explain at every retreat around the world,” added in Redant. “[Saying], listen, they’re adults but these people are more sensitive. No screaming, it has the opposite effect. Just be nice.”

It’s all little steps that Overgaard and Redant are taking with Rainbow Surf Retreats, but the impact is huge. By listening to participant feedback, they’ve created a welcoming environment for all members of the queer community. “The fact that the acronym keeps getting longer every year is also representative of even within this thing that we are, it’s complex and it’s complicated,” said Overgaard. “As a cis gay man I don’t know what it’s like to be non-binary or gender diverse. I don’t know that [experience] until I actually meet and interact and get to know [people] outside of social media. For me, you don’t really learn and find that connection until you experience it.”

Though the queer community is made up of infinite variety, its true beauty is seen when everyone comes together as that iconic rainbow. Overgaard smiled as he reflected, “We’ve had trans folk on the trip. We had a bi guy last year, which was really fun to have him enter and bring a different energy as well. But all in all [when we all surf together], there’s just more solidarity, there’s more fun, there’s more laughter.”

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But the surf retreats are not just a place for participants to be themselves, it’s a place for people to discover themselves. “Last December this guy came with a friend who invited him,” said Redant. “He wasn’t feeling very secure about his sexuality, didn’t know which [group] he belonged to, he was still looking for himself. Then he started surfing.”

“He caught on pretty fast. Then every day that he got better, you could see how much more secure he felt within the group and with himself. It was a gigantic evolution. He blossomed and then, he was there.”

At Rainbow Surf Retreats, he was able to find a part of the queer community he felt at home in. The most visible part of gay culture is the bar scene. It’s fun. It’s flashy. But it’s not what everyone connects to. Overgaard expounded, “There’s just such a craving for a connection that isn’t in some box with a bar and liquor, […]which can be about sex. That’s cool, sex is great. But these trips are about friendship, kinship, and solidarity. Being out in nature, connecting to others, achieving something, celebrating successes, creating something really magical.”

Redant laughed as he recalled, “The first year we had one guy arriving like, I’m going to hook up with a bunch of surfers. You could see it. And so for the first two days he was really disappointed.”

Overgaard added, “We get up at 6:00A.M., go surfing, rest, show up to the pool, go surfing [again], have some drinks in the pool and watch the sunset, and go to bed.”

In summary, the group is too busy surfing and enjoying yoga to squeeze an orgy into the schedule. Participants find freedom being able to form connections outside of the hookup culture that can dominate queer spaces. Even if at first, they may be disappointed. “He’s one of our biggest fans now,” grinned Redant referring to the participant who thought he was showing up to the surf season of the Bachelor. “He had the best week of his life.”

Rainbow Surf Retreats having lunch together.

Looking forward, Overgaard and Redant hope to host more regular retreats, but their primary goal is to grow the number of queer surfers. “In a way, we have to build our own clients,” said Overgaard. “Taking rookies, people who have never [surfed] before, but always wanted to. Giving them a good experience so that they become surfers. Then come again, join other communities back home, or create their own.”

“A great success of ours is that half the people who’ve gone through the retreat and were rookies now want to travel and surf.”

Along with creating a world wide community of queer surfers, the duo hopes to create more of what Redant refers to as “collateral damage”:

“The collateral damage is that we change the minds of the local people [in the retreat locations],” he explained. “The places we’re going to aren’t necessarily out LGBTQ spaces. Panama, Morocco, Indonesia. But what you see is that the laws do not always represent what the people feel and think.”

“Last year in Morocco, the staff was like, What is this going to be? They were a bit jumpy. In the end, they came to thank us because we were the most respectful crowd. Always friendly, always helpful.”

“I was just talking to one of the surfers who works at the hotel [in Morocco] and before we went there, he had never told anybody he was gay. Never. Now he’s coming with us to Bali. So if we make ourselves visible, just be ourselves, it matters. That’s how you change minds because people are only scared of the unknown.”

He grinned, “that’s the kind of collateral damage I like.”

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding when she isn't reading.

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding when she isn't reading.


Watch Rainbow Surf Retreats
IG @rainbowsurfretreats
Steven Redant @stevenredant
Richard Overgaard @rovergaard




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