Montauk’s Surf Lodge pivots to wellness amid pandemic

Brazilian-born trendsetter Jayma Cardoso helped put Montauk on the map when she launched The Surf Lodge in 2007 — transforming the sleepy fishing town into a popular party destination with live music performed by stars like John Legend.

But with COVID-19 crashing the party, Cardoso has been working on transforming the waterfront property into a quiet lodge that caters to health and wellness retreats, Side Dish has learned.

Gone are the packed cocktail hours and summer concert series that used to draw hordes of beachgoers to a glorious 5,000-square-foot deck overlooking the water. The deck is still used to serve the occasional food and drinks on socially distanced tables, but only for guests of the lodge. The deck’s performance space is now reserved for quiet meditation, socially distant yoga classes and other wellness programs, Cardoso said.

That’s not to say that The Surf Lodge — famous for hedonistic drinks like “The Painkiller,” made with rum and coconut — has gone dry. Imbibing is still part of the program. It’s just now interspersed with acupuncture, meditation and massage.

“It’s detox and retox,” Cardoso quipped. “We were a place to party and now we’re more of a cute little bed and breakfast. Brands and companies are moving towards smaller getaways where people can focus on health and wellness, including mental health, which is now more important than ever.”

The retreats cost an average of $10,000 to $25,000 for up to 18 people for three days, although they can run much higher depending on what services are requested. Cardoso coordinates everything, from the yoga to the food, using her wide network of health and wellness gurus.

For one upcoming retreat — for a clothing company that didn’t want to be named — guests will be able to book face masks (or butt masks) from Bawdy beauty, says Marisa Hochberg, director of wellness and partnerships at The Surf Lodge.

They will also be treated to massage and acupuncture treatments. Early sunset yoga with Cristina Cuomo and Erika Halwell will be offered on the deck where musicians like G. Love and Jaden Smith once entertained massive crowds.

And yes, booze will be served during the cocktail hour. But instead of $85 pitchers of mojitos, guests will be treated to a mix of grapefruit, Aperol and Casamigos tequila along with non-alcoholic fresh juices created by plant-based chef Adam Kenworthy.

“Alcohol has been proven to be healthy for the body in moderation — two drinks a night for men and one for women,” Kenworthy told Side Dish. “Having a drink is a celebration. “It’s a great way to wind down at the end of the day. Everything we serve is clean and organic, from the mixers to the wines.”

Jayma Cardoso, Founder and Owner of The Surf Lodge
Jayma Cardoso, founder and owner of The Surf LodgeGreg Kessler

For Cardoso, the switch was necessary to save her business. Despite its name, the lodge’s 21 rooms were long an afterthought to the bustling food and drink business, which accounted for 85 percent of revenues. But with the lodge’s food and drink services now closed to the public, booking rooms have become the center of attention.

“Corporate retreats are helping us make payroll,” Cardoso said.

Vacationers are still a part of the program when there are no health and wellness retreats, but guests are not there to party like they did in the past. They, too, are treated to a bit of the lodge’s new health and wellness focus, including mini bars stocked with vegan supplements, lip balms, Vitamin C packs and, of course, hand sanitizers.

The retreats, which Cardoso predicts are here to stay, have also helped extend The Surf Lodge’s season and revenue stream.

“We never stayed open past the end of September. Now we’re fully sold out,” she said. “People have expanded their season to get the most that they can away from the city because if there is another lockdown they know they will be stuck in their apartments.”

“I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to the old days. I think people’s perceptions have changed dramatically about larger crowds, and hugging and kissing. I am Brazilian, and l am very loving, hugging and kissing, and now I am very much elbowing people.”

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