'If the surf's up I head straight to the beach'

The Local Spain
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'If the surf's up I head straight to the beach'
Morgan Howie surfing at El Sardinero (La Concha) Santander

In the latest installment of My Spanish Career, The Local talks to Morgan Howie, an American surf enthusiast and graphic designer who traded land-locked Columbus, Ohio for windswept Cantabria.


What brought you to Spain?

Most of the summers of my childhood were spent on the Costa Quebrada, just west of Santander, because the only extended family I have is on my mother’s side and they live here. So growing up in the USA I had always thought about living here at some point and then one year things just came together. I moved here and telecommuted back to the states; that was in 1998 when telecommuting via the internet was just about becoming possible.

What is so great about living in Santander?

Santander in terms of quality of life is a very comfortable place to live mostly because you can walk or cycle to everything from work to the beach. The mountains, villages and beaches of Cantabria are also very accessible. So with out too much effort or planning you can work and still get in a lot of living. Put it this way, when I wake up in the morning I check the surf cams and if the surf’s up I’ll head to the beach, if not, then I switch on the computer and get down to some work.

Surfing everyday is great but how do you make a living?

I didn’t  move to Spain to maximize my career potential (I don’t think anyone does) so the key to living here is keeping your costs low and being rich in free time which I do by working independently as a website and graphic designer as well as using my bilingual skills for translation and teaching jobs. A variety of local cultural and environmental projects have also kept me busy over the years. About 5 years ago I also set up a side business with my brother-in-law of a live HD streaming webcam network at key surf beaches in Cantabria and Asturias.


How has Spain changed in the last few years, in terms of entrepreneurship?

I lived through the so-called "boom years" here in Cantabria and observed the attempted transformation to the American model of consumption and growth and then watched how things came back to reality. And that reality is a socio-economic environment which is difficult for business and even more so for entrepreneurs. The resources are limited but even more limiting is the low level of innovation and risk-taking. Most initiatives which take hold here, whether in business or culture, have already been proven years beforehand in other countries. 

What are you trying to do with the surf camera business?

The idea was to give surfers, fishermen, and beachgoers a view of the beach which is almost as good as being there in person as well as providing useful meteorological information all within websites localized to their own social network and advertising.  All this means less wasted time and money, less strain on the environment and on work/social relationships and more quality time having fun while also promoting local commerce, surf and associated culture. 

How easy (or not) has it been?

The business model was to support the costs with advertising from businesses local to each cam which makes sense in an economy dependent on tourism.  

But as I mentioned the local economic situation and mindset have not been ideal for projects of this nature but the business model has been even more hampered by unforeseen factors such as a 10 metre swell that knocked out a cam in Somo in 2014 and a local surfer in Suances who took against the cam in Los Locos and pulled some political strings in the central government in Madrid to get it taken down a month ago. 

Even with these drawbacks the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in general and the network gets over 1.5 million page views a year with visitors from all over Spain and Europe. So the idea is to stay positive and keep growing the network with the hope that eventually things will come around. 


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