Surf travel: 10 useful tips for adventurous wave hunters

October 26, 2021 | Surfing
Surf travel: know before you go | Photo: Shutterstock

Traveling is at the essence of surfing. However, even the most adventurous surf trips require minimum preparation and planning.

Exploration is everything and, if you're a surfer, there's always an innate instinct that drives you to take risks and discover uncharted territories.

At the heart of surf travel is always the quest and dream to find the ultimate wave, the never-before-ridden gem that we've been chasing for years.

There's always a part of surfing that involves unpredictability and luck.

Going with a flow could be an acceptable strategy if you're traveling around your country in a more or less comfortable and well-known environment and culture.

Nevertheless, if you're planning to go abroad and immerse yourself in a far distant culture, there are a few handy hints that could help dodge stressful events.

Surf travel often involves contacting directly with foreign habits and social values, most of which are on the opposite spectrum of our reality.

The goal is to exercise the sense of adventure and enjoy every minute in and out of the water, riding idyllic waves and learning more about distant cultures.

It's also the perfect moment to meet new people and share camaraderie with travel partners.

Last but not least: don't be naive.

Along the way, there will be places where we should not go and individuals with whom we should not be.

For instance, for a European surfer, there's a huge difference between going on a surf trip to Hawaii and heading to North Korea to explore its hidden secrets.

So, let's take a look at a few fundamental surf travel tips:

Surfing: to surf is to travel and explore uncharted territories | Photo: Brandon Compagne/Creative Commons

1. Air, Water, or Land

The first thing you should consider when preparing a surf trip is whether you're going to take a flight, embark on a boat trip, or drive your vehicle to the desired destination or region.

The more you depend on external means of transportation, the less equipment, and travel essentials you will be able to carry.

Traveling by air is by far the most demanding type of surf travel.

Depending on the budget and the risk you are willing to take getting boards into a plane, you will need to make concessions.

If flying is your only option, arrive early at the airport, note down the weight and dimensions of your luggage, and double-check your carry-on case before you pack it.

And remember: try to plan your trip to coincide with the best time for surfing at the desired location.

Once you've figured out how you're going to explore the world, it's time to pay attention to the following details.

2. Packing and Priorities

It all starts with what you're taking on your surf trip.

Picking your travel essentials requires making decisions and leaving several personal items behind.

In other words, be organized - make a list of all the things you'd like to take on the trip and then sort them according to your priorities.

A portable surfer's first aid kit could be more important than a book, especially if you know there aren't health care facilities at your destination.

The trick is to keep your backpack, travel bag, or luggage light and fully optimized with the items that you will really need.

The more space you have available, the more secondary items will be able to carry.

Passport and visa, tickets and travel documents, driving license, travel insurance, credit cards, cash, basic clothes, sunscreen, mobile phone charger, a Swiss knife, and a toothbrush are clearly on top of any surfer's priorities.

Surf travel: the secret is to balance preparation and improvisation | Photo: Shutterstock

3. Gadget Limitation

The modern world transformed gadgets into commodities that we can't live without.

There's always a smartphone, waterproof surf camera, USB-charged surf watch, tablet or notebook computer, headphone set, photo/video camera, memory card, and chargers that we (think we) must take with us.

Prioritize your gi<mos and evaluate their usefulness.

Moreover, expensive electronic items are probably not the sort of things you want to take on a trip to Indo, Africa, or Central America.

In the end, pack your electronics on top, so when security personnel asks to see your stuff, you don't have to dig to the bottom of the luggage.

4. Basic Surf Accessories and Rentals

If you're on a surf travel experience, your main goal will be to ride waves and get to know different surf breaks.

Unfortunately, surfboards are - and will ever be - a not-so-portable and easy-to-handle item. Furthermore, they're sensitive and can easily break into pieces.

If you choose to get on a plane en route to a distant surfing paradise, you will have to make a critical decision: to take - or not - your favorite board(s) with you.

Most airline companies are known for being surfers' worst nightmare. They will charge you a lot of money for taking your boards.

To make things worse, you'll never be 100 percent sure whether your quiver will arrive in one piece at the destination.

Thousands of surfboards have been broken throughout the decades.

So, you've got two options - to take the risk, which requires maximum foam protection, or leave your surfboard at home and opt for rentals.

If you really need your magic board under your feet at all costs, call in advance to make sure the airline allows boards on the plane.

"Under no circumstances should you try to spot your surfboards being loaded by baggage handlers on the tarmac," notes Michael Fordham, author of "The Book of Surfing."

"Inevitably, this will provoke a rush of impotent rage and paranoia. The blue-collared bag-jockey is also likely to play up to your worst fears if he spots you gesticulating wildly at him from the porthole."

Wise advice.

Also, keep the remaining surf accessories to the basic, i.e., pack an all-around leash, a set of fins, a wetsuit, and a couple of blocks of wax.

And remember: if you know you can rent a good board and wetsuit at the destination, surf rentals are generally the wisest option.

You'll travel light and save your beloved quiver from unexpected dings.

Surf rentals: a great option for those who don't want to travel with surfboards and wetsuits | Photo: Shutterstock

5. Insurance

Surf travelers often overlook travel insurance.

However, it might be worth considering it, especially if the policy covers nearly all your valuable belongings.

"Also, check if it covers travel delays, cancelations, curtailments, legal expenses and support, personal liability, and the financial backup of missed and canceled departures," stresses Owen Pye in the book "Surf Travel: The Complete Guide."

"If you need to make a claim keep the receipts of everything you needed to buy, especially medicines or other medical supplies."

"Get the receipts signed by a doctor or other official person, keep them safe, and send them off by recorded delivery within the allocated time stated in your paperwork, so your insurer can't wriggle off the hook on a technicality."

Remember that every surf break has its particular hazards - and some could be potentially serious.

6. Transfers

If you take a flight to a surfing destination, you will need to arrange local transport for getting to the hotel, resort, surf camp, or guest house.

"Choose your ride carefully," adds Fordham.

"Taxi drivers of the developing world correctly look at you as the over-privileged hedonist that you are and automatically presume that you have money to burn,

True. And the same applies to the rent-a-car service. So choose wisely, and always read the small print.

7. Accommodation

A surf trip is always an adventure per se, but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't book your stay beforehand.

Depending on the destination and project you seek to experience, you may choose several types of accommodation.

The simplest option is to camp or sleep in a surf van.

You can also opt for the surf camp, a place where you know you'll meet people with the same interests, and that may guide you through the region's finest surf spots.

There are surf camps for all budgets and demands.

If your goal is to mingle with locals, guest houses, cottages, bungalows, and apartments could be an exciting option.

Finally, if comfort, safety, and sophistication are non-negotiable variables, you may book a room in a fancy hotel.

Surfing: traveling and searching for unridden waves is at the heart of the sport | Photo: Shutterstock

8. Solo vs. Guided Tours

Are you into solo adventures where it's all about you, Nature, and foreign cultures? Fair enough.

"A bit of difficulty on the road to success makes it that much sweeter when you discover it," underlines Jason Borte, author of "The Kook's Guide to Surfing."

"If your eyes and mind remain open, you can find your way around. You might spend half of your trip being lost, but you will have great stories to tell."

"A guide, however, can prove invaluable. Knowing where to go, you will catch infinitely more waves."

It makes sense, right?

So, there's nothing quite like arriving at the destination, getting accustomed to the surroundings, and figuring out whether you'll need support and guidance or if you're comfortable with yourself and your travel partners.

9. Diseases and Safety Management

All destinations and surf spots have their own hazards, so staying healthy and safe when away from home is critical.

If you're traveling to a tropical country, you will probably need to get a few vaccines and appropriate medication.

Diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever can easily be contracted via mosquito bites and blood-borne parasites.

There are ways to avoid being bitten - mosquito nets, permethrin spray, repellant cream, and good hygiene and sanitation.

And remember this golden rule: only drink bottled/boiled water, or use water purification tablets.

When it comes to marine life, sharks, stingrays, stonefish, weeverfish, jellyfish, sea urchins, sea snakes, and even saltwater crocodiles could put your life in jeopardy.

Observe, scrutinize and ask locals about the potential dangers of getting into the water for a surf session.

Finally, be prepared to seek help in case anything goes wrong, especially in rough surf.

A wipeout could result in minor or major cuts and scrapes, bone or skull fractures, sprains and bruises, and other head injuries.

Avoid surfing by yourself - make sure there is always someone watching over you.

Idyllic surf spots: respect the locals and always follow the universal rules of surf etiquette | Photo: Shutterstock

10. Localism and Surf Etiquette

The world's busiest and most famous surf breaks are stressful and inhospitable places to be when the waves are perfect.

Yes, there are hidden and uncrowded gems everywhere in the world, but if you're out of your comfort zone and in a foreign country, respect the locals.

Be smart and show humbleness.

Build bridges between yourself and the local crew - start a conversation in the lineup and ask for advice.

Give away good waves under priority if necessary to gain trust and show gratitude. It's always the best strategy for surfing more and better waves.

And even if your confidence is at its peak, always remember the universal rules of surf etiquette. They apply to your home break and everywhere on the planet.

Extra Tips

Here are a few extra pieces of advice for surf travelers:

1. Whenever possible, plan your surfing adventure outside of holiday periods. You'll get cheaper flights and discounted rates on car rentals and accommodation;

2. Always remove fins from the surfboards before taking a plane, embarking on a boat trip, or loading them onto your car's roof rack;

3. Write your emergency contact details in your passport, make a photocopy of it, and keep it somewhere safe in case something happens to the original;

4. Let your family and friends know where you're going and where you'll be staying. Leave them your contact number, insurance policy numbers, and travel itinerary;

5. Check with your Foreign Office or Department of State as to potential threats in the areas you wish to visit. Knowing where the nearest embassy is located and making a note of its phone number and opening times is a wise thing to do;

6. If you're traveling to an unstable nation with high crime rates, carry a spare dummy wallet with expired defunct credit cards and some loose change;

7. If you're planning to go with a crew, make sure you get on well with your travel companions;

8. Learn more about what you can do when the surf's flat or stormy. There might not be places to visit and things to do while you wait for the next swell to arrive;

9. If you're traveling to a cold water surfing destination, make sure to include a pair of earplugs, a neoprene hood, and boots;

10. Are you planning a boat trip? Choose your charter carefully, check its track record, and make sure it takes you to your dream spots;

11. Use Google Maps to your advantage. Analyze how swell and wind direction will impact the surrounding areas and plan a strike mission.

12. Are you staying at a surf camp? Double-check the facility's complete offer. You may want free internet, inexpensive food, guided tours to the nearest historic sites, a surf photographer for capturing your best rides, and other activities like yoga, fitness workouts, and even - why not? - horse riding;

13. If you're staying at a hotel, lock your valuables, especially the passport and credit cards;

14. If you own an unlocked smartphone, buy a local SIM card, and use it during your journey - you might save good money;

15. If you plan to hire a car on your trip, familiarize yourself with local driving laws;

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