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The Art Of Surf Travel

One of the most exciting things to do as a surfer is travel the globe in search of the perfect wave.  As modern day surfers, we are fortune enough to have 90% of the world’s most wonderful breaks at our fingertips.  For those of us that are surfers in lifestyle, we go on a daily basis to “our” break.  Or possibly you have a handful of breaks depending on the tide, swell direction, wind, or crowds.  Regardless of the locations in your geographical quiver, we rarely span beyond a few miles of coastline.  This is due to a few realistic reasons:  time, money, and non-ocean obligations.  But we fall into this routine that dictates the “where”, “when”, and “how”.  We get comfortable with the waves, the different factors that the ocean compels on us, the affects of that area, and even other surfers that we recognize by sight, sound, or style.  There is a lot to be said about being “in your element.”  It allows us to concentrate on intrinsic factors, such as performance, emotions, and everyday thoughts.

This comfort in the form of local familiarization needs to be shattered every once in a while.  And we all most likely do this as well.  For those of us in the continental United States, we often take trips down the coast, up the coast, or to the opposite coast.  But conditions tend to be very familiar (especially on the same coast as “your spot”), with only the scenery changing.

Now close your eyes (well, please don’t keep them closed, because this article does continue).  Picture yourself surrounded by what could be considered a different ocean in a different universe.  A few hundred yards’ paddle (or shall I say meters) leads to the first physical indication of land; a land that is completely different than what you’re used to, and an ocean that is even more unknown.  Even the sand is forced through your toes with a different feel.  Nothing looks the same.  Nobody speaks the same.  The wave has a different feel, both on the face and tumbling underneath the powerful grip of her aquatic hand.  You are here, with the only knowledge as a dot of ink that can be placed on map, somewhere between the green and the blue.

Traveling to a different country in the search of perfect waves is the closest thing you can get to the first wave you ever rode.  There is the element of the mysterious, both in the ocean and in the surfers surrounding you.  Every instant of the first couple of waves has all of your senses sprinting at full speed.  It’s a wondrous feeling, and a rush worth searching for.  The paddle out is enticing, feeling what seems like a different body of water altogether.  Where are the rips?  Are there even any rips here?  What is the seafloor like?  Sand, rock…reef?  Coral reef potentially is a very exciting and first-time experience for many new traveling surfers.  The feeling of that column of water dancing and mirroring every change of the coral and translating that to the bottom of your surfboard is exhaustingly exhilarating, dangerous, and fulfilling.  Wiping out over reef is a science worth exploring.

There is a duality to international travel for waves.  The flip side of the excitement and experience of traveling can be had on dry land.  Some of the most memorable people and times you will have will be in a land where every event is something new.  What is the daily routine to the locals is a completely different lifestyle than you’ve ever seen.  They are either attracted to you or repelled by your very own physical communication.  Smile a lot, and often times you will be smiled back at.  Even if you have the rent-a-car special to get from the airport to your place of sleep and to the breaks, don’t use the car to get around the neighborhood.  Walk…enjoy the scenery and the new faces.

Costa Rica from the air

Often times foreign travel in search of waves brings us to countries or regions where the language is different than our native tongue.  Many people call this a language barrier, but don’t look at it with that spin.  You don’t have to be fluent to immerse yourself in the culture of the people, and that includes verbal communication.  It is extremely advised to have a certain grasp on, at the very least, key phrases.  It is not unheard of that an area or region has zero English influence.  Sure, in some of the more developed areas where tourism has taken a spot in culture the English language can be heard, almost as mainstream as the United States.  But do not rely on that, especially if your destination is more remote than the “popular” breaks around the world.  Pick up a book, or buy some software and dedicate hours, days, and weeks to learning at least the basics of the foreign language prior to traveling:  It will make the experience not only better, but also gives you the ability to absorb every aspect out of the cultural immersion.

As mentioned above, there are foreign countries with great waves where the locals know English just as well as they know their domestic tongue.  I challenge you to shift outside of your comfort level, and what is expected of that “American surfer”:  make your best effort to speak their native vernacular.  They will appreciate it more than you can imagine.  Then when you get home you can speak all the English you’d like.

Few activities lead to such physical, mental, and emotional bliss as surfing.  Throw in a new, mysterious wave in a foreign country and you have an experience that will last a lifetime–and one which will leave you staring at a map for the next aquatic adventure.  Step outside of your bubble and plunge into the unknown…and then paddle for the next perfect wave.

(Check back next week for the sequel to this article: The Science of Surf Travel)

Tommy DePalma

Tommy DePalma is a lifetime surfer, spending most of his time on the North Carolina coast. He enjoys traveling up and down the East Coast in search of great waves and empty breaks.

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