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Surf Tips

The Science of Surf Travel

There are many things in this world that can give us copious amounts of pleasure, and the world itself is surely one of them.  Travel to a far away land in search of new and different waves is an exhilarating experience.  But like most things worth reaching for, it can be dangerous or displeasing if done incorrectly.

We as surfers often pride ourselves in the spontaneity of the moment.  We have lives and “schedules” that are dictated by the whims of the ocean.  Sometimes, that “reliable” surf forecast is misleading, and we get a call from a buddy saying that conditions are just perfect!  The wind is just right, swell direction is great, and the wave height is…”just get to the beach…Now!” After all, this is half the fun of it, not knowing what you’ll be doing or what type of wave you will be surfing when you wake up that day.  Call it what you will, but surfers tend to lean more on the impulsive side.  And that virtue (vice, perhaps?) will naturally leak into planning and executing a surf trip to a foreign country.

Costa Rican Surf Mobile

We’ve all been there before:  A surf friend comes up to us and proclaims that the waves in *insert country here* are going off around this time of year.  You, being the avid surfer and trusting friend, agree that it would be nice to be in that sunny paradise, soaking up the foreign rays and dropping in on a new wave.  Said friend says, “Well let’s go there!  Two weeks should be plenty of time to get our arrangements and hop on a plane.”  To most of us this sounds awesome, and it is; nothing like injecting the month and year with a spur-of-the-moment trip.

As much as the aforementioned story sounds fun, invigorating, and adventurous I urge you to be “that guy” with surf travel planning.  I’m not saying you need to you spend the next two years thinking about the country you’ve been dying to go to for waves, but it does behoove you (and your surf companions) to find the happy medium and the objective manner to figuring out the details and preparing for the trip of your life.   Obviously if you are a seasoned surf traveler to the particular country, or you are traveling with friends that have been there countless times and are on a first-name basis with the local bartender closest to the break, then there is a little more leniency with preparation and time management.  But if this is your first time to that new and foreign region, and if your travel companions are as green as you with this topic, then do everything in your power to adhere to the following advice.

Save Your Money

This is one of those “no kidding, dude, this goes without saying” pointers, but you’d be surprised at how many traveling surfers spend their next month’s electric bill on the fee to get their surfboard on an airplane (one of the frustrating, and scary, burdens of surf travel…but that’s another topic).  We all enjoy going to the local watering hole with our closest group of friends, but do something different for the next few months.  Save a few dollars here or there.  If you work a 9-to-5, pack your lunch instead of buying it each day.  It might only be a few dollars, but multiply that times the frequency in which your spendthrift habits occur.  Create a little imaginary bank account on paper, and when you would normally buy something, write it down and keep and ongoing tally.  You’ll be ecstatic when a few months pass and you have hundreds of dollars saved up, when you would have historically spent them on who-knows-what.  Now you’ll actually have something to show for your hard-earned money.  If you are lucky and your group of social friends also happens to be your surf buddies and future travel cohorts, then it’ll be easy to do the inexpensive Friday night (24-pack of beer and watching Endless Summer at your studio apartment…don’t laugh, we’ve all been there before).

Give Yourself Enough Time

We all have to be honest with ourselves, two weeks isn’t nearly enough time to plan an intricate trip to a land unknown.  There are many aspects to research, and with some destinations more than others.  You wouldn’t buy the first plane ticket you see, would you?  Well that train of thought should apply to every decision prior to surf travel.

What’s the best region to go to?  That question alone has many branches to it.  Where are the best waves–accessible to automobiles (unless you’re set on hiking miles upon miles to a break with your board, a pack full of a day’s supplies, and the rest of Mother Nature between you and the waves).  Where is it safe for travelers?  Depending on where you go in the world, there are many hostile regions that, even though they harvest great waves, it would be better to go in the future when political and/or social characteristics change and become more adhesive to travelers.

Part of planning also has to do with budgeting, as explained above.  Just because you’re going to a remote area doesn’t mean it’ll be inexpensive.  That is often times the case, where the American dollar goes far, but do some research on the topic.  Some amenities you may have to splurge on when you never would have.  Some places you really should steer clear of the drinking water because of the indigenous bacteria that is resident there.  You can ease it into your diet (definitely worth it if you are going to be there for weeks at a time), but you’ll have to buy bottled water without fear of getting sick.  That is another consideration, and it is highly advised to bring a little first-aid kit with you.

Pack Wisely

Board Bags Loaded For Travel

This is one of those things that can’t be stressed nearly enough.  Unless you are going on this trip to hit up the bars in a fifty mile radius, you don’t need that nice pair of wingtips, three pair of dress pants, and a wardrobe of clothes that you “might” wear.  Forget about it!  You’re going there to surf, and all you really need is a handful of boardshorts, a pair of jeans, a few sweatshirts (just because the days are blazing hot, doesn’t mean the nights will be sweat-filled), a couple handfuls of wax (make sure you get the right wax for the water temperature you are traveling to), and the necessary toiletries.  Of course there are a few other have-to-haves, but you get the idea.

Bring what you need and nothing more.  There aren’t any fashion shows where you are going.  But possibly the most important aspect of packing is not just the “what”, but the “how”.  We travel with surfboards, and even when we have the five inch padded bags, it still isn’t enough.  Just picture the worst that somebody can do with your boardbag, and keep that in the back of your mind as you pack.  Don’t bring typical luggage, because you have the world’s greatest luggage already…your boardbag!  Pack every piece of clothing around that beautiful surfboard to ensure the safety of your stick.  Your boardbag and a backpack would be plenty of luggage real estate to get all you need to your destination.

Learn the Language

The language barrier that you may run into if you travel to a foreign country could potentially degrade your experience to the point of danger.  I’m not saying that you have to be fluent in the language of the land, but you should have a decent grasp on phrases that you will say or hear to get around the general public.  This will not only allow you to survive the trip, but it will also give you the opportunity to meet new and amazing people, and share verbal communication with them.  This is all tied back to giving yourself enough time to plan before the airplane starts the engines.  If you haven’t had any exposure to the language, then I highly recommend going the extra mile to learn it.  There are plenty of self-study resources out there in the form of books, software, and even online classes.  These are all feasible options, and they will pay themselves back with the first conversation you have with a smiling local.

Learn The Local Language

Traveling abroad is a something that, when done right, will be an exciting and amazing experience that you will never forget.  The waves, the locals, and the times will have you planning your next trip almost immediately.  But surf travel is not something that just falls into place and works itself out; it must be scientifically planned.  With the right approach, though, you will have yourself a time full of stoke.

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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