The Ultimate Guide to Surf Traveling
Surf trips might be seen as a hassle, as preparing for them and deciding where to go might present problems. Prevent unforeseen problems with our ultimate guide.
No matter what you’re doing, the mundane gets to one. If you keep surfing on the same beach break, you’ll eventually start to be bored of the same waves. Every day, the same faces you see on your way to the shore might become irritating even though they’re the loveliest, friendliest, and most beautiful on the planet.
What’s even worse is that it also presents an obstacle before progress. In psychological circles, it’s often said that you need to get out of your comfort zone if you want to grow as a human being. That applies to surfing as well. If you want to improve as a surfer, you need to try your hand on different surfboards, different waves, and different places. So, you need to get out of your home break, jump on a plane, and go on a surf trip as often as you can.
Why You Should Go On a Surf Trip
The only merit of surf trips isn’t challenging your comfort zone either. A surf break can’t always provide you with surfable waves whether due to its weather, climate conditions, or geography. That’s why many advanced surfers go on a surfing adventure chasing that one perfect wave that might be anywhere on Earth at the moment. At certain times of the year, their paths even converge on the most famous surf spots, so you see a vivid and vital surf community flourishing there.
That’s also why you should start planning a surf trip: to enjoy the best surf breaks, to be in the company of other surf travelers, and to visit accomplished surf camps that might contribute to your journey. But there are certain considerations you need to make before planning, like what you need to keep in mind, where you should go, and when. Let the OMBE team address these questions so you can make plans with relative peace of mind.
8 Tips That’ll Ease Your Surf Traveling Plans
Plans for all kinds of trips inevitably lead to a hassle due to the need for research, packing, and various concerns about lodging. However, planning a surf trip can easily be distinguished from others in some very specific points.
First and foremost, you’re packing surfboards, and these boards are actually quite sensitive, especially when they aren’t handled with care. Then, there’s the question of surfing. Ideally, you want to settle in a surf camp, but which one is more suitable for your surfing skills and needs? Lastly, there are all these questions about the surf itself.
So, let’s give you some tips on how to handle these questions when it’s time to travel.
Tip #1: Do Your Surf Trip Homework Thoroughly
What do we mean by surf trip homework? Well, you’re going on a trip to surf, right? So, you need to know where the quality waves suitable for your skills are. Your research shouldn’t end there either, as the question of when is also quite important in surfing.
You might have only a certain couple of weeks free in a given year, and you might have a couple of surf destinations in mind, but none of these destinations might provide good surf during the period you can visit there. In the end, your trip might inadvertently become a sightseeing one on pristine beaches instead of surfing.
How can you prevent that? Surf travel guides mostly inform you when you can find certain kinds of waves wherever you want to go. Yet, that might not be enough. See, the most famous surf breaks on Earth are mostly located where tropical climate reigns supreme, and sometimes, with strong winds and sudden rain hauls, a coast might end up unsurfable for a couple of days. So, you should also keep surf forecasts for the destination(s) you want to visit to ensure you can enjoy the surf as well as the white sandy beaches.
Additionally, getting the lay of the land beforehand will pay dividends later, especially depending on how you’re planning to travel from one location to the next. The very important question of whether it’s feasible to travel by a rental car or if you’ll need to pre-book a boat trip as well will be answered by doing your due diligence on research.
Tip #2: Do Your Cultural Homework
A surf trip doesn’t start with you magically ending up on an exotic beach with a surfboard under your arms. You need to interact with lots of locals during your journey as well. To make sure your communication with locals goes as smoothly as possible, you inevitably need to do some cultural homework.
Especially considering that some of the greatest surf spots are in countries whose culture might be foreign to you, cultural homework becomes even more important. For example, the population of surf-rich countries such as Indonesia and Morocco consist mostly of Muslim people. In such cases, it’s important to learn a few things about their religious priorities to preemptively eliminate any unwitting disrespect you may show later.
Religion isn’t the only aspect you need to heed, either. In some countries, politics play a huge role in the locals’ (especially law enforcers’) treatment of tourists and foreigners, and vice versa. Nicaragua, for instance, despite entertaining quite a big number of surf-friendly shores, was often overlooked by surf travelers because the country’s been in political turmoil for quite a long while. For your safety, make sure that the country you’re going to visit is at least politically stable.
On a sympathetic note, you might try learning some words and phrases in the local language before your visit. It’ll make you look friendly to the locals, and even if they don’t like you in the end, you’ll at least make them laugh.
Tip #3: Don’t Overlook Travel Insurance
Usually, travelers leave travel insurance to the last minute or pay no attention to it at all. Yet, no matter the chill outlook of surfing, it still remains a dangerous sport, especially if you’re going to challenge your abilities on reef breaks, tubes, and particularly big waves. So, it’s better to be prepared in case you have a serious injury that might require you to be helicoptered out, for instance. The alternative, obviously, would be paying exorbitant medical expenses.
Additionally, some of the most surf-friendly countries might also entertain a particularly rich marine life. Such marine life isn’t exempt from its dangers either, as these waters can house crocodiles, sharks, and some poisonous little lifeforms. Furthermore, bugs and flies in exotic places are mostly known to cause allergic reactions that might get serious in quite a short while.
In short, there are all the reasons for you not to overlook your travel insurance. Make sure you know what it entails and how you should proceed in case something untoward happens.
Tip #4: Have Your Lodging Plans Ready
You might know where you’re going quite well, have your tent or van ready, and you might even mark all the routes on a map meticulously. However, the question of where you’re going to settle, albeit for very short periods, is still a question that needs to be addressed thoroughly. Even if you’re the most free-spirited adventurer and the most advanced surfer, having an idea where you’re going to stay is important since if you’re not able to get a good night’s sleep, what good will be your surfing?
For beginner and intermediate surfers, the question of accommodation is even more important. Of course, if you’re in one of these categories, you still have room for progress, and a surf trip will do you good since there probably are all these great surf coaching camps where you’re going. However, you cannot just haphazardly choose one and go there. Sure, they’re going to be accommodating, but will the waves also be accommodating to your skill level?
When you want to have a free-spirited adventure, too, the question of waves is still valid. You might set your camp in a wonderful location, but it might be far from the best waves. So, no matter what kind of adventure you’re about to go on and no matter what your skill level is, you need to make sure that where you want to settle is both comfortable and close to the waves you want to surf.
Tip #5: Surfboard Packing
Of course, we don’t think that you’re going to forget your surfboards when going on a surf trip, but what kind of surfboards you’re going to pack might be a big problem. Especially for those who have quite a large quiver entertaining a diversity of surfboards, the problem of which to pack might present a headache.
Additionally, how to pack these boards and how to handle them during long travels is also an important aspect of surf vacations. Now, let’s address those questions.
What Kind of Surfboards You Should Pack for Your Surf Trip
The years of surfing wisdom suggest that the following three types of surfboards are quite enough to make the most of your trip, surfing-wise:
- A fun board: You probably know that fun boards can perform well to a certain extent regardless of the surf conditions. So, packing one will definitely contribute to the joy you’re going to get out of your adventure.
- A shortboard: If you’re only a beginner or an early-intermediate surfer, you may skip this one and the next, and bring only your voracious longboard with you. If you’re an advanced-intermediate or an advanced surfer, on the other hand, a shortboard will be your best friend, especially on days when waves are doing their best.
- Your step-up board: For surfers who love challenging themselves on overhead to double overhead waves, a step-up is a must. It’s even more of a must when you’re on a surf trip. When you’re testing your skills on new waves, you want more balance and control. In other words, you want to be more assured. A step-up will guarantee that.
How to Pack Surfboards
In an ideal world, surfboards are handled with care by anyone as the precious gems they are. However, we aren’t living in an ideal world, and we don’t know whether the baggage handlers in airports or our local drivers will approach our surfboards with the same reverence as us. Therefore, doing everything we can to prevent any dings without leaving anything to the unexpected kindness of strangers towards our surfboards is the most admissible stance.
How, though? Well, the first and most essential element of a surf trip packing list, maybe even more important than the surfboards themselves, is the surfboard travel bag. The best surfboard bag is the one that’s neither too tight nor too loose.
In addition, it should have ample padding so that nothing goes awry when handlers throw your bag around at the airport as if it’s a bag of potatoes. If further padding eases your mind, you can wrap your boards in towels and whatnots as well.
That being said, you should also check the transport fees and bag-carrying policy of your preferred airline before your flight. Some airlines might demand a fee that’s almost equal to the value of your boards. So, learning how much they’re going to charge you might prevent a couple of unpleasant surprises and the hassle of carrying extra boards. If you can buy a new one from your destination for the transport fee, why carry them all the way, right?
Tip #6: Essential Surf-Related Items to Pack for a Surf Vacation
So, you now know which of your beloved boards you’re going to bring and how you’re going to handle them through your arduous journey. But, although surfboards can be labeled as the essential part of a surf-related trip, they’re hardly the only things you need there. Even though you prefer traveling as lightly as you can, there are still certain items you should absolutely pack to take care of your board.
- Extra fins: Trying to navigate your way through shops in a location you’ve never been before and stressing over whether you were just ripped off for a couple of fins is, simply put, not pleasant. Broken fins, on the other hand, might require you to go through such processes, especially when you’re surfing on a remote reef break. So, packing a few extra fins might save you both a physical and mental clamor.
- Leashes: No matter how great a surfer you are, leashes are a must, and they have a tendency to break. Instead of wasting time trying to purchase a new one in an unknown location, pack plenty of them.
- Surfboard wax with different water temp options: Even if you check the most trustable surf forecast reports, there’s still a chance that you might be surprised by the water temperature of the surf spot you’re going to visit. So, it’s better to pack lots of board wax for different water conditions. We’d appreciate it if you purchase eco-friendly wax over petrochemical-based wax, though.
- Ding repair kit: Dings happen regardless of your skills and how much care you treat your boards. So, don’t forget your ding repair kit at home.
- Soft racks: If you’re going to travel around by a rental car, soft racks are the easiest and safest way to carry your surfboards.
Tip #7: Essential Items to Pack for Any Sort of Vacation
Sun is great, yes, but it also has the potential to hurt you in all the worst ways. So, before a trip, we need to pack certain items to help us self-preserve.
What are those? Let’s find out!
- Rash guard: Being topless is not exactly a forgotten art, but how to take care of the toil of the sun and tropical water on our topless bodies might as well be. A quality rash guard, however, might come to your rescue whenever needed.
- Sun protection: The items we can employ for sun protection may constitute an endless list: sunglasses, sunscreen, zinc, umbrella, surf hats, and so on. Make sure you have those, and don’t forget to apply sunscreen and zinc regularly. After all, sunburns are no joke and can lead to various serious health complications, including skin cancer.
- Reef booties: Whether you’re surfing or not, reefs are dangerous places to be. Reef booties are a must if you want to enjoy your non-surfing time on reef breaks.
- Turkish beach towels: It’s understandable if you don’t want to pack unnecessarily, and towels sometimes might take up too much space. Then and there, Turkish beach towels come to your help. They’re compact, lightweight, and quite useful on white sandy beaches.
- Wetsuit: Tropical climates can get quite chaotic. A sunny and peaceful day might turn into a rainy and stormy one quite quickly. That’s why you always need a wetsuit.
- Surf earplugs: The case for why you need earplugs when surfing is already laid out in great detail by the OMBE crew, but they’re small items that are prone to be overlooked. Don’t forget to pack them.
- Dry bags: It’s essentially an item for the fisherpeople, but as a surfer’s relationship with water is not all that different from that of a fisherperson, you know why you need them: to protect your gear and wet apparel when you’re not on the surf.
- Medicines and first aid kit: If you’re already suffering from health conditions, don’t forget your medicines at home. If you don’t, you still need to pack medicinal items like antibiotics in case of potential infection, probiotics in case your stomach doesn’t agree with the local food and drinks, and active skin repair in case of surfing accidents. Also, make sure that you pack your first aid kit.
Tip #8: Stick to the Shoulder Season to Avoid Maddening Crowds
We obviously don’t have a clue about your skill level or whether you like crowds or not, but the case with most beginner and intermediate surfers is that they don’t enjoy learning the fundamentals of surfing in a crowd. Just listen to Raz, one of our former students, and you’ll understand why a more tranquil setting is more beneficial for progressing surfers.
In most surf destinations around the world, there are two main surfing seasons: the peak season and the shoulder season. The peak season mostly entertains nice weather conditions, good surf, and lots of tourists (surfing and non-surfing alike). Therefore, the basic tenet of the free market economy is in play during the peak season: the higher the demand, the higher the prices.
If you want to avoid crowds and high prices overall, it’s better to stick to the shoulder season. Moreover, if you know where to look, you’ll still find lots of good surf. Where should you look? Well, we’ll get to that in the next section.
5 Best Surf Destinations for Surf Travelers
Okay, now you know how to prepare for your much-awaited surf trip. We only have one vital aspect left to cover: where are you going to go? Surely, all the diversity of great surf destinations and the fact that they’re scattered all across the Earth doesn’t help your decision-making process at all.
Well, let us at least give you the five best destinations where waves of all kinds might satiate your thirst for new challenges.
Located in between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, housing swells from all directions at once (although the Indian Coast is a bit more beginner-friendly than the Pacific Coast), Indonesia has every reason to be on top of surf trip lists.
Add to that the versatility of its surf, and you have the most popular surf hub on the planet. Moreover, no matter what season you visit—the dry season being May through September and the wet season being October through April—you’ll get a consistent swell as well as a good surf. Certainly a surf haven, right?
For beginners who want to learn the basics of their trade and start progressing quickly through the stages of surfing, there are two amazing spots to visit in Indonesia: the fishing towns of Kuta and Canggu, located on the shores of Bali. For those who don’t mind crowds, Kuta should be the priority, as it’s the liveliest of the two towns.
If you don’t want to get mixed up with strangers, though, Canggu can offer a more peaceful surfing experience with waves that are not inferior in terms of quality and beginner-friendliness.
What’s more, there’s a good swell all year round in Bali, and the water temperature stays at a reasonable and consistent number of 27 Celsius (80 F). If you want to avoid the infamous crowd, though, we can recommend you visit the island in October or November (or both!).
There are many great options for advanced surfers as well. The Mentawai Islands have a staggering number of 400 high-quality surf spots, including barrels like North Sipora and notorious waves like Playgrounds. In addition, there’s the Desert Point in Lombok, which is hailed as one of the greatest barrels by some surfers, and the infamous left-hander G-Land in Java. Should you visit between May and November, you may get to see all these wonders.
If you want a more detailed guide on surfing Indonesia, you can always head to our specific surf & travel guide on the country as well.
The world of surf tourism was once dominated by Indonesia, Australia, Hawaii, and even Sri Lanka, while Costa Rica was often overlooked by both beginners and pros. This fact now surely registers as a major injustice, and that’s mostly thanks to the famous surf movie of the 1990s, Endless Summer II, which was mostly shot on the North Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
What’s on the North Pacific Coast of Costa Rica? Well, prominently, it’s the city of Guanacaste that receives all the best swell of the Pacific Ocean no matter the time of the year and the many playas scattered across the Guanacaste shoreline.
The most famous one of these beaches and the one that’s most convenient for setting up camp is the Playa Tamarindo, which is also in close proximity to other popular surf spots such as the Witch’s Rock, Playa Grande, Playa Langosta, and Playa Hermosa.
In addition, you can find many surf camps along the Guanacaste shores, engage in extracurricular activities including yoga, meditation, and horseback riding, and mix up with others who are as passionate about surfing as you are. What’s better is that it’s almost certain that you’ll find good surf, regardless of whether you’re looking for beginner-friendly waves or advanced ones on the North Pacific Coast. Just be wary of the crocodiles, though!
If you want to see a couple of surf competitions and challenge yourself on big waves, the obvious preference should be Puerto Viejo, Talamanca, located on the Caribbean Coast. From January to March, this port town gets a huge swell both from the Southeast and Northeast, and the two big wave spots it houses, Salsa Brava and Playa Cocles, are a joy to witness during that period. You can even see or compete in a couple of pro contests as well.
If you want to learn more about the country, our guide on All You Need to Know About the Costa Rica Surf might help you further.
As we mentioned earlier, Nicaragua couldn’t get any recognition from the surfing world until lately since the country has almost always been in some sort of political turmoil. We cannot wholeheartedly say that the internal power struggles have now come to an end, and you can enjoy a peaceful trip to the country, but still, it shouldn’t prevent us from recommending its many beautiful beaches either.
Especially in terms of the riches and facilities of the surf camps out there, Nicaragua might even be unmatched. Enroll in a program in a surf camp located in the town of San Juan del Sur, for instance, which is like the midpoint of the country’s most surf-friendly shores. They’ll probably take you on boat trips all across the shoreline so that you get to experience all kinds of waves Nicaragua has on offer.
In addition, most of these camps host famous surfers and surf coaches every once in a while, including our head coach Clayton Nienaber, to further reinstate their uniqueness in the business. Maybe it’s just a way to compensate for all the lost years due to non-surfing reasons, but it’s a great way to go nonetheless.
Nicaragua is also one of those surf destinations that get a pretty good swell all year round. Yet, if you want to avoid crowds, you need to stick to the low season: May-November. Although you might get caught up in some unpredictable rain storms, you’ll at least have the luxury of enjoying desolate but beautiful beaches.
To learn more and maybe to book a trip, you can take a look at our guide on the best Nicaraguan surf camps.
Banzai Pipeline, Hawaii
We’re certainly unsure about what to tell you about Hawaii, where to start, or how to proceed.
It’s the place where surfing in its modern sense was conceived. It’s the place where subgenres of the discipline such as big-wave surfing were developed. It’s the place where many of the tricks and aerial maneuvers in the surfing repertoire were first performed. And it’s also the place where the most joyous, raucous, and dumb-founding reef break on Earth entertains many locals, pros, and advanced surfers: the Banzai Pipeline.
Before the surfboard revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, the tubular waves of the Pipe were unsurfable, but once it became surfable and gained worldwide recognition, there was no stopping the flood of people to the North Shore, Oahu.
Now, every year during January and February, the Pipe grants us all its glory and three highly prestigious surf competitions: the Pipeline Masters, which is the conclusive event of the Hawaiian Triple Crown and World Surf Tour, the Volcom Pipe Pro, and the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout.
If you want more beginner-friendly and less crowded times to visit this beast, we recommend you skip January and February. You can time your visit whenever else. For more info about the Pipe, you can check out our A Guide to Surfing the Famous Banzai Pipeline article.
Bells Beach, Australia
Australia has many great surf spots for beginner and advanced surfers alike, but it’s a large country that’s difficult to travel at length during a limited surf trip. So, we’re just going to recommend one of the oldest and most popular spots: Bells Beach.
This particular shore, located in the Southeastern state of Victoria, is surfable throughout the year, has many famous waves like the Rincon, the Winki, and the Bowl, and houses the oldest surf competitions on Earth like the Rip Curl Pro. It’s also the home break of many great surfers such as Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Stephanie Gilmore, and Sally Fitzgibbons.
We should warn beginners before you rush a decision to book a trip, though, as Bells Beach isn’t really beginner-friendly. However, intermediate surfers may find great waves that’ll help them progress quicker than they’d imagine, and advanced surfers will definitely have some of the most entertaining days of their lives on Bells Beach.
For more information about the place, you can read our detailed guide about the Bells Beach Surf.
Having covered all the important aspects of surf traveling and given you a list of the best locations to visit, we see no reason for you to stick to your local break anymore. Go out there, explore, experiment, and play with as many different waves as possible while mixing up with others who cultivate a passion for this wonderful sport of ours.
You won’t only be having fun, seeing amazing sights, and conversing for long nights around campfires. You’ll also progress quite well that even you’ll be amazed at yourself.