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16 Steps to Planning + Enjoying an Epic Surf Trip

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

Tips for organizing a dream surfing getaway that's filled with adventure, stoked travelers, and of course, legendary waves.

While there’s lasting joy in living near a coastline with renowned surf, there’s something to be said for embarking on an adventure to discover new waves. Not only does a surf trip offer a platter of fresh swell but provides time to play on said swell until your skin is salt soaked and wrinkled. In addition, as many of the greatest waves in the world crash on tropical shores, the waves aren’t the only thing you’ll be relishing.


Because we are a family with a super experienced surfer, a person that thinks a two foot wave is terrifying, and a 6-year-old, we go on frequent surf trips, with the caveat that we can access waves that suit all levels of ability and are located in areas that feature more than surf.


However, it took us ample trial and (expensive) error to figure out what type of surf trip was right for us. These tips are a result of these hard-earned lessons, and will hopefully support you in crafting a surf-centered adventure that stokes out everyone who said yes to the journey.



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1. Create surf criteria with your fellow travelers.

Eric surfing Angourie, Australia

Before selecting a destination for your surf trip, have a powwow with your fellow travelers to come to a consensus on the types of waves you want to surf, additional activities you’ll want to engage in, the preferred form of accommodation, timing and budget.


During this talk, you might discover most of your travel companions want to camp in a locale with hard-to-access, under-utilized surf. Or maybe, most of you prefer simplicity over an uncrowded wave, and are inclined to stay in a vacation home in an area that has easily accessible breaks and a variety of recreational activities.


In addition, consider the range of ability levels you’ll be traveling with, and select an area that caters to all. This criteria will simplify and inform the next step.



2. Do your homework.


Now that you know what your group is hoping to get out of the surfing getaway, you can dive into research about areas that check all your boxes. If you’re looking for more under the radar finds, don’t stop your search at the first few Google results, as you can be sure numerous travelers have also read those articles and will be frequenting those areas. And don’t skip over travel forums, as this is often where nuggets of undiscovered-surf-spot wisdom lives.



3. Research the waters.

While you’re searching for surfable destinations, look into surf conditions, water temperatures, and sea creatures in those areas during the time frame you’ll be traveling. This research might lead you to discover that the waves in a certain area will be way too big for your group, or non-existent, during the time of year you’re wanting to visit. Or maybe, average water temps will talk to you into packing a full wetsuit.


In addition, sea creatures such as sharks and jellyfish are concerns in certain locales in certain months - make sure you’re not heading to such a place during that time frame. Or, make sure you bring gear that helps minimize the attention you may get from these critters.


Finding Secret Swell Tip: Discover potentially underutilized surf spots by using Google Earth to virtually scour the coast. However, before you hit up such a spot head to a local surf shop to glean more information about your discovery, helping to prevent mishap.



4. Think about hurricane season.


Look into if or when the surf destinations you’re interested in habe monsoon or hurricane season. If your only window to travel is during that season, think about choosing a new dot on the globe, or getting trip insurance in case weather puts a kibosh on your trip.



5. Bring the right boards.

After you select the ideal destination, do additional research on the types of waves you’ll likely be surfing so you know what boards to bring. In addition, make sure the selected boards are in good condition, and do any repair work before you head out.



6. Consider joining a surf camp.


If you and your fellow surfers are beginners, or unfamiliar with the surf in the destination you’ve settled on, look into surf camps. Surf camps not only ensure you’ll receive crucial instruction regarding the water and surrounding area that will help keep you safe and firmly planted in a state of stoke, but will also simplify lodging, food and transportation, as many provide all of the above.



7. Research the surf culture.

The boys on Gold Coast, Australia.

Now that you know what to expect from the creatures in the water, get to know what to expect from the people in and out of the water. While there’s standard surf etiquette that applies in almost all locations, research might reveal specific customs in the area you’ll be surfing.


You might also learn that some of the spots you’ll surf are frequented by locals, meaning you need to tread lightly and be super respectful - which I suppose we should do regardless of location. Beyond the waters, look into the laws and customs of your chosen locale, especially if it’s in a country you’re unfamiliar with.



8. Ensure you have the proper documentation.


As many surf trips will have you traveling internationally, you’ll need to have a passport that’s valid for at least six months after the return date of your trip. In addition, many destinations require visas and proof of certain vaccinations. Do research through government websites to verify the docs you’ll need to bring. We’ve seen surf trips get seriously derailed because these requirements were overlooked.



9. Select accommodations within walking distance of a preferred break.

Now that you know where you want to surf, see if you can find accommodations that are within walking distance of one of your preferred breaks. This proximity will minimize travel arguments, as surfers can access waves in their own time. Airbnb or VRBO are usually your best bet if you’re trying to find a vacation rental close to a more obscure area.



10. Consider board bag costs when booking your flight.


Some airlines are super accommodating when it comes to board bags (here’s looking at your Virgin Australia) while others charge a hefty price to lug your hefty bag. If, for example, you’re deciding between two flights, locate the sports equipment baggage policy for each of the airlines to discover which offers the best price, and weight and dimension allowances that suit your needs. If flight #1 is $450 but only charges $50 for board bags, and flight #2 is $400 but charges $150 for a board bag, you’ll save with flight #1.



11. Buy a quality board bag.


If you don’t already have a board bag that has the merits to protect your boards during long haul flights and trips down bumpy roads, do yourself a solid by getting one. Ensure the padding is 7-10mm, has tail and nose inserts, and board separators.


It’s also important to note the dimensions most airlines allow for board bags, and ensure the bag you buy doesn’t exceed those parameters. In addition, plan to pack your wetsuits, swim trunks or suits and other soft clothing in the bag to add padding. However, be sure to regularly weigh it as you pack, making sure it doesn’t go over the airline’s weight allowance.



12. Bring extra surf essentials.

Leashes break, fin keys get lost, sun kills wax... stuff happens to the surf tools you need, equaling a total headache if you find yourself 30 miles down a potholed road with pumping surf in front of you and a surfboard that’s not good to go. To avoid this unfortunate situation, pack a rescue kit with extra...


-Leashes

-Leash strings

-Fins

-Fin keys

-Wax

-Comb

-Ding repair kit


Shoot for two extra of each. And now for a tip from my 90-year-old Texan grandmother who always carries duct tape... always: Bring duct tape because it fixes everything... everything.



13. Pack a surfer’s first aid kit.


Because nothing can derail fun quicker than an injury, or even worse, a wicked sunburn, load a first aid kit with all the surfer essentials.


First off, get a basic first aid kit and pocket guide, then add the following, or making sure it’s already in there.


-Zinc oxide

-Zinc oxide based lip balm

-Sunburn soother

-Rash balm

-Vinegar (soak a jellyfish sting with this)

-Swim-Ear Drying Aid

-Eye drops

-Steri strips

-Pain relieving antiseptic

-Advil or Tylenol

-EpiPen

-Electrolyte packs



14. Make a plan with the non-surfers in your group.

If you have folks who won’t be catching a wave while traveling with you, determine how you’ll work together to ensure they also have an amazing experience. For example, maybe you make a plan that surfing will happen in the morning, and group adventures will happen in the afternoon. Or maybe the non-surfers are cool exploring on their own while you surf.


Having clear expectations set before you depart will minimize hurt feelings and frustrations during the trip. We could have prevented some serious rows had we only practiced what we’re preaching.



15. Hire a cook.


Because food prep and clean up can siphon prime surf time, consider hiring a cook to prepare (and clean up after) at least two meals a day for your group. This is especially beneficial if you’re traveling with a big group, and (usually) super affordable if you’re surfing in Central America or Mexico.



16. Rent a 4WD vehicle.

While you’re hopefully staying right next to some great waves, you might know, or will likely hear about other amazing surf spots while you’re there, that require a drive. Keep your options open by renting a 4WD, as many of the best waves are at the end of a dirt road.


This car will also offer more adventure opportunities for the non-surfers if they want to explore while you’re dancing with the waves. Make sure the car you rent can fit all the surfers and boards, or bring roof racks and tie downs.



Insurance Tip: Many credit cards offer rental car insurance for cars booked under that card, minimizing the need for the insurance rental companies strongly suggest. Verify this coverage by calling the number on the back of the credit card you’ll be using. If you’ll be renting a van or motorhome, let the credit card company know, as these vehicles might not be covered.



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