A friend from university and fellow avid traveller, Reece Wartenberg from Driftsole Media, is today’s guest blogger. He shares his surfing secrets into finding the best surf spots while globetrotting around the world. As Driftsole Media say, ‘Adventure is for everyone’ so check out these ways to find epic surf spots and plan your next vacation accordingly.
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Do you consider yourself a surfer? The problem is you’re not sponsored, and never will be. Sponsorship’s not the point right? That’s the position I’m in and at times it can make getting my surfing fix quite a challenge. You see, I’m also a tourist/ traveler/expat/ foreigner/ outlander and new countries mean that new information is necessary if I’m going to get waves. A lack of knowledge and personal connections are the path to long spells of no surfing, regardless of country. That doesn’t mean there aren’t waves to be ridden. There usually are! I’ve learnt from my mistakes; if you’re living in a country that has a coast, there will be waves. Good waves, even. You just have to find them. These are the steps I take to finding surf. I haven’t come out dry yet.
1) The internet
This one seems obvious, but you need to know where to look. Before heading to Indo for the first time at sixteen I found Wannasurf. It’s been my go-to surf information site ever since. Back then I printed out info for some 20 spots on Bali and the nearby islands and lugged the notes around in a flipfile – no smartphones and wifi in the good old days. Twelve years later I’m still using Wannasurf as it has a lot of good information often uploaded by people who’ve actually surfed particular breaks. Magicseaweed is a newer version of Wannasurf, complete with surf reports. Both sites allow users to upload photos of waves which can be a good indicator of how popular an area is. Websites are not the be all and end all though. Remember the majority of the world’s surfable waves are not listed online.
Next I’ll look to the web pages of surf shops or surf schools in an area. Often they’ll review some of the surfing in their neighborhood. If you strike gold, they’ll have a webcam for their local break! Check out this one for Barcelona! Yes, I’ve surfed in Barcelona. When it’s good think 3-4ft offshore beach breaks. Beautiful.
2) Social Media
Instagram is great. There’s almost always a surf-dedicated Instagrammer in any coastal country. Check out @fisupsurfing and @SURFCORNER for waves from Italy that will shock you. I felt shocked when I saw their pics of waves, from The Med! If you look at enough photos, and you pick up on small pieces of evidence, you can quickly work out where the breaks are.
There are often Facebook pages dedicated to helping people find out about surf in an area. One excellent example is the Hong Kong Surfing Association who upload iPhone clips to their page most mornings so you can get a feel for what the waves are doing. Without them I wouldn’t have had half the waves I’ve had since arriving 8 months ago. Phuket Surfer Girls in Thailand often upload photos too.
When using social media remember to have your wave filter on, always. People will upload photos of twenty foot Jaws to a Thailand page – I’ve known Bodyboarding Thailand to do this.
3) Friends of friends
A common tip one hears is “speak to the locals”. Let’s be honest, that’s crap. Locals don’t care much for visitors so unless you’re related to one you can probably forget being shown around. When I’m at home I definitely don’t advertise my favorite breaks. Having said that, you’ve still got to speak to somebody.
In an expat environment in particular friends of friends can be surfing info gold. Once you’ve had a look online and know the basics of an area start asking around. If you meet someone who surfs you could be on to something – you’ll want to have done some research though as the more information you know beforehand the more information you can get out of an opportunistic conversation. Talk to people about what you’ve seen online and what your options might be. It will help to validate some of your ideas. If you’re lucky you might even crack an invite!
As a disclaimer, always be weary of “surfers”. You know what I mean, those people who “surf”…once every six months. I’m all for all kinds of people enjoying the ocean in any capacity, but a twice-a-year surfer is, by definition, someone who sometimes goes surfing. It’s a bit like me saying I’m a triathlete ,because I did one triathlon in high school, so I know the best areas to train. In any case, the information will be unreliable. Take all ‘advice’ with a pinch of salt until you’ve seen the evidence with your own eyes.
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4) Explore alone
Since leaving high school, where I had a multitude of dedicated surfing buddies, I’ve learnt pretty quickly. If you don’t go alone, you won’t go (most times).
Explore alone, but be prepared to fail. Season, swell size, direction and period, wind speed and direction, tide – there are a million factors which can make or break wave quality. Heading down to the coast to find waves can be challenging, particularly when you are constrained by real life responsibilities, and you have no idea where to go or when. In Hong Kong, for example, there are about 50 pretty great beaches. Three of them get waves you’d want to bother with. Just hitting the road in search of waves will, 9 times out of 10, lead to failure. If you have no other option though you just have to do it. I’ve found waves this way in the past, but it takes time and effort. Kata Noi in Phuket being my most memorable; a tubey little wedge off the rocks on the point. After I’d found it, and had the conditions worked out, I knew when it would be good and most times I’d have it to myself.
5) Surf Camps
Surf camps are more for surf trips than actually living somewhere, but do not underestimate the value of a surf camp. A short(ish) flight from your land-locked country can probably get you to one. My experiences with surf camps cannot be overrated. One particular trip, after 48 hours of solo travel, part of which was a death-defying 8-hour bus ride on a cliffside road during monsoons and floods, I arrived in the dark at Paradise Surf Camp in South Sumatra. I went straight to bed in my private $25 a night (three meals included) beachside bungalow. I woke up before sun rise knowing that there’d be some other early birds up to catch the wave worm. I was right. I introduced myself to the first guys heading out for the day and that was that. I spent two weeks surfing perfect Sumatran barrels with new friends I’ll never forget. Not a single other surfer to be seen. Never once did we have to look for waves as the crew from the camp and villagers just pointed us in the right direction. Such is the surf camp environment. A lot of countries offer the surf camp scene and other places that are good examples are the Philippines, Taiwan and Mexico. Enjoy.
Remember, when surfing abroad you’re a guest. Locals get any wave they like and you pick up the scraps. It’s just the way it is. With an open mind you’ll find some open tubes. Now get out there! Mahalo.