All the gear and no idea?

Rookie Errors in Surf Travel – Equipment

09th Mar 2020

We have all been guilty at some point in our surf travels of committing acts of stupidity. Seasoned surf traveler, Troy Smith recently found himself enjoying an early season Indo surf trip with a handful of close mates. 

Originally a passionfruit farmer from the Sunshine Coast, Troy is a firm believer in having the right tools to finish any job on the farm professionally and in a timely manner. It is no different in surfing. “Without the right equipment, you’re less of a chance of getting the best value out of your surf adventure. Trying to paddle a 5’6” twin fin into an 8ft Lances Right cavern won’t end well for you unless your name is Asher Pacey”

After avoiding all of my health related rookie errors, the second thing that I will let you digest is my guide to equipment. I’ll go through what I’ve learned is a good idea to renew before a trip, and what is often not. How to give your board the best chance of surviving the trip, or at least remaining usable, and what other gear is good to bring along. This is aimed at the regular customer, working a job outside of surfing and only getting wet once or twice a week at best. If you travel all the time and know what you’re doing you don’t need the advice from this old, buckled scribe.

I often think back to a day at Tupira Surf Club in PNG. We had fun waves and I had two boards. Only one of which was good in the conditions we were experiencing and expecting for the rest of this particular trip.

Half way through a morning session on about day three, I blew a take-off and felt that horrible moment of my leash snapping as I got rag dolled under water. I popped up only to see my prized possession drifting aimlessly towards a shallow section of reef and rock. All it had to do was miss a large submerged coral head and dry dock itself on the sandy rock beach down the line. It wasn’t to be and slowly my nightmare unfolded before my very eyes with my beloved 6’5” thruster bashing into the coral head leaving an almighty hole in the deck and rail. Luckily it was salvageable with some solares and sand paper, but the experience made me consider my equipment and how important it actually is.  

Lesson 1 – Respect the Leg Rope:

Replace your leash for every trip. It’s amazing how quickly they lose strength and perish in the salt water. Locals really appreciate your old leashes that still have life in them, its not like they can drive down to their local surf shop and have their way with 40 variations of leg ropes.

Remember, certain waves have a tendency to test leashes more than others. During a trip to Pohnpei Surf Club, surfing the famous right hander, P-Pass. Our guide was using an 8mm thick/8ft long leash on his 6’1 shortboard. A standard 6mm/6ft leash would normally be heaps but due to the power of P-PASS and the speed you generate on the wave, there was no feeling of surfing with a heavy weight on your board. It was a useful tip from the guide, and we followed suit. 

The biggest thing to remember and my pet peeve is people who make their rope at the end of your leg rope longer than the tail/rail of the board. This hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen surfer after surfer take huge chunks of foam and fibreglass out of the tail of there board from a wipeout so powerful that the rail saver doesnt stand a chance with. The rail saver is the velcro at the end of your leash and it isnt there for show, its purpose is to do exactly what its designed for….saving your rail. 

Lesson 2 – Fins are expensive, screw them in! 

When the FCS2 system came out I thought it was amazing. Fins that pop in and out without screwing them in…no way! BUT after my son lost a fin one day while surfing, and found one knocked loose another time ready to fall out, we started screwing them in.

The smallest bump can loosen your fins just enough to fall out. If you don’t screw your FCS2 fins in be careful when shifting your boards from transport to transport or jumping off a boat (which is quite common on surf trips). The smallest tap can loosen them enough to fall out. My advice, screw them in or use Future Fins (also require screw in).

Lesson 3 – Strip your old crusty wax before your trip 

Is there a more satisfying feeling that stripping your board of its old crusty wax and applying a fresh new coat? 


I didn’t think so!

I do this before every trip to the point where its almost ceremonial. Line up each board is perfect form in the sun or boil the kettle ready for removal.

Chances are you are going somewhere warm and probably need tropical wax. Chances are also high that you have been using cold or warm water wax prior to your trip. I can tell you that this just ends up being super annoying for everyone. I’ve met guys who have left the cold water wax on their board, applied a coat of tropical over the top and then complained their boards are slippery. Really?!

One thing I have found to work really well is a hard coat of Tropical wax as a base coat, followed by an extra sticky softer warm water wax that you continually apply during your trip. You get a good spread of perfect sticky bumps that feel grippy under your feet.

Enough about wax….

Lesson 4 – Ding Repairs are inevitable! be prepared

Dings are annoying and inevitable. Often dings don’t even happen in the surf…long transits, overzealous baggage handlers or clumsy surf guides may be the cause of destruction. Nevertheless, being prepared for a quick fix (ding that hasn’t affected structural integrity of the board) is vitally important. 

A basic repair kit consisting of Solarez, sandpaper, fibreglass and tape are essentials. Be sure to get the right Solarez for the board you have PU or EPU. 

The best lesson you will learn with dings. Often handy locals who are used to fixing up old decrepit boards for their personal use are more than happy to fix your board for a small fee. If however you are on a boat in a remote region with no human life in sight, ask a friend for help or watch youtube videos like I used to.

And finally, the most import lesson of them all…

Lesson 5 – Quiver choice is critical!

The most common rookie error I see and have encountered myself is board selection! 

Unless you are a pro surfer (which I doubt you would still be ready this article if you were) don’t think that you can paddle a 5’6” twin fin into macking 8ft Lances Right and then thread the tube like you’re Asher Pacey or Craig Anderson. 

Be realistic…foam is your friend but so is the power of the ocean. The main board I take on my surf trips is the same board I surf everyday at home on the Sunshine Coast. Why? it feels the most comfortable under foot and im most confident on it in average – good waves. 

In my experience, you will ride your normal board or a back up shortboard more than a step-up. This is mainly due to the fact, most shortboards are made for good waves up to 6ft. You only ever pull the step-up out of it gets bigger than this and this rarely happens for more than 3 or 4 days at a time if you do get lucky and nail your trip during a swell. 

I personally take 3 boards on my surf trips, but many choose to take 4 or 5 depending on their luggage allowance and how long they’re away for. For the standard surfboard quiver I recommend: 

3 Board Quiver = regular go-to board, back up board, step-up/big wave board 

4 Board Quiver = regular go-to board, back up board, something to experiment with, step-up/big wave board. 

Also, I don’t know what the fuss is about people getting a brand new board made specifically for a trip is all about. New boards are beautiful to look at, but they’re weak and haven’t had time to cure or be used in average waves. I’ve seen so many new boards snap after a couple of days…what a waste of $900! 

If you’re going to get a new stick. Get it shaped early, surf it at home for a few months and then take it with you on your trip.

Getting your equipment choices right can really enhance a trip and doesn’t need to be about spending heaps of money. With a bit of thought and a bit extra care and time on the first night of the trip, hopefully you will have a dream trip with nothing simple letting you down.

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