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Rookie Errors in Surf Travel – Limit Expectations

10th 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. 

It got him thinking about Rookie Errors surfers make early on in their surf travels. Be sure to check out Troy’s earlier articles on Health and Equipment. 

This issue covers ‘Expectations’. In other words, don’t travel anywhere expecting everything you have seen in a postcard or video on youtube. Travel teaches you valuable lessons in life, sit back, relax and become a student of this amazing world we live in. 

There are two words in SURF TRAVEL.

I can’t imagine many people don’t hope they’ll get good waves but some of my favorite memories over the years have been out of the water. A pumping trip can almost start to feel like work sometimes, and be so focused on 3 surfs a day that there is no time for other activities.

The turning point for me was in Padang. I was about to fly home after a great late season Mentawais trip on the Moon Palikir. We had 3 hours spare and I was tempted to chill out in the hotel, back on the wifi after 12 days of digital detox, but Shaun Levings, World Surfaris original founder wanted to check out the unique “Padang food” that he’d heard about over the years. So with the help of Kadu Maia from Mentawai Surf Charters, we found a great venue and the banquet that ensued is still as vivid in my mind as the best wave at Macaronis.

I’ve been fortunate enough to do several trips on board the mighty PNG Explorer over the years. In a country as rich with culture, history and natural beauty as Papua New Guinea it should be a crime to be simply focused on maximising your wave count and time in the water.

I, like many surfers love to fish. I’m often willing to miss the sunset surf for a fishing session and nine times out of ten it pays off. The fishing in PNG is world class and you would pay a fortune for the included trips available almost every afternoon on the Explorer. There’s the added benefit of amazing fresh sashimi for entree that night and some 5 star fish dishes over the next few days served by the high class on board chef. The best bit is seeing the locals come to the stern of the boat to await their share of fish and fish frames, with over a dozen of them milling around some nights while the crew fillet the catch of the day before dividing up the prized fish frames.

PNG also has some great free-diving, including tonnes of WWII history. I clearly remember being on the first trip that Andrew Rigby and the PNG Explorer crew saw the Japanese plane code named a “Kate” lying in around 8m of water not far from Kavieng. I love guided tours of the local food growing plantations, and I’ll never forget the first time I saw a local bound up a 6m tall Betel Nut tree in only seconds to harvest a bunch for us to try, it was quite an experience. 

Like PNG Explorer, there are resorts and charter adventures all around the world with their own unique experiences like this. These experiences can turn a good surf trip into a great one, so I implore you…savor every moment!

Great guides are another common denominator to enjoying more than just the surf. Our legendary local guide in Nicaragua, Jamil took us to see a local village where we saw a legit Pinata party with the little kids calling “Ariba, Ariba” to the mother who would pull a rope draped over a low branch to raise the Pinata when the blindfolded kid started their swing. It was really great!

On the way home from my first trip to the Maldives, we had a few spare hours so took a ferry across to Male, the capital of the Maldives and got to have a look around the incredibly dense city. The highlights were the fish market where we saw some amazing knife skills on display by the locals filleting the catch of the day, and the guided tour of the biggest Mosque in the country was a lovely experience.

In early 2019 my son and I visited Pohnpei to surf the fabled P-Pass and it turned out to be a real surprise packet, both in and out of the water.

The wave was amazing, as expected but the things we saw on the 2 days that we didn’t surf were extraordinary. Sokehs Peak was a great little hike with extraordinary views of the offshore reefs and harbour as well as amazing Japanese relics from WWII. Big Japanese guns being slowly reclaimed by the jungle and a very moving Japanese memorial.

There are some really spectacular waterfalls that are quite accessible too, but the undoubted highlight was Nan Madol. This is a UNESCO world heritage site and is estimated to have been constructed around 1180 to 1200AD. It is a group of artificial islands numbering over 90 made from non local quarried basalt columns, some of the pieces weigh over 60 tonne. The royal mortuary is the most impressive structure and is genuinely breathtaking. There is still plenty of mystery surrounding this fascinating place and great folklore that will be explained by the local custodians. Among archeologists, this site is reputedly on the level of Angkor Wat and Machu Pichu.

With the reality being that a lot of these premium destinations book out months or years in advance, particularly through peak season, you are rolling the dice regarding swell, and even peak season Indo or The Maldives can have it’s off days, it’s good to be mentally prepared to seek out amazing local experiences to add some spice to your dream trip. Some of these memories may outlast your best waves of the trip.

My top 10 surf trips have all had great waves, but what makes them so great is the all-round experience I’ve been lucky enough to encounter. If you go into any surf adventure expecting 4-6ft glassy barrels, you will leave on every occasion disappointed. 

Check out any of these great surf adventures for your next surf trip. 

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