Planning the Ultimate Solo Surf Trip

Matt Rode

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Updated 18d ago

Sharing is fun, and good for our characters—but as the world’s surf population continues to grow and lineups get more and more crowded, there is definitely an appeal to setting out alone for some solo surf exploration. There is a reason that Kepa Acero has gained such an enthusiastic following over the years, and that reason is because the surf trips he shares with us through his films embody the independence and adventure that many have lost through urban living—that we still crave and need, even if we don’t realise it.

While it might not be for everyone, solo travel can be incredibly liberating and empowering. It can also open you up to new experiences that you might not have otherwise—and that includes waves. We have all dealt with localism in some form, and you may have noticed that the more people you show up with (particularly at lesser-known spots), the more likely you are to get growled at in the water. On the other hand, if you come by yourself, you might just be welcomed into the local community, and possibly even told about other secret spots that you’d never learn about if you were rolling with a posse.

Spot guide: Baja

Want to tour across the globe? Here's some inspiration.

If you are craving some alone time, a solo surf trip might be just what you need to emotionally reset, reintroduce a bit of adventure into your life, and fulfill your wave quota. Whether you are heading out on a multi-month trip into the unknown or simply sneaking down the coast for an afternoon session by yourself, here are a few tips to help you plan the ultimate solo surf trip:

Be aware of the risks

Aaron Gold knows a thing or two about a) travelling and b) getting injured while doing so, such as here in Fiji.

Aaron Gold knows a thing or two about a) travelling and b) getting injured while doing so, such as here in Fiji.

Although we don’t often like to think about it, playing in the ocean is inherently dangerous. Water is not our natural habitat, and between large waves, strong currents, hungry sharks and hard surfboards with sharp edges, there are numerous elements that can lead to you getting hurt in the water. Normally it is preferable to surf with a partner, particularly when you are surfing dangerous waves or pushing your limits. But on a solo surf trip, it is entirely possible that you could surf a lot of your sessions alone. If you end up doing so, it is important to understand the risks involved.

Make sure that you are aware of your surroundings at all time, and don’t paddle out in conditions that are beyond your comfort level, or that are obviously dangerous. Remember, you don’t have the safety net of other people in the water with you, so you are going to have to be completely self-reliant should something go wrong. While it is impossible to completely eradicate risk when you are surfing, make an effort to avoid unnecessary ones when you are in the water alone.

The same applies when you are on land, of course. Travelling—especially in foreign countries—can put you at risk of theft, violence, and corruption, and if you are travelling alone, you won’t have someone watching your back. There is no reason to be overly paranoid and lock yourself in a hotel, but you also shouldn’t knowingly put yourself into dangerous situations.

Carry a reliable form of communication

What if something went wrong here for Koa Smith, in the midst of a pumping Namibia swell.

Travelling solo in 2019 is a lot different than it was even a short decade ago. Smartphones with cheap, nearly universal service mean that it is possible to remain connected practically everywhere you go. While the point of solo travel might be to escape that perpetual connectedness, it is worthwhile to at least have access to a reliable form of communication should the need arise.

Spot guide: Spain and Portugal

You don’t have to check your phone every day, but you probably won’t mind having one if you end up in a bind. Make sure you have local emergency numbers on hand, and always inform someone when you are heading into the backcountry, or travelling in a politically unstable environment where you might not have consistent access to the internet.

Know where your nearest embassy is
If something were to go seriously wrong while you are travelling internationally, your best hope for assistance will be your country’s local embassy. Know where the closest embassy is, and how you can get ahold of it. And always carry a couple extra copies of your passport, in case yours is lost or stolen.

Ideally you will have a digital copy accessible via email and/or phone, and a physical copy stored in a different bag than your actual passport.

Get travel insurance

You need someone watching your back in situations like this, but also, insurance!

Whenever you are travelling internationally—and especially if you are travelling solo and intending to participate in high-risk sports such as surfing—you need to have a comprehensive travel insurance plan. At the bare minimum, make sure your policy covers medical treatment and emergency evacuation. Otherwise, you could find yourself stuck with tens of thousands of dollars worth of medica bills (or, even worse, no medical treatment at all).

Build a tentative itinerary
Travelling alone builds an extra level of uncertainty into your trip, so it can be somewhat comforting to have a tentative itinerary in mind. This will help guide you on your travels, and also enable you to tell family or friends back home where you intend to go and when you intend to be there. You will also want to inform your bank and credit card company that you are planning to travel, and where you plan to be.

Be willing to throw that itinerary away
Of course, as comforting as an itinerary can be, one of the biggest benefits to travelling solo is that you can do whatever the hell you want. You don’t have to answer to anyone, and you certainly don’t have to stick to your original itinerary—which means you can stay somewhere for as long you like, or pick and leave at a moment’s notice. Some of life’s best adventures come when we are alone and flexible, so remain open to the possibility of completely changing your plans. You never know where you will end up, or what you will find.

Be open to meeting people

© 2019 - Tom Pearsall.

Travelling solo doesn’t mean you have to be alone. In fact, the very act of spending time by yourself often helps you get into better touch with who you are, and that in turn can prepare you to welcome new, life-changing people into your circle. Whether you connect for a few hours or the rest of your life, be open to meeting new people. You might even find that portions of your “solo” trip are spent travelling with those you meet along the way.

This openness will also come in handy when you are trying to navigate unfamiliar surf zones. Despite our tendency toward surly localism, surfers are, for the most part, a happy, inclusive tribe who love to share experiences and waves with the people we love and enjoy. And while foreign cultures can be intimidating when you first immerse yourselves in them, you will find that most people in the world are kind and generous, and that communities will be willing to adopt you if you come with an open mind and a friendly attitude.

Cover shot, Baja by Peter Clyne