Kepa Acero Interview

Reflections from a recent journey to Antarctica

Captain Unai Basurko and Kepa Acero aboard the Pakea Bizkaia, searching for surf in Antarctica. Photo courtesy of Kepa
Kepa Acero has surfed some of the most remote, obscure coastlines in the world by himself—a barreling slab in Patagonia, an outer-island reef in Alaska, a deserted pointbreak along the sands of Angola, and more. In January, he set out toward the most unexplored region of all, the Antarctic continent. Between violent weather, frigid temperatures, and limited civilization, Antarctica poses unordinary challenges for a surf trip. Kepa and crew left port on a sailboat from Ushuaia, Argentina, and headed for a group of islands off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula in search of new waves. We talked with Kepa about the genesis of the trip, surviving Antarctic weather, and whether he found waves in Terra Australis Incognita, “The Unknown Land of the South.” —Ben Weiland

How did the trip come about?
When my friend, captain Unai Basurko, told me that he was traveling from the Basque Country all the way to Antarctica, I couldn’t pass up the chance to join him. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. I checked all the coastlines on Google Earth and spoke with Chris Malloy. He visited Antarctica in 2000, so he gave me some really helpful info.

What are some of the challenges of searching for waves in Antarctica?
It’s very hard to get close to the breaks. The most difficult part is that there are no nautical charts for those regions. Normally sailboats use the channels to sail, they never use the coastline with breaking waves, so the water depth is still undiscovered in these areas. It feels very dangerous. The last thing you want is to hit the bottom of your boat in the Antarctic. We sailed through the Drake Passage, the most dangerous waters in the world. It was amazing.

What kind of potential for waves did you come across?
Mostly reef breaks…some of them were pretty bumpy, but I think they could get good with clean conditions. Low Island could be the best place…most of the places were pretty dangerous because of glaciers breaking down all the time.

Was it difficult to stay warm in the water?
I was wearing my R4, a 5/4/3 wetsuit, but I realized that the water was extremely cold (under 35 degrees Fahrenheit), so I had to wear two wetsuits at the same time. An R3, a 4/3, with my 5/4/3 over the top. Also double-booties and double-gloves. It felt all right for an hour, but then my hands got too cold. It quickly felt like a dangerous situation.

Would you go back to Antarctica again?
Of course. I don’t know if I will have the chance again, but I would love to keep exploring down in Antarctica. It was such a deep experience and challenge.

What was your favorite part of the trip?
I think the greatest moment was when we saw the Antarctic continent for the first time. It’s hard to describe. After sailing for four days through the stormy Drake Passage, you see this beautiful continent, with huge ice mountains, icebergs, whales, penguins following us everywhere…it was magic. It really feels like you play a tiny part in the middle of this wild expanse of nature.

Penguins, glaciers, and layers of wetsuits in your average Antarctica surf scene. Selfie: Kepa
The Pakea Bizkaia sailed from Argentina through the Drake Passage to reach these uncharted shores in Antarctica.

Ben Weiland is a SURFER contributor and the editor at Arcticsurfblog.com.