On the Fly

Rob Gilley's tips on getting the most out of your surf travel dollar

You're only going to wake up to this so many times while abroad, so make the most of it while you can. Photo: Gilley

Chapter V: Milking It

So you made it. You’re on the potential trip of a lifetime and you want to get the most out of it—here are some suggestions.

1. Use Common Sense
Don’t bring illicit things like drugs into a foreign country. Don’t flash expensive camera equipment, computers, or jewelry around. Know something about the culture before you visit. Try not to offend anyone. Pick up your trash. Keep your eyes open. Don’t be rude. Don’t get wasted and lose control. In other words, don’t be an idiot.

2. Pace yourself
There are a couple of stories here to illustrate this point. The first is about an East Coast pro who got so excited on the first day of an Indo boat trip that he surfed for 9 hours straight…which basically ruined the rest of his trip. He was so sunburned and sore for the next 3 days that he couldn’t surf, and then the swell went flat. The other story is about a guy who blindly charged a double overhead, super-shallow right in Tahiti and ended up face-planting the reef on his first wave, was driven to the local hospital, and then was immediately sent home for reconstructive surgery.

3. Eat Safely
You’ve heard advice about not drinking the water, but there’s other water-related things to be wary of as well, such as ice cubes and anything that has been washed by local tap water (e.g., salads and vegetables). Also, undercooked meat—especially chicken—is a major red flag. But probably one of the worst and most underrated culprits of all is…mayonnaise. This gooey white stuff goes bad fast in the tropics, and has been responsible for reducing multitudes of otherwise robust men into mommy-beckoning dry heavers. My personal advice to maintain gastrointestinal health is a little controversial: Eat junk. While pizza and soda and French fries might not be the greatest thing for you at home, on the road they can be a form of essential stomach insurance.

4. Surf Early
One thing you’ll notice about surfing in most foreign countries is the lack of dawn patrol crowds, especially in the tropics. While many Californians consistently get up before dawn and paddle out at first light, in hot climates most locals don’t even stroll down to the beach until about 8am or so. This can often allow for an uncrowded 2-hour dawn patrol session, changing a surf trip from good to great. Bring an alarm clock if you need to.

5. Keep a Journal
This is something you won’t regret. No matter how good you think your memory is, much of your journey will be reduced to a blur if you don’t write things down.

6. Stay Flexible
This is probably my most important piece of advice, and hardest to heed. The instinct to stick to a plan is so strong in some people that it can actually prevent scoring good waves. Allow me to illustrate: Like many regular foots, it was my dream to one day travel to J-Bay, and once I got there I wasn’t going to budge. I wasn’t going anywhere. Even in the face of firing Indian Ocean forecasts, I sat at small devil-wind J-bay for almost a month while my friends scored day after day of perfect South Coast Durban. Doh.

7. Guard Your Passport
Again, remember that this is the most important item on your trip. It is your only connection with your home country. Take good care of it, watch over it, and find a safe place to secure it. Some savvy travelers lock it in a hotel safe, and carry a Xerox copy of the main pages with them in case they get pulled aside by local authorities.

So that’s it. Five short chapters of information to help ensure the best possible foreign surf experience. When you get a chance, print these blogs out, put them in a folder, and go over them when you have a surf trip on the horizon. You won’t regret it.

I promise.

Check out previous chapters of On The Fly: Chapter I: The Flexible Itinerary | Chapter II: Packing | Chapter III: Getting There | Chapter IV: The Rent-a-Car