Last year, Mike Lay’s trip to Galicia, Spain, started and finished at the End of the Land. The British professional logger began in his U.K. hometown of Land’s End, Cornwall. After two reflective weeks of travel by ferry and by van, he ended in the small municipality of Fisterra, Galicia, one of the westernmost points of Spain where the globe, according to the ancient Roman world, dropped straight off the map, its name translating to ‘Land’s End’ in Latin. The journey to Galicia is among the first serious trips a British surfer will ever take, and it carries a renown from more than just the path’s graciously swell-exposed shoreline. Since the year 800, hundreds of religious devotees walk the route of the Camino de Santiago, or St. James’s Way, as a rite of pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia which reputedly holds the remains of the Christian Saint James.
At a time when the fever over undiscovered waves is hotter than ever, and when our means to find them, compared to earlier centuries, are less transportation than teleportation, we wanted to talk with Lay about the case for slow travel: taking the long route to find waves with a deep, shared history among previous generations of surfers and laymen alike.
We’re typically so focused finding the last preserved, uncrowned surf spots on earth. But there is a sanctity in going to a spot well-traveled, and historically traveled, by other surfers.
With surfing getting more popular and spots getting more congested in the marquee surfing areas of the world, like in Southern California or the east coast of Australia, people are driven to find the other extreme – to go and find a completely empty wave in Iceland or Africa. And then it leaves this middle ground, as you talked about, of well-worn paths that aren't the best waves in the world or the most easily accessible places in the world, but they're still equally there. I think you can find special moments in-between on that kind of journey. They're not necessarily going to blow everyone's minds. They won’t take over the internet for a week.
But they're definitely so relevant at the moment, and you can have a pure, personal surfing experience of exploration and adventure on one of those trips. You don't necessarily need to go to a war zone or go surf a collapsing glacier. You can do something within the realm of possibility for a normal surfer and still have a really special experience.
How did the idea for the trip start?
I was thinking about ways of writing or weaving a narrative into a trip that has been done a few times. As a surfer from the U.K., Galicia has always been a trip that people here have done. Then I thought of the idea of it being a pilgrimage, and instantly thought of the Camino de Santiago, the dedication it takes to complete that particular pilgrimage. And then there are loads of parallels between doing a slower surf trip where you're not necessarily focused on getting the best waves or arriving to the destination in the quickest possible time. The journey is definitely where the joy is found. And that seemed perfect. There were so many similarities between the two that it had to be done.
How did this type of philosophy compare to trips of yours in the past, where the destination was the goal?
Interestingly enough, I think it ties to the whole idea of being in a van. At the moment, I'm on a train, and I'm about to go to the Noosa festival in Australia, and once I get there, I'll stay in Noosa for two or three weeks. The journey I'm doing now, while I'm talking to you, is completely a means to an end. I'm watching things on Netflix and not really paying attention. But the pilgrimage idea is just the other end of the spectrum, and the van is a big part of that. Your entire livelihood is with you. You've got all your boards, you've got your cooking equipment, your reading equipment. Everything is contained. So in a way, you're almost at home the whole time. You're not in-between places, as I am now. As soon as you get in your van and you leave your garage at home, you already have everything you need. Almost paradoxically, there's no traveling, because you're at home the whole time while you're on the journey anyway.
We're privileged today in how we are able to travel. On a plane, I won't have to think about the process of getting to my destination too much. But it took us two weeks to get to Galicia, and that was rather quickly. I understand the journey from Cornwall to Galicia in Northwest Spain far more than I understand the journey to, say, Australia. I have a far deeper connection that's taken place over two weeks than over 24 hours.
What would you say to someone who would be hesitant to take a slow trip out of fear of being bored?
I would understand their fears on the outside. I think in recent years we've become used to being overly stimulated in our connectivity to the world, or we're at least under the illusion that we are. Doing a trip like our one to Galicia just reminds you of the fun that you can have with the simple pleasures of being outside and sleeping outside and eating outside. Nature provides the stimulation that you need. You don't need to be playing a game on your phone or farming more likes on social media, or even texting to your friends, because everything is special if you've got a good crew of friends. I think the best way to keep yourself from being bored is slow travel. I wasn't bored once. I can't imagine a scenario in which I was really bored, especially in a van. We would go into cities and explore the museums and galleries and eat good food. If you're just focused on surfing, and it's flat, then that can be an issue, and you might get a bit bored. But especially in Europe, there's so much to do that even if it does go flat, then it's no issue at all.
With all the buzz around Mick’s Wave, did your trip change how you think about undiscovered waves?
I think I'll always still prefer slow travel. There is a kind of thrill about discovering a new wave, which I don't think is impossible to do if you're on an already–trodden route. But as surfers, we think that we are at the leading edge of exploration. Humans have explored most of these places already, though, so you can tap into that history of any given place and integrate the surfing into it. I think that's what I'll always be interested in: the awareness of the culture you're surrounded by wherever you travel. That wasn't part of the story with Mick's Wave, and that's fine. It was about finding a brand new wave. But I'll always be more interested in the background and the narrative about the place, rather than how long this grinding righthander spat for. That doesn't excite me as much as the real life stories on the ground of these places.