For years now, Kepa Acero has been on one of the most unique programs in surf. From Antarctica to Indonesia, and many distant shores in-between, Acero has blazed a vast trail of surf adventure across the globe. He documents them all, by himself, playing equal parts surfer, filmer, and editor, to bring home some of the most unique surf travel tales we’ve ever seen. As a lone ranger, Acero sets out to explore remote, foreign coastlines, looking for empty waves and warm welcomes. Somehow, he always seems to find both.
How did all this start, the solo surf wanderings of Kepa Acero?
It was almost by chance that I discovered this was what I wanted most. I'd been competing on the WQS, with dreams of making the World Tour. Then I met a girl, and stopped competing so I could go see her instead. I visited her, and I realized that the trip was better for me than any contest I'd ever traveled to. A lot of it was because I went alone—it was a vital experience. From there, I started to find inspiration in the novels of Jack London, the stories of John Muir, and Thoreau's tales of individualism. All I wanted was to apply this knowledge to the surf, to recover my spirit of adventure. So, with just my bags and my boards I decided to start traveling alone in the world, and to document as much of it as I could. This was in 2010. I haven't looked back.
What's something you didn't realize until you were well into your first solo adventure, around 2010?
Well, I quickly discovered that when you're traveling alone, you still need company. Often, I'd find a partner in the camera…I'd find myself talking to the lens as if it were my best friend. A little like Tom Hanks and the volleyball in Cast Away. I try to speak to the camera with sincerity, and I think that translates well to telling a worthy story.
Give us a success story, extolling the glory of flying solo.
In one area of Africa, I arrived alone to some fishing villages that hadn't seen surfing before. They welcomed me in, then I went out surfing as the locals asked me what I was going to do with my "boat." I caught my first wave, and the entire village watched as I "walked on the sea." They threw a party to celebrate, and in following days I showed many of them how to surf. There's a small surf community there now, to this day.
Other side of the coin: What's the worst thing that's happened to you out there, by yourself?
I have been very lucky. It's always intimidating to surf a dangerous reef and know that if I get hurt, there's no one to help. So I don't recommend surfing solo in super hairy spots, but that's a personal choice. Sometimes the risk is worth the reward. One time, I did get very sick in the jungle in Indo. I thought it was malaria, and I spent three days alone in my tent sweating and vomiting. Luckily, it was a stomach problem that passed, and I made it back to society. I learn things though, about myself and world, with every experience, good or bad.
WATCH: Kepa Acero in Pororoca, Brazil
There must be plenty more struggles though, going at it alone. What other difficulties do you come across?
To be honest, I find nothing hard about it. You do have to be a little extra cautious in cities, which are often the most dangerous parts of my journeys. You have to be very alert and careful with your possessions, because you are helpless at times. You're forced to find community, a family at each location. That’s what’s really fascinating about traveling alone. It transcends the experience of normal a surf trip. The reality becomes that you make a family, and find real brothers, but then you leave the place and have to say goodbye to people you know you'll never see again. Every solo trip for me reflects what life is: we come here alone, experience the world, meet people, love these people, but then we must leave alone again.
Explain some solo missions logistics—How do you film? Navigate an area? Find company?
My filming setup is pretty simple. I set up a tripod on the high-tide line, and frame it to the spot with my SOLOSHOT or my GoPro. Fairly uncomplicated, but it gets enough footage for a good clip. For lifestyle scenes, I'll leave the camera on the trip and film myself fishing or hiking. Sure, sometimes it makes me feel so stupid, because I'll climb a mountain and leave my camera at the bottom to film, then have to go back down to get the camera before I climb again. It takes a lot of work, but it's worth it to tell a great story.
Also, a lot of times I'll head to an area without knowing exactly where I'll surf. Recently I went to surf a tidal bore in Brazil, Pororoca (video, above). You need to sail for days to get to the spot in the middle of the Amazon, and I didn’t have a boat. So I went to the closest city looking for people on the streets, asking for any surfer around. I met a guy who knew a guy, and before I knew it we had a crew. It was incredible. I consider myself a shy person, but when you're traveling alone, you need to get out of your comfort zone. That's one of the best parts about it.
So what was the best trip you ever did on your own?
It's too hard to choose, because I have been to some really special places. Every one of them has such unique beauty. You can't compare Alaska with Antarctica, or Kamchatka with Iceland. I've had the chance to surf some epics waves all by myself, especially in Africa and Indo. Sometimes, when the waves are perfect, and there's nothing and no one around, I do miss being around my brothers and friends in that moment. But I'm also very conscious that it's a unique experience. It's a privilege to live in that moment, getting barreled without end, solo and surrounded by nothing but nature. It's a deep blessing.
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