Because professional surfers don't have nine-to-five jobs, they have the flexibility to chase swells all over the world at the drop of a hat (with the help of deep-pocketed sponsors). But for us regular schlubs? Chasing swells means juggling work requirements, financial pressures and the ever-present doubt about whether or not a particular swell is worth the hassle. Big-wave surfer Bianca Valenti, of San Francisco, is a seasoned veteran of putting together last-minute trips to score stellar waves, and she does it while holding down a full-time job at a family-owned restaurant.
If your goal is to score the best possible surf, Valenti thinks that booking trips far in advance is pointless. "The hardest part about pulling the trigger is being as sure as possible that you're going to score, because obviously you have to drop everything else you're doing," she says. "I look at swell charts every single day, but I never book trips in advance because of the chance of getting skunked. If I plan a trip, but there's no swell in the forecast, I'd rather just be working."
If your job offers a little flexibility, Valenti says that putting in the work when there's no swell frees you up for when swell charts start lighting up. "When I'm at work and the waves aren't good, I go above and beyond. You have to be the team captain and pull extra weight so you become the most valuable player. There's never going to be a reason why I'd have to stay at my job and miss a good swell, because I've already done my hard work. Plus, the spiritual satisfaction that you bring back with you from a trip is something that your co-workers respect and want to be around."
Once you've committed to a swell, Valenti says the next challenge is making sense of last-minute flight schedules and prices. "If you're going on a boat trip somewhere in Indo, for example, you have to figure out which flights work for which boats," she explains. "Last year an awesome swell popped up in the Mentawais and we got a killer deal on a boat because it was so last minute, but I spent an entire day trying to find a flight that would get me there to meet the boat. I just packed my bag, hoped for the best and at 7 p.m. a seat popped up on a 9 p.m. flight. I made it just in time, which was only possible because I was flexible. That sort of thing happens a lot. You just have to be willing to deal with it."
Being flexible can also mean booking openended trips. "The longer you stay," Valenti says, "the easier it becomes to justify the cost of getting there. Airfare is usually your biggest cost. Once you're in a place like Puerto [Escondido], though, it's cheap. It's a major advantage if you can stay a couple weeks."
Lastly, even if your focus is scoring big barrels, don't forget to take in the culture of the place you're visiting. "It's almost rude to show up and surf the waves abroad and then just bail," Valenti says. "Getting to know a place and getting to meet the people there goes a long way toward making you a better guest."
[This piece is Part II of the DIY series “Do Something,” where four surfers share their how-to secrets for board-building, moviemaking, swell-chasing, and alternative living]