Owner’s Manual: How to Choose a Perfect Surf Trip

It isn’t a question of which continent anymore. It’s finding the right place for the right price.

Jamie O'Brien feeling right at home and standing tall in a barrel at Pasquales.
Jamie O'Brien, Locked In© Dave Nelson

Once, the surf trip was the easiest game in the world to organise. You found a travel agent who specialised in such things (like The Surf Travel Co or Waterways Surf Adventures), chose a continent or island chain depending on your whims and your ability, and booked tickets. Anticipation built until everyone in your pack became increasingly manic and euphoric.

Whether or not you actually got waves when you arrived in Indonesia or Hawaii or Fiji or Mexico was neither here nor there, really. Yeah, it helped the post-trip narrative if you scored six-foot tubes; but the reality was, most of these trips were simply an escape from the pond slime of work and responsibility.

Lately, however, with the almost perfection of surf forecasting websites, our ways are changing. No longer are we booking trips six months in advance. Instead, we're following swell-forecasting models and diving into our adventures at the last minute.

There's a swell lighting up Salina Cruz? Mexico! Apocalypse out there in West Java will turn on for two days? Indonesia! A big south is heading for Cloudbreak? Tavarua it is.

So how do you choose? Consider these five factors.

1. Define your waiting period

If you want to catch a swell, work it so you can bounce from work with 48 hours' notice. Cut a piece out of your calendar, say, July through August, and be ready to buy a ticket and get on a bird when you get your mini Code Red.

2. What’s the general ability level of your pack?

Chasing swells can be the most satisfying experience, but what's the point in arriving at Half Moon Bay if you're packing a bag full of five-fives and six feet is your outermost limit? And think of your friends. It's no fun for anyone if half the pack is too scared to paddle out.

3. Your budget

Maybe you have a grand, maybe it's 3,000. Know where you can afford to go. If you're stateside and you're a 1,000-dollar kinda guy, think mainland Mex or Hawaii. If you have unlimited funds, the world opens like an oyster.

4. Have a valid passport

Impulsive surf trips can be stopped at check-in if there isn't a year left on your primary travel document. And visas. Even in this globalised world, diplomatic tit-for-tat sometimes means visas become necessary where once they weren't and vice versa. Be prepared.

5. Be prepared to have your mind blown

Perfect groundswells with your buddies? Prepare to have a spark lit at the apex of your soul.