The version posted on Wave Tribe is attributed to Derek Dodds. This is the original version I submitted.
Published by Wave Tribe | June 10, 2020
Traveling to a new break has a way of smacking you in the face with beauty. Wake up! Stop worrying about emails. It’s time to surf. But first, you have to pack. While a good attitude and a credit card will save you from pretty much any oversight, a dialed kit is the key to traveling with maximum confidence and minimal stress. Here we cover the basics, with variations depending on your mode of transport (bike, truck, or flight) and the weather and water temperatures at your destination.
I’ve surfed in six countries and have never flown with a surfboard. I call local hostels and surf shops to make sure there’s a good shape or two I can reserve to rent, or even buy. (If you buy, ask around to make sure you’ll be able to sell it before flying back.)
If you’ve saved up for a dream trip, the expense and hassle of bringing your board may be worth it. If it is – Call. The. Airline. Get all the details, make sure your board will fit on every plane in your itinerary (and any subsequent taxis, buses, or trains) and that you can afford to bring it. Keep in mind that airlines often charge for each board in your bag and fees usually only cover one-way travel.
Surfline keeps decent track of airline fees and drops you into the right spot on the airline’s website but still call. Always call. Pack your boards tightly using wetsuits, towels, clothes, or bubble wrap to minimize dings. Know that the airline may lose your board, it happens. Then you’re back to renting.
If you’re driving, stack ‘em on. Make sure you have a stick for fast and steep and one that’ll work in the mush. Don’t go too crazy though, two or three boards is plenty. You don’t want to be too lazy to mess with an unstable tower of gear to paddle out to an unexpected peeler.
If you have a shiny new log you really love, leave it at home. It’s easy to dig boards on rocks you don’t know, trails you’ve never walked, and when loading and unloading boards with paddled-out arms for the 40th time.
Good on you. You’re my hero. Head to Bedrock’s blog for tips.
If there are surf shops, you can ask them about the gear they carry, but inventory is often real limited. It’s nice to bring the gear and spares you’ll need anyway. The shops might not be open early enough to replace the fin you snapped halfway through a perfect sunrise session. They also might not have cool eco-friendly options you can find when you plan ahead. Consider these options:
Fins – (and don’t forget an extra fin key or two)
- Futures has a reclaimed wood fin and makes its Alpha | Netplus line with Bureo’s recycled fishnets.
- 5 Oceans makes an eco fin from recycled ocean plastic from Indo and Bali.
- Pushfins makes them out of skateboard waste.
- Shaka Surf makes recycled plastic fins out of 70 plastic bottle caps.
- Wave Tribe makes recycled leashes.
- Revolwe’s leashes are made of recycled bottles and the cuff is yulex instead of petroleum.
- Kun_tiqi teamed up with the Surfrider Foundation to make a recycled eco leash with replaceable parts so you never have to throw the whole thing away at once.
- Wave Tribe’s eco wax is made in America out of beeswax and coconut oil.
- Crimson’ surf wax adds sandalwood to bee/coconut mix.
Ding Repair Kit –
- If you’re renting, ask how they handle dings. Duck tape and suncure are never bad ideas though.
Board Bag – If you’re taking a board, you need a bag for it. The extra padding and heat-protective materials make it so much easier to safely stow your board if you’re driving and they’re essential if you fly.
I’ve only owned and tested Wave Tribe’s travel bags. Made of hemp or recycled nylon, they’re the only board bags I know of built with sustainability in mind.
Bags – You can pack a lot of your soft goods in your board bag if you’re bringing one. Then you may get by with a backpack that doubles as a day pack for the rest. Consider a dry bag. I’m partial to Patagonia’s surf packs, because their gear tends to hold up, and they try to do right by the planet. Search “best surf backpacks” for other options. If you take a normal duffle, consider bringing a roll-top dry bag to isolate wet gear inside it.
Carbon Offset – First off, travel less. Make sure every trip’s worth kicking Mother Earth in the teeth. Then, pay for your carbon. We’re probably already screwed, but we may pull through. If we all die soon, you won’t need your money. If we live, you’re a hero. I use Choose. Gold Standard has a solid reputation too.
Sunscreen sort of sucks. According to Consumer Reports (CR), none of the mineral/physical-barrier (aka natural) sunscreens they tested provide enough UVA protection and SPF performance to meet their recommendations. The sunscreens they do recommend are all chemically-based, meaning they contain oxybenzone and other chemicals known to harm reefs. AND about 40% of the 82 sunscreens they tested provide less than half of the SPF they claim.
(Note: “Reef safe” is a noble goal, but it’s not a regulated term. Seeing it on a bottle of sunscreen doesn’t mean much on its own. You’re trying to minimize how much oxybenzone and octinoxate ends up in the ocean, so look for those ingredients.)
Of the chemical (i.e. reef harming) sunscreens CR tested, BullFrog Land Sport Quik Gel SPF 50 did well in tests. Of the mineral, physical barrier brands (think zinc), Badger’s active natural mineral cream SPF 30 unscented did the best, but only earned half the sun protecting score that BullFrog earned.
The takeaway is that sunscreen is very, very imperfect, but dermatologists agree that you have to wear it to protect yourself. Minimizing sun exposure during peak UV exposure between 10 am and 4 pm and wearing sun-protective clothing is my main strategy.
Sunscreen – I usually only need sunscreen on my face, neck, hands, lower legs and feet. On my face, neck, and hands I wear it in two layers, a cream 20 to 30 minutes before I paddle out and then a stick to make sure I’m covered. Derms warn not to miss your eyelids and ears. I listen to them. I also often end up with sunscreen in my eyes. The choice is yours.
My favorite sunscreen combo is Sun Bum’s Signature SPF 50 (which contains octinoxate) and their mineral stick (which does not). I also use Avasol’s lotions and sticks, which seem to avoid toxins.
Lip Balm – Don’t forget your lips! I use Sun Bum’s lip balm a lot but it rubs off easily. Their signature version sticks better but is a little chalky. Salt and Stone’s SPF 30 lip balm is a nice balance. They’re all pricey.
Sunglasses – Polarized lens are a good idea to cut down on glare from the water. Aim for Visible Light Transmission (VLT) rates between 8% to 17% if you’re going to get really sun-blasted. A VLT of 18% to 45%is for everyday conditions. Wirecutter has a good run down that includes Sunski, my favorite eco-friendly option.
Hats – I’ll toss on a trucker hat when the waves are small. Then there’s always the classic straw surf hat. I’ve yet to purchase a true surf hat, but it’s only a matter of time.
Sun Protective Clothing – Check out the next section but, to summarize, I try to cover as much skin as possible with clothing so I can avoid the sunscreen conundrum.
What to wear in the water
Wetsuits – Evo has a great wetsuit thickness guide. Check expected water temps for your destination and plan accordingly. I’m saving up for a Patagonia Yulex wetsuit because it’s made from sustainable plant matter. That said O’Neill makes super comfortable suits and Rip Curl and VISSLA (men only) make some nice, affordable options.
Boot, Gloves, Hood – See Evo’s chart to figure out whether or not to pack them. Also, consider reef booties for warm locations with brutally rugged reefs.
Boardshorts, For Everyone* – There an obvious addition for guys, but women often skip boardshorts. That’s can be a mistake if you’re skin isn’t ready for the sun. Your thighs can fry if you’re sitting on your board for hours, especially if it sits high in the water. I always bring board shorts that reach my knees, which are crazy hard to find for women. You can wear men’s, but the cut is often terrible. Another option is swim tights.
Here are some earth-friendly* boardshort options for men. Coolibar has swim tight options for guys, or you could look for triathlon gear.
Ladies, you’ll have a hard time finding longer shorts. Patagonia used to make versions that you can still find on Worn Wear at times, or you can try the men’s options. For women’s swim tights, I like the options at Carved Designs and have a few pairs from Prana. Women’s Health has an opinion too.
Rash Guard or Super Cute Suit* – This is where ladies have more options. Everyone can start by looking at normal rash guards. Every brand seems to make one, so you have lots of options. If you want the best sun protection, look for one with a hood.
There are also a number of long sleeve swimsuits and shortie wetsuits made for women to keep the sun off your arms. The LA Times has a super fashionable round-up.
Bikinis* – I wear a bikini under my wetsuit to make changing easier, and because it seems more hygienic. Same for swim tights/boardshorts. It’s also lovely to surf in just a bikini. Just watch the sun. Here are some great options. I’d add Patagucci’s nanogrip bikini to the list, because it works. It’s nice to bring at least two.
*Microplastics/Synthetic Fibers – All of these are made from synthetic materials that release microplastic fibers directly into the ocean and every time you wash them. The most “eco-friendly” of them are made out of recycled plastics. They’re still plastic and still release plastic microfibers. If you want to take a stand, wear tight-fitting and tight weave (for higher UPF) cotton, hemp or bamboo long sleeve shirts and shorts in the water. Or, carefully hand wash these items to reduce fiber release.
What to wear on land
The key here is to minimize. Two short sleeve shirts or tank tops, two pairs of shorts or pants, one or two long sleeve layering shirts (wool for cool climates and tight weave cotton or bamboo with a hood for sun protection in warm climates), a sweater/fleece layer, and rain gear should cover it. Switch out a pair of shorts/pants for a dress or skirt if you’d like.
Turkish Towel – You don’t exactly wear it, but you’ll want one of these super-soft, packable, and absorbent towels when you walk out of the water. There are tons of options. Look for organic cotton.
Another Hat – I’m in love with my Filson Summer Packer hat while on land. It’s crushable and lasting.
Toiletries and First Aid
The Usual, but consider going dry – You’ll want a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, floss, deodorant, etc. But consider dry versions, like a bar shampoo and toothpaste powder (or make your own). It is often more efficient to ship, requires less packaging, and makes it easier to get through security.
Tampons – If you have periods, pack tampons, or a keeper/diva cup. They can be really hard to find in some locations.
Some First Aid – If you’re not going remote. You can probably buy most of what you need. But look over this list from Johns Hopkins and bring anything you’d like to have on-hand. Consider bug spray and/or a bug net if you’re heading somewhere buggy.
Headlamp – That’s a toiletry right?
Water Filter – I’m sick of getting sick, so I travel with a bottle purifier. It makes grabbing a quick drink easier and reduces the need for plastic bottles. REI breaks down your options.
A Plan – Research the Waves and Swell
Do your research. Make sure you’re hitting the right spot in the right season. Surfline and Magic Seaweed are excellent resources. Annnnnd be ready to get skunked. Hopefully, you like at least one or two things other than surfing, or at least like yourself enough to enjoy the vacation you worked hard to pay for. Read, snorkel, run, make friends, sleep — all of it’s good for you.
Other things to consider
- Friends, take them or make them. Either works.
- Surf helmet and life vest. Bodies are expensive to fix and death is forever.
- Soft roof racks could save your bacon even if you’re renting boards if you’ll need a rental car or taxi to move between breaks.
- A spare battery and travel solar panel to keep your electronics rolling.
- If you’re going way out, you could consider a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger, but you’ll have to check with local authorities to see if anyone would actually mobilize to respond to your distress signal.
For international travel, you’ll also need
- Your passport, bring at least one copy with you and leave one with someone at home.
- Check the Center for Disease Control and State Department website for any vaccinations you may need or regional health concerns.
- Look into travel and emergency medical insurance options to avoid bankruptcy.
- Possibly a socket adapter for your electronics, check.