Family Departures

| posted on August 21, 2012

Motsumoto Shave Ice: reason enough to take the family the the Hawaiian Islands. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

If you’re married and have just received your first positive pregnancy test, I have news for you: your old surf travel life is now toast. Your drop-everything-at-a-moment’s-notice existence is pretty much gone (at least if you want to stay married).

The good news (in addition to bringing a new life into the world) is that you might be toast, but you’re not burnt toast (that transition comes when you have more than two kids). With one or even two offspring, your life may not be quite as pliable, but with enough money, creativity, trickery, and subterfuge, you may still be able to pull off a few good surf trips. Here’s how: adjust your destinations a bit, and include the family as much as possible.

Of course the subtext here is a new emphasis on safety, and quick access to first world, emergency medical care. The younger your kids are, the quicker crap can hit the fan. The last thing you want or need is to have your kid get really sick in a remote place or sketchy country where the nearest hospital two days away, and the germ theory is just a foreign concept.

With an open mind, though, I think you will find there is a great family balance to be achieved, and some surprisingly worthwhile destinations out there:

Southern California:

What? Surprisingly, and maybe even shockingly, a simple one-week trip to Santa Barbara or San Diego can be a great option. If you know where to look and know how to interpret a forecast chart, there are more sick slabs, points, reefs, and beachies in Southern California that you can shake a stick at. Time a winter swell, surf solid Black’s or roping Rincon at dawn, and then take the family to Legoland, Universal Studios, or the Zoo in the afternoon. It’s a pretty satisfying deal all around. Just don’t stay in L.A., steer clear of Orange County housewives, and watch out for those Space Mountain post-nasal drips.

The Hawaiian Islands:

Hawaii vaults to the top of the substantive list when it comes to family surf trips for hardcore surfers. There are few places that offer consistent access to consequential surf and first-rate medical care. Also keep in mind that Waikiki remains the best place on earth to rent a longboard to go tandem with your kid, and the north shores of most of the islands stay good until late spring. And remember, a child hasn’t been born that doesn’t like shave ice.


Pretty much the entire west coast of Europe was tailor made for a family/surf trip. No place even comes close to offering the culture, surf, and relative safety of a European sojourn. It’s expensive, but due to the recent demise of the European economy, it’s cheaper than it’s been in years. And for those of you who are interested in places like Rome and Marseilles and Athens, keep in mind that during certain times of the year, the Mediterranean can go off too. Seriously.

Australia / New Zealand:

While you probably don’t want to venture too deep into the outback, a trip down under can be satisfying for the whole family (read: a trip where your spouse doesn’t want to kill you). A trip to Byron Bay or Raglan can be especially fortifying for the whole gang. Just watch out for deadly creatures (Western Australia has 7 out of the 7 deadliest ones). Rent a camper van and hit the Great Ocean Road, just make sure you avoid Vegemite like the plague.

Costa Rica:

You might want to wait until your kids are a little older, but Costa Rica sits as an anomaly amongst much sketchier surrounding destinations. Unlike some of its neighbors, Costa Rica has a history of peace, eco-tourism, and a general grasp of the germ theory. It also holds some of the longest warm-water point breaks on earth. Again, be aware of your surroundings, check access to emergency services, and guard against long point break-induced ball rash.

As your kids get older, I think you will find your surf travel sphere will expand. Places like Namotu, Fiji and Bali, Indonesia start to become more feasible. To be safe, check with your family doctor on what inoculations your family needs, and know that the State Department has an awesome, comprehensive website that offers up-to-date travel warnings:

Happy trails.


    sure hawaii has shave ice – but when in san diego – please check out SD Italian Ice Co. for the finest in smooth, cold and creamy Italian Ices

  • hoon

    For the East Coast surfer, I’ve found both Puerto Rico and Barbados as excellent family destinations that offer surf and family-friendly stuff.

  • Whamo

    I have a couple of secret spots in Southern Orange County I’ll share with you. I can’t surf anymore because of my health problems, but I’m still a senile surf freak, as Dora used to say. Just South of San Onofre, and North of Trails, is a reef off the Nuclear Power Plant. This place has a big inside bowl for regular foots when it’s on. It’s hard to find a good right in So Orange County in the summer aside from Lower’s, Old Man’s and the Point, and those are really crowded. It’s close to everything but it feels a thousand miles away. The other one is “Swipes”, between Pipes and Swami’s, in Northern San Diego. It’s a nice peak if you catch it working. Again, it’s near crowded areas, but it’s overlooked.

  • HoChiBonger

    My boys are 6 and 10. We’ve been taking them on surf trips to the sierras each summer. The waves are not big as you would imagine, but we take the boards, do some hiking to find our spot, and have some great scenery while paddling. If we actually get surf one of these times, it will be a miracle. But the crowds are just right, and the stoke is on the level with any ocean experience we are capable of having at this point.
    If you are looking for a way to find stoke, turn your kid(s) on to something. Experiencing their stoke far exceeds anything you have done for yourself.
    Thanks RG!

  • yep

    just had a mini-grom a couple months ago and i’m learning how true this is. I went off to Costa without the family and don’t see that ever happening again.