How To Couch Surf

Alex Gray's insights into being a good houseguest while chasing waves

| posted on January 31, 2012

Alex Gray has done his fair share of dishes at the Volcom house, but a front row view of these waves is worth the scrubbing. Photo: Lowe-White

There are two kinds of traveling surfers in this world: those who are perennially invited back to crash at a friend’s place, and those who were only invited once. According to Alex Gray, a man who’s always met with an open invitation while scouring the globe for surf, it all comes down to knowing the basic rules of being a good houseguest. If you want to leave your bridges intact, follow Alex’s tips below.

The number one rule is to always leave the place the way you found it. Whether it’s the house you’re staying at or the beach you’re surfing, always pick up your trash and never create a new mess.

You’re a guest, never forget that. Families and cultures differ from town to town and country to country. Observe, listen, and respect. See if you can’t learn something new and adapt it into your own life. It can never hurt to try and fit in a little more when you’re in an unfamiliar environment.

At the Volcom house it’s all about sweeping and dishes. There are no maids on the road. Clean up after yourself. Nobody likes to clean the dishes after a hearty meal. Of course you’d rather sit on the couch and relax right? Wrong. Be that guy. That guy is the person that is already doing something like cleaning the dishes or sweeping the porch when no one asks. It needs to be done right? Might as well be you. This is foolproof. It’s the simple things that go a long way.

Always share. Lend a board, sunscreen, wax, a few bucks, a wave, whatever. I don’t know anyone who likes to live with a selfish person. It just isn’t as fun when you’re not sharing the good times with someone.

Be thankful and show your gratitude for being invited into someone’s home and life. It’s a fact that most moms love wine. It’s a really simple and thoughtful gift that goes a long way. It’s also a good idea to always try and leave something behind: clothes, wetsuit, or even a board. It’ll only bring the cost down of your baggage fees for the flight home. Giving gifts of gratitude like that will go further than you can ever imagine. It doesn’t take much to make a friend for life. You can never have too many friends, especially ones that live at perfect waves.

Don’t take traveling too seriously. I promise you, it’s the hard times on the road that you will laugh about later in life and always remember. Now get out there, and enjoy. Everybody gets home sick, but home is always just a plane flight away. Hang out and wait for that next swell. That’s why you’re there, right?

What’s your tip for being a good houseguest? Leave your answer in the comment section below.

Click here for more tips on the How-To blog.

  • Josh Aldridge

    I’ve found that, for most guests, it’s hard to find the right balance. Just like riding, you can’t be too relaxed or too stiff on the road. The best guests are those that find a way to be respectful and recognize that they’re a guest without sacrificing the fun and lightheartedness that makes traveling worth it.

    I missed out on some choice experiences in Nicaragua, back in the mid-90’s, because I was trying not to intrude on the lives of my host family. I spent a lot of time in my room or exploring on my own when, really, they’d invited me to stay because they wanted the cultural exchange as much as I did. I robbed them, and myself, of that but I learned the lesson for next time!

  • Pat

    Wing it and fly to your paradise with no reservations for anything, Works insane most of the time. If not you have the story to tell

  • Alliecat

    I think it’s often a good idea to leave things BETTER than they were when you got there and Alex has the right mindset with gifts, dishes, sharing, etc. It’s aloha, plain and simple. I always stay with an old friend in Hawaii and last time I was there, his lanai had a real sketchy board rack and boards laying around everywhere so he couldn’t even walk back there. I tightened the separater bars on the unused rack, installed some eyehooks at each end and more spaced every 6 inches, then bought some bungy cord with hooks, and found a carpet remnant.

    When he came home from work, every one of his boards was standing straight up in their slot, held fast in pairs with the bungy cords high and low (protecting them from being blown over by the trades), their tails safely resting on the carpet remnant. I also mopped his lanai, which was now wide open. He’s STILL stoked about it!

  • Cam

    Being thankful is for me the top tip. My roommates and I like to host through a site called and my favorite guests are the thoughtful ones.
    On a sidenote, Josh that’s a powerful story! My little bro’s headed to South Africa soon to stay with a host family and I’ll definitely share this with him.

  • Ben Franklin

    regarding fish and house guests, after 3 days, toss them out.