History’s first recorded account of a surf trip goes something like this. A surfer embarks on a long, arduous journey to an island where it is reported that the waves are bigger, faster and more powerful than anything he’s seen at home. And did we mention less crowded? The surfer in the old story makes this trip, leaving behind friends, family and responsibilities to travel to this distant place, overcoming many obstacles and hardships, until he finally finds himself on a deserted beach on a faraway island, looking out onto the wave of his dreams.
There he rides like he has never ridden before—he’s never felt more like a surfer. He eventually falls for a beautiful local girl and decides to stay awhile, moving in with his island honey, losing track of the days, the months, just surfing, eating fresh fruit and making love. Before he knows it a whole year has passed and the prime surf season is upon him again. By this time his island gal, once so very accommodating, has grown a tad possessive, and only allows him to heed the call of the rising surf on one condition: that he never again kisses or is kissed by another woman. No problem there, he thinks, as he only has eyes for the waves. By this time he has the powerful, challenging surf completely wired and, during one particularly good day, really turns it on. So much so that another foxy local girl, watching him ride to shore, is so impressed with his surfing that she runs up and gives him a lei—with a kiss. Well, from up on the berm friends of the surfer’s island honey observe this minor transgression, provide a detailed, juicy account, and by the time our intrepid surfer gets home she’s in a rage, determined to both keep him to herself for all time, while at the same time make his life a living hell. Naturally this makes the surfer wish that he had never left the water—better yet, that he had never left home. But it’s too late now.
In short, the classic surf trip. And I mean classic. This is highly fanciful account of a 16th century voyage Kauai’s Prince Kahikilani made to Oahu, to ride the tremendous waves of Paumalu, what we today call Sunset Beach. His gal turned out to be a magically-inclined Bird Maiden, who, upon hearing that he’d been kissed by another North Shore honey-girl, turned Kahikilani to stone so that he could never leave the North Shore.
But doesn’t this all sound so familiar? How many super-tanned, splay-footed, slowed-way-down expat locals do you meet in Puerto Escondido with exactly the same story? Or backyard glassing haoles on the North Shore, for that matter. It seems that surfing has always been about travel, and that surf travel has always been about adventure—in and out of the waves. This is why you never want to know too much about where you’re wandering with surfboard in hand—the allure comes with the unknown. Yet a little local knowledge is good. If Kahikilani had known, for example, to prone out in the soup and then angle left, skirting the inside reef and coming in over by the point at Sunset rather than on the broad beach by the channel, where the prying eyes from the nearby hills could observe any unplanned kissing, he may never have been turned to stone and would not, to this day, be sitting lonely and dejected alongside the ewa side of the Kam Highway across from the Chevron Station (smile next time you drive by.)
Before setting out on a surf trip, as is your cultural imperative, you’ll be wanting enough travel smarts to keep you safe and efficient, but without so much that will rob your sojourn of its sense of wonder and discovery.
And that’s where this new monthly column comes in. Call it “Almost Local” if you like, and believe me, I’ve traveled enough to know. Put it this way: I’ve surfed in over 40 countries, but am not fluent in any foreign language. I may not have been turned to stone yet, but have got into plenty of trouble kissing Bird Maidens on many wild shores; I’ve driven virtually the entire coast of South Africa and yet still don’t know how to get to Green Point. Which is another way of saying that while I know a lot about surf travel, I don’t know everything. And believe me, you don’t want to take travel tips from someone who knows everything—or even worse, thinks that they do.
What you’ll get in this column twice monthly is all the stories, tales, reflections, anecdotes, historical accounts—wishes, dreams and disasters—that comprise the collective lore of global surf adventure. The kind of stuff that gets passed from surf tripper to surf tripper in seedy hotels, leaky boats, overcrowded buses and leaky boats the world over and that really makes up the bulk of the body of travel knowledge we, as surfers, have accrued. With just enough of the hard facts, nuts-and-bolts, I-might-not-know-how-to-get-there-but-I-know-somebody-who-does resource to keep it useful and not just entertaining. When it comes to surf travel, we can all use a little help. Just because we’ve been going on surf trips for over four hundred years doesn’t mean we’ve always been doing it right.
Just ask Kahikilani.