The 10 Rules of Surf Exploration

According to Indies Trader Captain Martin Daly

| posted on August 23, 2011

This is not Martin Daly's first rodeo. Photo: Divine

1. A bit of research goes a long way. Get marine charts of the area you are interested in. The British admiralty pilot for the area will also have lots of interesting historical data on wind direction, frequency, and strength, as well as cyclone tracks, when they occur. Remember cyclones and hurricanes push swell ahead of themselves generally not so much in their wake. Look for areas where the wind is frequently offshore and coastline features like points and river mouths. Look at the water depth and the seabed gradient near these features. If the water is really deep right up to the coast and there are cliffs or a curb-like drop-off, there will be nowhere for the swell to feel the bottom and stand up before breaking. Look for reef passes on areas where there are coral reefs. Work out the probability of good swell and winds during your exploration. Waste some hours on Google Earth!

2. Stay in contact. Is there cell phone coverage where you’re going? If not, an iridium portable satellite phone could be a lifesaver, and you can get fold-up solar chargers to keep it juiced up. Carry a hand held GPS—there is no point calling for help if you can’t tell people where you are. Tell someone where you’re going and make a time to report in. “If you haven’t heard from me by a certain day/time, assume I am in trouble and come looking for me.”

3. Have patience. Most breaks need the magic combo of swell direction, size, and wind to fire. I’ve been driving up and down the Mentawai chain for over 20 years, and there are breaks that we wrote off only to find that on the right day they are unbelievable…and there are probably more we haven’t figured out yet! Keep an open mind. Just because it’s crap on the day you checked it doesn’t mean it won’t have its day.

4. Don’t take others’ word for what’s out there! Surfers are like sheep. In a lot of places, everyone will just go to the known breaks, assuming that there is nothing else. In 1981, the surfers in Nias told me Lagundri was the only decent break in the whole of Sumatra! A better break could be just around the corner, and until the known break gets too crowded, very few will bother looking. During The Crossing, we found world-class breaks right under people’s noses all over the world. Some were even in plain sight of well-known breaks, but no one had ever paddled out!

5. If you are exploring with others, make sure you’re prepared to spend difficult times with them. Nothing’s worse than getting stuck with a major dickhead in the middle of nowhere or on a small boat where you can’t get away from them. You need to surround yourself with people who are optimistic, patient, and resilient. Avoid whiners and particularly people who have to do drugs to function. I’ve watched heavy pot smokers turn into paranoid basket cases after just a few days without weed.

6. Learn some first-aid. Carry a good medical kit equipped with malaria medicine, antibiotics, antifungal cream, painkillers, dressings, disposable syringes, allergy medicine, and more. A key is to have someone teach you how to suture an open wound. Deal with cuts and abrasions immediately. Many explorations have been cut short by infected cuts, galloping crotch rot, toothaches, and ear infections.

7. If you find something, keep your mouth shut. Just because there’s no one there on the day doesn’t mean you’re the first one to find a break. There could be a whole local crew that keep it a closely guarded secret. Think of the damage you can do by posting photos online with specific location info. Even better, don’t take photos! Be responsible, you could destroy other surfers’ dreams—guys that live there and have based their whole lives around surfing the area.

8. Be aware of local customs. Watch the locals—if their girls are covered up, so should your girl. If all the guys are wearing long pants, do the same. Ask them what’s not cool, and listen to what they tell you. Be a good representative of your country—don’t jam your opinions and ideals down others’ throats, and you just might even learn something really useful. Avoid political and religious discussions unless you really know someone. Respect is absolutely essential. If there are other surfers in the water, paddle up and introduce yourself, make eye contact, and smile! Leave your city hassling skills at home, and before you know it, they’ll be calling you into waves.

9. Don’t carry narcotics of any kind. Don’t buy dope from the locals—it could be a setup and cost you your freedom or worse. I’ve seen folks ruin their lives over this issue…good mates included. And remember, if your travelling companion gets busted and you’re in the room, you’re going down too.

10. Get a boat. Real exploration happens when you are charting your own course.

  • HoChiBonger

    Rule #7 is a rule to live by. Posting on Vimeo or Youtube or slapping down a bunch of images on a photo editor’s desk or even claiming “We Scored” when you get home is only drawing attention from the wrong people. You will find like minded people on the road, and they will know if you are the type that will blow their cover, or if you can be trusted with perhaps with a little secret they are willing to share. Nothing good has ever come from claiming to know of a secret spot, or worse yet, telling everyone in cyberspace about it. Find it on the down low, keep it on the down low. Nowhere is this more true than in Baja. People love to tell stories and then say, it’s no secret. Well, Duh! Pretend you are a Buddha; Breathe, See, Learn. It will only make your experience richer.

  • Kook

    I find it amusing and sad that Daly himself would put rule #7 on here as this is pure hypocrisy at its finest.

  • zeno malan

    Back in the day, you didn’t wear shorts, only pants, when going to a town to buy supplies in Costa Rica.
    You were considered a child if you did.
    Times change.
    Being polite always pays dividends.

  • Steve Briggs

    The Eagles wrote, “call some place paradise kiss it goodbye”. Daly was at the leading edge of discoveries in the Mentawais many years back with the incredible photos going to Surfing Magazine and Flame. Jeff Hornbaker and Aaron Chang did many trips that resulted in Covers and editorial features that widely exposed the area and breaks. Even Videos were made of the trips and waves. What has the attention and coverage done to that area? Where do all the boats flush their sewage when near the epic surf? How crowded is the area now? Martin Daly has been more than successful selling out the area and has a flotilla of the best boats in the area with the Death Star being the Taj Mahal of the Seas. For him to post rule #7 is hypocritical to say the least.

  • Dewey

    Been surfing since 1962. There are two kinds of surf breaks, easy ones to get too and hard ones to get too. The easier a break is to get too the more people will be there, the harder it is the less people will be there. There are no secret spots. Surfers can never keep good surf a secret. Rule 7 has not and will not ever work.

  • dman

    Those early search trips with curren were the first to expose the area and now look what happened.

  • http://SwabsSurfSpot Swabs

    Martin, you moron. Rule #7. I know that wave, its named after me. My wave. And if you’re boat ever comes around again with a bunch of dummies on board I will bomb it with coconuts.

  • Janet Jackson

    ten rules of surf exploitation… #7 Daly’s a hypocrit

  • old school

    How has Daly lived this long? In terms of exploiting one of the world’s most precious resources, BP couldn’t have done better. Good on ya, Martin.

  • Blobon Yourleftshoe


    There i said it.

  • Sanjay

    a good read for us.We are at present exploring BAY of Bengal in India and we are loving it less of wants.
    Research and patience works.Sadly google maps doesnt help.


  • http://n/a Bruce McIntosh

    Unless you pay for high security clearence to get googles lower orbiting satellite access which you must have a classified clearance you can’t get close enough to see properly. Try NASA but becareful they have loaded their sites with viruses to protect their systems and they have multiple orbits and placements you can direct them to your desired geographic coordinates

  • satisfied customer

    Re: rule 7. Daly doesn’t take photos, his guests do. If it isn;t a pro trip, he goes to secret waves, no cameras.

  • Erratic

    Rule7, Spend more money to find uncrowded surf . Surf exploitation has cost many surfers alot of money. Why go to the ments with 20 other boats cruising around. Patience!!! haha Failure!!!!!

  • John Keating

    I have lived in Oregon for 17 years….Moved to Maui for two years and learned to surf..My best friend from Maui was here for a few weeks..The surf was small and crowded in all the basic spote ..He found a great 3 foot face LOL…Not surfer in site…I bet it get’s way good and fun during the winter..Maybe caa it the Piai of Oregon….Aloha sssjk

  • Tom

    I spent much of my 20s traveling and surfing remote idyllic places. Now 40 years old and living in the northeast I still have those discovery experiences on a colder/smaller scale. Any stretch of coast can have its day with the right conditions. I have to find someone to go out with me when my spot is on. And it’s right under everyone’s nose.

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  • Bob Attwood

    People who feel it necessary to call Mr Daly a hypocrite on rule#7 know little of the history and facts in the evolvement of his discoveries and business.
    He discovered most of the breaks off West Sumatera chiefly during his work as a salvage diver during the eighties. Whilst working in Jakarta during this period. I knew him as a friend and fellow surfer. On occaision I was priviledged enough to be taken to some of the now famous breaks well before others.
    Unfortunately some who Martin trusted to keep these places secret began to expose them in the mid-to late eighties. Henceforth some began to develop a charter industry in these areas. What was Martin to do sit back and let all and sundry lay claim to his discoveries. Therefore in around 1992 he began to charter into the area himself.
    I know for a fact that on original surf trips aboard the MV Indies Trader it was cone of silence. Martin didn’t sell out, others sold him out.