Spring is a great time to seek distant waves. On a week surf trip, you want perfect waves, gliding, sun, big turns and hopefully get the taste of a barrell. On a month or longer surf trip, you go to discover a place.
My surf trips are somehow peculiars. I like to go quite some time, I like to surf, loads of surfing, but not necessarily that everything spins around surfing. What I really seek is to enjoy a powerful place. To me a powerful place tends to be the one that has mountains close to the coast and that somehow feels rough and quiet. I want to be able to feel the storms rolling.
To discover a powerful place implies necessarily a component of exploration, of hiking, looking in the map for spots that may work, climb some representative peaks, dream of how that place would look like in winter and how much swell will those spots hold.
The one that wants to do all, doesn’t really focus; I guess that’s why i’m not such a good surfer.
The main problem you will find in such kind of trip is the logistics.
What and how to pack!?
Before getting crazy packing everything that we think we will need, there are some parameters that we should consider.
-Are we going to check in?
-Should everything fit in a single backpack?
-Are we going to have a home, base camp, or place where we can store our gear and come back later for it?
-Will we have long distances by feet with all or a big part of our gear in our backs?
-In such case, will we need to bring a tent, sleeping bag, camping material and have enough space for food and water?
-Are we going to rent a car or will we use public transportation? In such case, is the public transportation good quality, reliable and luggage friendly or is it the typical public transportation of a developing country?
I have based this article on my experience of two trips. They both have similarities but with completely different logistics.
The first trip was to South America through the Pacific- Andean edge from the north of Ecuador to Santiago de Chile. This trip lasted five months, I went with a 42l backpack, I did not carry my surfboard and I used public transport.
The second trip was to the Lofoten Islands and the Arctic coast of Norway. It lasted one month, and this time I brought all my surf gear, rented a car and we were having a house that we could use as “base camp”. Having a base camp was allowing us to go on mini expeditions, hence we brought all the bivouac and camping equipment.
This week we will start talking about the trip to South America.
For this trip I was certain that less was going to be more. I decided that everything should fit on a 42l alpinism backpack. The idea of this trip was to alternate periods of two or three weeks on the coast with similar periods on the mountains.
I decided not to bring my surfboard, because for so many months and so many transports in mini buses through mountain roads, the board would not stand a chance. Bringing a board will as well limit you to the high end touristic companies that have a reliable enough trunk for the board. Unfortunately such companies do not get off the beaten path, and probably that is not what you had on mind on an exploring trip.
Moreover, as you can imagine, it’s not the best case scenario to have to bring your surfboard to a mountain refuge, neither been on the big mountains thinking if the surfboard that you left in that hostel will still be alive.
Finally, no one is going to take any responsability if your board breaks and that may actually happen on the first week.
Ok, so now we will go through what to bring, how to do it, what we should leave behind and some tips that will help us pack everything in 42l.
Minimize clothing. Bring only the essentials and somehow what’s “technologic”. It is more than likely that over there you will buy some alpaca sweater, a t-shirt, some ethnic hat, scarf or gloves. If you’re missing underwear, socks or t-shirts you will be able to find then by packs at every market at a great price.
-3 technical t-shirts (anti bacterial, anti sweating and well ventilated)
-1 light technical shirt.
-1 polartech soft shell.
-1 light outdoor lifestyle technical pant. (like a climbing pant). If possible water repellent. Try it to be jeans look like, beige, green or some nice colour so you can use it as well for having a beer or take them to dinner at the end of the day without looking like Rambo.
-1 technical pant. A shell, thicker and designed for more exposed activities. Gore tex or similar shell will offer the best protection for wind and water, but a rough windproof softshell will do the job in most situations while been more versatile and easy to wear.
-1 gore-tex jacket.
-1 or 2 board short. Try to pick them comfortable, performing and in some neutral colour as they will work as surfing shorts, street shorts, hiking shorts…
-Technical socks + comfy underwear. Quantity up to you.
-1 travel towel.
-camping sheet or light sleeping bag.
-Mosquito net. Actually only if you are thinking on spending a lot of time on jungle areas and do some freeriding. In fact, virtually all the housing options in mosquito areas are provided with good mosquito nets, however you never know.
In this category we fit what we consider a necessity for our inner happiness even though it is not a requirement for the trip. For some people it may be a Ukelele, for others books, for others quite a lot of photographic gear, for others a nice dress…
In my case it’s climbing gear. I have a hard time travelling somewhere and not bringing my minimum climbing gear, so here is my list:
-1 pair of climbing shoes.
-light semi rigid alpine boots.
-1 harness, 3 carabiners, 3 quickdraws, 1 ATC, some slings, 1 set of nuts, 3 friends.
-first aid kit.
-bleach or water filter.
-Head lamp, pocket knife, compass, magnesium fire starter, duct tape, auxiliary rope.
-camping plates, glasses, cutlery, thermos.
-Solarez surfboard repair kit.
-Surf wax. Sometimes it’s hard to find, and you don’t want to run short of it when in front of a solitary barrell.
In Peru and Chile, even in small villages and secondary waves, there is always quality gear to rent at competitive prices, especially on a weekly rent.
In Ecuador, I always found gear to rent or borrow, but sometimes the offer is not great and can be old or even damaged. Over there I found pretty handy my Solarez. Doing some easy fixings in a few boards of a Hostel I got a really good price for my accommodation.
The neoprene top is a good idea. Until the third north of Peru the water is pretty warm. The neoprene top will protect you from the sun and allow you to last longer on the water before getting cold.
From there to the south, the water gets freezing due to the humboldt current, In Peru and Chile I was generally renting a 3/2 or 4/3 in good condition, but even like that it can get bitter cold in the water. For those days your neoprene top can be a good compliment, especially if it’s chest piece with hood.
Surf boots are more than recommended. Not only because of the cold, but as well because of some rocky reefs and especially sea hedgehogs.
In Iquique I took a fall on a reef infested of sea hedgehogs and for several days I removed over fifty spikes from my feets with a pocket knife. Prevent if you can that “jerry of the day” time.
Packing your clothes in little rolls takes less space. Leave a third of your backpack empty. When everything is well packed it doesn’t take too much space, but when you’ll have a plastic bag of a pile of dirty laundry and a wet towel, it will take a lot of space.
Bring a foldable travel duffel bag. When folded it almost takes no space but has a capacity of 60L. Pack your backpack on it before taking a bus, train or flight. You can use the extra space to keep your dirty, wet clothes or sweaty shoes outside your backpack. It will as well prevent dusting. Moreover when you will fly back home you will have space for your handcrafted sweaters and souvenirs that you will most likely buy. Try to buy your foldable bag black and with a simple design, so it doesn’t look attractive to thieves on stations and busy places.
Finally take a small backpack as hand luggage and day pack. You can bring a 15l hiking backpack or go for a foldable backpack without structure if you are tight of space.
I repeat one more time, in this kind of trips, less is more. At first sight the list can look slightly rough. Yeah, for five month my shoe options are hiking sandals or light mountaineering boots. However consider that everything that you bring has to be functional and unnecessary items will only cause you problems and be annoying to travel with.
Again, developing economies have local vibrant markets everywhere, you will be able to buy whatever you need if you miss something, so try to be neat and functional in your initial packing.
Now you only need to choose the right backpack for your trip, but that’s another battle. Packing is a pain in the funk, so if you have some doubts and questions regarding the packing for your journey, do not hesitate on writting on the comment section.
Next week we will go through what it took the logistics for the trip to arctic Norway.