The World’s Shithole Countries Have Always Had A Lot To Offer Surfers
A case for going feral, with Kepa Acero.
At the turn of the century, Huntington Beach surfer Timmy Turner’s breakout film “Second Thoughts” transformed the feral surf movement from fringe to fad, slaughtering a goat on a remote Sumatran island for sustenance while scoring spots like Steel Vaginas.
Timmy, Travis Potter and their Surf City cohorts illustrated in full POV glory, what thousands of driven, dirty surf dogs had learned over the last three decades of deep surf exploration: when it comes to surf travel, less is often more.
A dozen or so years down the track, after coming back from nearly dying from an infection he got while surfing in the Huntington sewer, Timmy’s still surfing, raising a family and slanging breakfast hash at the Sugar Shack… while the United States President refers to so many of Timmy’s and many an adventurous surfer’s favorite haunts as “shithole countries.”
Surfers have long indulged third-world fantasies, and now more than ever, those far-off and fringe locales still capture imaginations, and can offer a traveler massive rewards for the risks inherent to the areas.
Kepa Acero is the prince of the solo session.
“People would always say, ‘Fuck, I’m not going to that country,’ because of some socio-economic reason,” veteran globetrotter Kepa Acero tells Stab. “But when the Google Earth came out and everyone realized that maybe this one point somewhere could be a really good wave—that’s how I started with my trips. I saw it as an option of going to places that, maybe because of some preconceived ideas, or because there wasn’t that much information available, surfers didn’t go there.”
In recent years, Kepa’s picked up where guys like Timmy Turner, or Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson left off. With the Internet in-hand and an open road in front of him, Kepa continues to push deeper into uncharted waters than just about any other surfer on the planet.
“To me, one of my greatest moments was in Angola,” Kepa recalls. “It was one of the waves I found on Google Earth. I really believe that nobody there had ever seen surfing before. There was a small fishing village, and when I got there, I parked my car and walked in to meet the people, and I told them I would like to surf in this place.
They said, “You can come if you want. We can give you some fish and this and that. But we don’t know what is surfing.”
A man for the people.
“So, the next morning I went out surfing and there were some kids that were very curious. They were waiting there in the shorebreak watching. And when I took off on the first wave, it was like a man walking on the sea, you know? They couldn’t expect that I was going to ride a wave. They had no concept. They started screaming. Then the whole village came out and everyone was screaming. That day there was a big party. Everybody came to pick me up in the shorebreak. They made a big party for me. It was great. Sometimes I think that maybe now they’re shaping their own boards and there’s a small surfing community there. They gave me a lot, but maybe I gave them a little too.”
The cultural exchange between traveling surfers and locals may be the most valuable aspect of vagabond surfaris. Surf resorts are generally insulated and isolated, full of surfers with a penchant for comfort, waves and cold beer.
But true dirtbag travel—that’s gritty, and maybe, yeah, a little risky, perhaps not always comfortable, and being robbed at gunpoint at in El Salvador may not be a fun experience, but it sure thins out the crowds.
And it’ll sure as hell teach you a thing or two about yourself.
Ride it if it floats.
“In Brazil, I went to surf one of those bore tides,” says Kepa. “There was a small local community there. It was completely isolated from the outside world. There were no cars, nothing. But actually, they were surfing the wave on boards they made out of refrigerator doors. They’d discovered that gliding on a wave was fun.
So, I thought: riding waves is a universal thing. You don’t need to be from this culture or that culture to enjoy riding waves. It’s a universal feeling. What makes us unite at that moment, is that those kids are just having fun, and that’s the beautiful part of surfing. You just need to glide and have fun and that’s it.”
Of course, it’s not all riding waves in these far flung locales. When it comes to getting off the beaten path, opportunity comes in many forms.
“I really believe that in the cities in Africa it is difficult for people,” Kepa tells me. “It’s not easy to make a living. Everyone is always looking for work. They generally have something against the white people, which I understand because we did a lot of bad things in Africa. But once you get out of the big cities, and go into the villages, it is a huge opportunity to experience something very special, in a place that has a different way of seeing life.
It’s also an opportunity for them to see how we live. It’s an opportunity for them to travel as well, because they see how you live. That’s a very clean relationship. In places like Bali—which I love Bali, but it’s more of a business model. It’s not an exchange of ways of seeing life. like what happens in these other places.”
And sometimes, as heartbreaking as it can be, certain locations will shut you down, no amount of effort is enough.
Mr Acero has mastered the art of the GoPro selfie.
“The hardest trip I ever had was in India,” Kepa says. “It took me like three days to get to this Point I wanted to surf. I drove all the way out there. I was right in the bay close to the point, there was a swell coming, and I waited there.
After two weeks in India, waiting for the spot to come alive, someone told me because it was on a military base, I couldn’t access it. But It was just in front of me: right there.
I could see the waves right there in front of me. I went all the way there and it didn’t happen. I tried to pay money, to the police, to anyone, it didn’t work.”
But most often, a respectful smile and an openness upon entry will get you through most roadblocks. Guys like Timmy Turner and Kepa Acero are more than just surfers. They’re explorers. They’re ambassadors. Through surfing, they’re able to cut straight through cultural differences and get down to what really matters.
Kepa at his home break of Mundaka, which he tries to stay close to during it’s winter season, saving his Sub-Saharan adventures for the Basque Country’s off-season.
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