Stab Magazine | Study: You've Been Surf Traveling All Wrong

Study: You’ve Been Surf Traveling All Wrong

Let’s fix that.

Words by stab

According to a recent study out of San Diego State University, you’ve probably been surf traveling all wrong.

The study, which polled 3,101 traveling surfers, revealed people’s strategies for choosing surf travel destinations. The results reveal a major flaw in collective reasoning.

Let’s have a look at Dr. Leon Mach (a surf tourism expert!)’s findings:


Screen Shot 2018 11 08 at 4.59.06 PM

These are the most important numbers.

Let’s begin with the first starred section.

According to the survey, roughly one in four traveling surfers uses forecasts to determine their international surf travel. Four in ten are neutral, and one in three expressly do not use forecasts to guide their travel decisions.

Before we begin our analysis, let’s assume, by conventional logic, that 100% of the surfers polled would prefer to surf “good” waves when surf-traveling. While we recognize the definition of “good” could mean something different for each individual surfer, this doesn’t change the fact listed above.

So if 100% of people would prefer to surf “good” waves on their surf trip but only 25% are using current forecasts to dictate their travel itineraries, there’s going to be a huge disconnect between these surfers’ desires and realities.

Directly correlated with this first starred question are the second and third ones, which reveal that very few people (20%) plan international surf travel within one month of their departure and less than half (44%) have performed an international “surgical strike*” within the past five years.


Maybe air wind is your thing. Photo: Tom Pearsall


As we know, performing a surgical strike is the most effective way to guarantee scoring “good” waves on a surf trip, and if scoring “good” waves is important to 100% of surfers, then why is the majority of surfers (56%) not choosing this method to determine their travel dates and destinations?

Anecdotal evidence points to two main reasons: cost and convenience.

Cost because: as the time of departure draws closer, certain travel-related prices have a tendency to rise: flights, hotels, surf camp fees, etc. This cost increase, it would seem, is enough to scare many surfers into pre-booking trips without help from forecast data.

Convenience because: most people work jobs that grant them a certain amount of time off, which, due to work-flow and the movements of other employees, has to be selected significantly in advance. When tied to that specific future date, people feel inclined to book their flights and accommodation in advance, because it streamlines the whole process and gives them something tangible to anticipate.

It also creates anxiety.

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Is this more your speed? Photo: Tom Hawkins

Think about it: you’ve spent a couple thousand dollars and all your PTO to go somewhere that could either be pumping, putrid, or somewhere in between. You’ll think about this for weeks, months even, in the lead up to your departure, until about 10 days out when the long range forecast reveals the first hints of truth.

Will it be small, scary, howling onshore? Doesn’t matter – you’re going!

Which is the issue. Surfers need to take control of their travel and ensure that when they spend their limited money and time, they’re spending it wisely by striking surgically and therefore scoring good surf.

So let’s break down the issues.

ScaleWidthWyIxMjAwIl0 IMG 6705

What’s your “perfect”? Photo: Dale Rhodes

1. Cost: Cost is not as much of an issue as people believe it to be. Unless you’re traveling around major holidays, airline prices tend to remain fairly steady all the way until the point of departure. Just a few weeks ago, I bought a return flight from LAX to Brisbane for just north of $1,000 USD. That’s about as good a rate as you’ll ever receive, and I purchased it within 24 hours of my departure.

And even if flights to one potential location are especially expensive, there’s bound to be another spot with good forecasted waves that’s more reasonable.

Mainland Americans are almost always within 24 hours and $1,000 of the following international surf destinations: Mexico, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Canada.

At no point in time are all of those locations without the specter of good waves within the next 7-10 days.

For Australians, under the same 24 hour/$1,000 restrictions, you’ve got Indo, New Zealand, Fiji, Japan.

Same rules re: good waves in the 7-10 day range apply here.

And even if the costs of a last-minute venture are slightly inflated, aren’t you, as someone who’s already willing to shell out a couple thou on international, wave-focused travel, happy to spend 30% more if given the relative guarantee of good waves?

For most surfers, that’s a no-brainer equation.

Namibia 1359 EDIT

Koa Smith inside the greatest strike of them all. Photo: Alan Van Gysen

2. Convenience: Simply put, stop being a pussy. Pick your dates of departure however many months ahead of time your employer requires, but don’t you dare buy an airfare. Instead steel your spine, and when that cute accountant from down the hall asks where you’re going next month, tell them the truth: “Not sure yet… just gonna go where the wind takes me.”

(S)he will swoon.

And so what if you have to cop a long layover, stay at a less-than-luxury resort, or make a few on-location decisions in the name of good surf? If you can’t appreciate those things as part of the collective surfing experience, you’re not a committed surf traveler, and have therefore wasted your time reading this article.

But if you, like us, don’t mind getting your hands dirty or hair de-loused in pursuit of glorious surf, whatever and wherever that may be, then it’s time to abandon the comfort of the pre-planned trip and commit to the surgical strike lifestyle.

Let’s see if we can get that 44% up to 80% in 2019.

*A ‘surgical strike’, for those non-privy to early-2000s surf lingo, is a trip decided at the last second due to a stellar forecast.


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