Looking For Santosha – A brief history of surf travel

“A surfer’s dream is to walk into a unique location with a perfect peeling wave, totally unknown.”-Peter Troy, legendary 1960s surf adventurer

Wanderlust. Seafaring. Excursion. Trekking. Passage. Movement.

Travel: It begins with desire. A desire to depart familiar scenes and slip into something a little more comfortable … or uncomfortable, depending on what lies at point B or point C or point D. And so on.

Chances are you’re at point A right now, reading this magazine in a place you know all too well. Maybe not. Either way, this magazine is filled with images and words from far afield, pieced together by the editors for the sole purpose of showcasing the world to you, the humble reader. And, full of waves, it’s a big, wet world to see.

“In the beginning, there was Hawai’i,” quipped longtime surf writer Drew Kampion. “Then there was Hawai’i.”

Hey, it was Hawai’i’s George Freeth who imported surfing to California in 1907, hauling a 150-pound wood surfboard into the waves at Redondo Beach. Three years later, as a member of the traveling U.S. Swim Team, Duke Kahanamoku left his beloved islands and brought surfing to the U.S. East Coast. In 1915, Duke was the first person to surf in Australia, on a big day at Harbord (a.k.a. Freshwater Beach).

In the 1920s, freshly graded Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) was the vein for surf travel in Southern California. Sure, we’d surfed all the name-brand spots like Windansea, Swami’s, Corona Del Mar, Long Beach, Huntington, and San Onofre, but what existed up north? Santa Cruz’s Steamer Lane soon became a destination, as did Rincon and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Santa Monica surfers Tom Blake (who surfed Hawai’i in 1924) and Sam Reid knew zones to the north featured high-quality waves with no one to ride them-not that it mattered in September 1926, as California’s surfer population consisted of only a few guys. On that warm, indian summer morning, Blake and Reid hopped onto PCH and motored up to a place that was then as deserted as the loneliest point in Baja. Their find? Malibu.

“Going to Malibu from Santa Monica was the equivalent of going from one country to another,” historian Gary Lynch wrote.

“We took our 10′ redwoods out (…) and paddled the mile to a beautiful white crescent-shaped beach that didn’t have a footprint on it,” Reid recalled in Tom Blake: The Uncommon Journey Of A Pioneer Waterman. “No buildings and, of course, no pier! There was no audience but the seagulls.”

Essentially, first-surfing Malibu in 1926 was akin to first-surfing Jeffreys Bay in 1963, or Irian Jaya in 2004. It was (and is) all about “the search.” This catch-phrase was coined by Rip Curl for an advertising campaign several years ago, but it’s also the lifeblood mojo of surf searchers across the globe.

From the 1920s through the 1950s, a surf trip entailed traveling either from Hawai’i to California or vice versa. California’s Pete Peterson and Lorrin Harrison followed in Blake’s footsteps with a stowaway voyage to Waikiki in 1932. Fifteen years later, Hawai’i’s Wally Froiseth, George Downing, and Woody Brown sailed in the opposite direction.

“To appreciate Hawai’i, you’ve got to leave Hawai’i,” said Randy Rarick, director of the North Shore’s annual Triple Crown series. “My first major trip was to California when I was fifteen, and back then it was a huge adventure.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more well-traveled surfer than Rarick. At age 54, it’s said that he’s been everywhere, met everyone, and seen everything. Rarick’s traveled in 110-plus countries and surfed in more than 60 of them-random places like Somalia, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Burma. But, like all of us, his traveling had to start somewhere, and why not California? It was as exotic to Hawai’ians as Hawai’i was to Californians.

“In the 1960s,” Rarick said, “surf magazines were growing, and I’d look at all these pictures of glassy California beachbreaks. I’d dream about how cool it would be to ride wave, fall off, and step onto the sand-we just don’t get that here in Hawai’i very often.”

Rarick’s California sojourn fell smack-dab in the middle of the planet’s fledgling surf discovery. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, doors the world over swung wide open, thanks in part to cheaper air travel and to movies like Endless Summer, which was surfing’s first surf-travel documentary. Who’d ever thought of surfing in Ghana, Tahiti, or Senegal, anyway? After the film’s overwhelming success, surfers looked at their world maps in a whole new light.

In the 1960s, magazine articles about Mexico, Baja, France, Mauritius, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil effectively distracted surfers from the standard Hawai’i-California circuit. Surfing in Europe became the thing to do-the England-to-Morocco migration route was deemed de rigueur in the chilly winter months, and surfing’s popularity skyrocketed in places we’d never dreamed of surfing.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Peter Troy introduced surfing to Brazil in 1961, setting the stage for what is today a teeming surf culture. Through the 60s and into the 70s, surfers left their mark across South and Central America, and halfway around the world, first-surfs occurred frequently in South Africa, Australia, and Indonesia.

A series of 1970s travel articles produced for Surfer magazine by writer Kevin Naughton and photographer Craig Peterson further fueled our wanderlust. Who can forget the world’s first look at now-defunct Petacalco in Mexico, Fiji’s blue perfection, France’s fine wines and waves, or West Africa’s dusty barrels? The pair’s stories filled readers’ minds with distant exotica, stating that, hey, there’s a lot of ocean out there, and perhaps travel is the greatest education.

“Our tales from a lost horizon,” Naughton said, “were a wake-up call to fellow surfers that it’s better to have your passport in some thief’s pocket in a foreign land than sitting in your drawer at home. If there was any underlying message, it was that, for a traveler on the road, it’s better to be lucky than rich.”

Randy Rarick remembers those articles, identifying with the Naughton/Peterson ethos that it’s our world out there, and everyone should get off their ass and go check it out.

“The aspect of either discovery, interacting with the culture of the place, and then being able to actually share that with fellow surfers is really cool,” Rarick said. “If you take the time and energy to go find a place, you have the right to either keep it private or share it with your friends or the surfing world. We’re all here to share the world, and if you can share it with people who surf and enjoy it with surfers, that’s a good thing.

“When you go traveling, my philosophy is the interaction with the local people and the place is why you’ve traveled. To get surf is just the icing on the cake. If you want to surf-travel, just go to the Mentawais-you cannot go wrong. Get on a boat and you’ll get good surf no matter what. But when you’re sitting on a boat, you don’t really interact with the place, per se, and you actually are missing the whole mark of traveling.

“When you do it that way, you’re nothing more than a surf tourist, as I call it. A traveler is different than a tourist: a tourist is somebody who goes there to see it, and a traveler is somebody who goes to experience it.”

One of today’s preeminent and most conspicuous forms of surf exploration is The Crossing-an ambitious plan to scour the Earth’s oceans aboard the Indies Trader, funded by Quiksilver. Launched in March 1999 from Cairns, Australia, the Crossing’s original theme was a detailed one-year exploration of the South Pacific, which quickly evolved into a six-year voyage covering just about everywhere in the world with swell exposure: Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Indonesia, Indian Ocean islands, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, South America, North America …

Magazine-sponsored trips are another visible conduit of unique surf travel. One from 2000, featured in Surfer magazine, was a groundbreaking adventure deep into the pirate territory of Indonesia’s Spice Islands.

“It was one of those places where you began to wonder just how silly and frivolous the hunt for surf is,” said Hans Hagen. “We were constantly caught off-guard both by beauty and danger-sometimes they seem to go hand in hand. It’s always the hard trips that stick with you.”

Initially, following the early days of Duke in Australia and Santa Cruz, the seeds of surf travel were sown via California’s Highway 101-gas it for ten cents a gallon and go. North, usually. Rincon was as cold and wild then as Alaska is now. Not quite the Arctic Circle, but then again, when you had no choice but to surf in trunks year-round, Rincon was cold enough.

Not as cold as Santa Cruz, though-hey, Jack O’Neill knew that and gave birth to modern rubber. With great advancements in wetsuit technology, nobody dismissed the idea of surfing such extreme cold-water climes.

“You know, until you’ve surfed with polar bears around,” Dr. Mark Renneker told Surfing magazine, “you haven’t really surfed.”

Consider Greenland, Sweden, Antarctica, Svalbard, Tierra del Fuego, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Falkland Islands, Alaska, Russia, Norway, and Iceland.

“They used to be places where the elements were working against you,” Rarick said. “Now, with the modern wetsuit, you can overcome those elements.”

A 1996 Surfer magazine delegation to Iceland raised more than a few proverbial eyebrows in the surf world, especially considering nobody had ever really thought this island nation smack-dab in the middle of the North Atlantic could produce some incredibly good waves.

Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, of Endless Summer II fame, was one of the trip’s participants. “The surf was really fun,” he recalls. “Good point breaks and reefs-even a bitchen sand river-mouth deal. Of course it was cold, but one of the points stretched for more than three miles with the right swell … amazing! I would go back in a heartbeat.”

Inspired by what they found, Wingnut is sold on the concept of surf-trekking into the world’s icy netherworlds. Who needs palm trees and white-sand hammocks?

“It will be in cold places that new discoveries will be made,” he said.

Wetsuits are better than ever. So good, in fact, that they have allowed waves to be ridden everywhere from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

“Besides great wetsuits,” said former Surfer Editor Steve Hawk, “with the growing number of surfers, there’s bound to be a lot more people looking at more interesting places based on their own personal travel needs. Some guys don’t mind camping out where it’s cold. I know a lot of people who think the idea of going to Alaska to surf just sounds like the stupidest thing in the world. But then you have guys like Doc (Renneker), who’s done with tropical places.”

Dr. Renneker surfed among polar bears and icebergs in Svalbard, an island north of Norway, which made his previous Alaska trips seem tropical. Hawk was in Alaska with Renneker, who, when flying home to San Francisco, decided that it was time to head south for the winter. Not to Tortola or Costa Rica, not to Fiji or Tahiti, but to the 33-degree water surrounding the great white sheet of ice at the bottom of the world: Antarctica.

A brave sail from Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica, which some consider to be the deadliest trip in the world, then three earnest weeks on a steel-hulled boat with only one day of good surf. Why? Thank the great British explorer of yore: Ernest Shackleton.

“One of the real moments of genesis for our trip was the book about Shackleton’s expedition,” Hawk said. “There was a photo of some of his crew, who, for survival purposes, he’d left behind on Elephant Island. He left them and sailed off in a tiny boat, returning months later to get the other guys.”

Shackleton had a photographer with him, and in the book is a shot of Shackleton coming unique surf travel. One from 2000, featured in Surfer magazine, was a groundbreaking adventure deep into the pirate territory of Indonesia’s Spice Islands.

“It was one of those places where you began to wonder just how silly and frivolous the hunt for surf is,” said Hans Hagen. “We were constantly caught off-guard both by beauty and danger-sometimes they seem to go hand in hand. It’s always the hard trips that stick with you.”

Initially, following the early days of Duke in Australia and Santa Cruz, the seeds of surf travel were sown via California’s Highway 101-gas it for ten cents a gallon and go. North, usually. Rincon was as cold and wild then as Alaska is now. Not quite the Arctic Circle, but then again, when you had no choice but to surf in trunks year-round, Rincon was cold enough.

Not as cold as Santa Cruz, though-hey, Jack O’Neill knew that and gave birth to modern rubber. With great advancements in wetsuit technology, nobody dismissed the idea of surfing such extreme cold-water climes.

“You know, until you’ve surfed with polar bears around,” Dr. Mark Renneker told Surfing magazine, “you haven’t really surfed.”

Consider Greenland, Sweden, Antarctica, Svalbard, Tierra del Fuego, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Falkland Islands, Alaska, Russia, Norway, and Iceland.

“They used to be places where the elements were working against you,” Rarick said. “Now, with the modern wetsuit, you can overcome those elements.”

A 1996 Surfer magazine delegation to Iceland raised more than a few proverbial eyebrows in the surf world, especially considering nobody had ever really thought this island nation smack-dab in the middle of the North Atlantic could produce some incredibly good waves.

Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, of Endless Summer II fame, was one of the trip’s participants. “The surf was really fun,” he recalls. “Good point breaks and reefs-even a bitchen sand river-mouth deal. Of course it was cold, but one of the points stretched for more than three miles with the right swell … amazing! I would go back in a heartbeat.”

Inspired by what they found, Wingnut is sold on the concept of surf-trekking into the world’s icy netherworlds. Who needs palm trees and white-sand hammocks?

“It will be in cold places that new discoveries will be made,” he said.

Wetsuits are better than ever. So good, in fact, that they have allowed waves to be ridden everywhere from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

“Besides great wetsuits,” said former Surfer Editor Steve Hawk, “with the growing number of surfers, there’s bound to be a lot more people looking at more interesting places based on their own personal travel needs. Some guys don’t mind camping out where it’s cold. I know a lot of people who think the idea of going to Alaska to surf just sounds like the stupidest thing in the world. But then you have guys like Doc (Renneker), who’s done with tropical places.”

Dr. Renneker surfed among polar bears and icebergs in Svalbard, an island north of Norway, which made his previous Alaska trips seem tropical. Hawk was in Alaska with Renneker, who, when flying home to San Francisco, decided that it was time to head south for the winter. Not to Tortola or Costa Rica, not to Fiji or Tahiti, but to the 33-degree water surrounding the great white sheet of ice at the bottom of the world: Antarctica.

A brave sail from Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica, which some consider to be the deadliest trip in the world, then three earnest weeks on a steel-hulled boat with only one day of good surf. Why? Thank the great British explorer of yore: Ernest Shackleton.

“One of the real moments of genesis for our trip was the book about Shackleton’s expedition,” Hawk said. “There was a photo of some of his crew, who, for survival purposes, he’d left behind on Elephant Island. He left them and sailed off in a tiny boat, returning months later to get the other guys.”

Shackleton had a photographer with him, and in the book is a shot of Shackleton coming toward his men on a skiff, with the mothership anchored offshore. It’s the moment of rescue, and all of the men in the foreground are waving-they’re ecstatic. And about twenty yards in front of them, there’s this little wave breaking, which was what planted the seed in Doc’s mind about surfing Antarctica.

“The first place we actually surfed was right at that spot on Elephant Island,” Hawk said. “Chris Malloy and I paddled out, and it all came full-circle.”

So is Antarctica a bona fide surf destination?

“Oh no,” Hawk assured. “It was a novelty trip-an excuse to go to Antarctica. In many ways, all of the best surf trips are like that.”

Pinpoint the surf discoveries you remember best: Perhaps it’s Indonesia-Uluwatu, Grajagan, Macaronis, Lance’s Right, Nias, Desert Point. Perhaps it was the Philippines and Cloud Nine. Or perhaps it was outposts in Australia, Panama, Africa, and Papua New Guinea.

Maybe it’s Middle Eastern sand that intrigues you: Pakistan, Oman, Yemen. Or six-mils and hypothermia: Alaska, Scotland, Norway. Or Indian Ocean dreams of the Maldives and Andamans, Seychelles and Madagascar.

What is surf adventure? Driving without a map down Mex 1? Camping on Northern California’s Lost Coast? Booking a guaranteed ten-day Bintang bash in the Mentawais? Or charting the unknown on an unknown vessel in a location with unknown surf potential and a good chance of peril and misfortune?

“The roots of surf travel are based on two principles: cutting away from the herd and finding an off-season resource,” said Scott Hulet, editor of The Surfer’s Journal. “Many centuries ago, a few boatloads of Tahitians split for Hawai’i because things were getting rat-caged back home. In this century, Lance Carson turned on to Rincon because Malibu went dormant in the winter. The adventure element is there, but it follows the practical.”

Word-of-mouth and maps chicken-scratched onto cocktail napkins have exemplified more than one surfer’s quest for a foreign shore. Tales of the South Pacific, perhaps the most surf-rich region on the planet, have for years seduced us with unforgettable images of Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, and spaces between-usually unidentified.

Twenty-one years ago, Dave Clark was a schoolteacher in Pago Pago, American Samoa. A friend who had sailed through Fiji described a sublime, tiny island just off the coast of Fiji’s Viti Levu and suggested to Clark that he pay a visit. That island was Tavarua, and Clark and his friend Scott Funk liked what they found on Tavarua. They soon built accommodation on the pristine white sand fronting Restaurants, forever changing the picture of surf travel.

“I think it was the natural evolution of things,” Clark said. “Populations increase and people want to visit more remote areas. On Tavarua, nature did a wonderful job creating that reef, so we thought having accommodation there would be a cool thing to do.”

Clark’s creation? The surf resort. Forget about hoofing a backpack and surfboard through the jungle, or hassling with a do-it-yourself travel tack. One swipe of your credit card could now buy you guaranteed perfection with three meals a day, air-conditioned bungalows, and hot showers.

All that said, not everyone is sold on the packaged surf trip.

“There are still guys out there doing it hard because they believe that’s the way it should be done,” Hulet said. “Craig (Peterson) and Kevin (Naughton) were prototypes; contemporary ferals keep the vibe in production.”

Contemporary ferals?

“Yeah, they’re the guys who get on some local fishing boat and scrounge it out for six months on 100 dollars a month, surfing waves with no one around,” said Rarick. “Some people think that’s exotic-when I was twenty years old, it was great. But as you get older, you realize you need to maximize your time.

“I spent weeks and months driving the coast of West Africa,” Rarick continues, “dirty and dusty and flat conditions, eating shitty food and just waiting for a swell. Weeks