How to not get skunked on your next surf trip

We’ve all been there. We’ve saved our money, researched the spot, booked the flight, packed our boards and arrived at that amazing surf destination. But, once there, we found that the swell forgot to show up, or the wind decided to play funny games, or there was some other variable keeping us from scoring the waves we’d been mind-surfing for the last few weeks.

This is generally what we all have in our head when we’re planning a surf trip. It doesn’t always work out that way. Photo: Courtesy of Clement Philippon/Flickr

Surfing is perhaps the most overall-condition-dependent pursuit there is. And while surf media of yesteryear and social media of today are constantly telling you how damn good it is somewhere else, it doesn’t always seem to be once you arrive.

It happens. Here are a few ways to avoid the all-too-familiar frustration of getting skunked.

Keep your expectations on a leash

It’s not always going to be firing. Try to keep expectations in check. Photo: Courtesy of Steven Powell/Flickr
Don’t expect J-Bay to look like it did for the Corona Pro when you go there. Those of us who work for a living tend to dream big, especially when it comes to surf trips. It’s pretty normal when you’re taking the fins out of your board to pack your boardbag to assume the waves will be perfect wherever it is that you’re headed.

They rarely are, though. Expect average and see how it goes.

Engage tactical strike missions

The best way to score is to simply drop everything and buy a ticket when it’s supposed to be firing. Photo: Courtesy of Bruno Ahlgrimm/Flickr
These are primarily for the experienced, hardcore surfer. Don’t plan on going with a huge group or a significant other who doesn’t surf.

A tactical strike mission is simply when you forecast a swell hitting a desired coast and make spontaneous plans to be there as the swell arrives. With the advanced forecasting tools available today, surfers can get online and track a swell that wave-riders couldn’t in the past. You see the swell, use those vacation days you saved, buy a last-minute ticket (sometimes you pay more, sometimes you get a deal) and arrive as the swell is getting there.

Just keep in mind that you’re not the only one using this strategy.

Engage flexible strike missions

For those who can’t drop everything for a swell on the equator, you can always block out time and then decide where to hit. Photo: Courtesy of Warm Winds/Flickr
We don’t all have the ability to just wing a trip across the globe following blobs of swell. But that doesn’t mean we have to lock ourselves into flatness either.

Let’s say you have a nice 10-day window coming up. It’s not exactly a tactical strike, but it’s kind of the next best thing. Pick a few spots that are about the same travel distance and price. Then, as your window gets closer, see which of those spots will have the best swell.

Maybe there’s a nice southern hemi filtering into Nicaragua or a cold-front swell sweeping down to the Caribbean. Pull the trigger and go.

Bring gear for average waves

You likely don’t need to bring a longboard if you’re going to Waikiki. Photo: Courtesy of Bernard Spragg NZ/Flickr
Small waves are better than no waves. Sometimes when that dreamy point is 2 to 3-foot instead of two to three times overhead, you get it empty, so try to bring gear that will make small waves more fun.

Granted, it’s a challenge to travel with a 9’8″ log, but do some research in advance and see where you can rent a longboard or perhaps buy one on the cheap. It’s much easier to throw a groveler board in your bag, and it’s also a good idea to travel with boards that are convertibles — that is to say, they have five fin boxes and can be set up as a standard thruster, quad for more speed or even a twinny if the surf gets super small.

Have a Plan B

There’s no use in trying to force it. Go do something else. Maybe you’ll make a new friend. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Reeves/Flickr
Sometimes all the planning, all the right gear and the best of attitudes still fall short. There’s no shame in simply ditching the surf. You’re on a trip; enjoy it.

Bringing your snorkel gear, hiking boots, fishing pole or skateboard ensures that if everything else goes wrong, you’re still enjoying your travels. Go explore a city. Learn more about the local food. And would it kill you to go to a museum?

Go to Hawaii in the winter

Hawaii in the winter: It’s really hard to miss. Photo: Courtesy of Surfglassy/Flickr
We can’t guarantee that you’ll get any waves to yourself on the North Shore in December with every World Championship Tour surfer, Qualifying Series hopeful, beach personality, surf brand web designer, pro surf handler, photographer and Joel Parkinson’s entire travel entourage around — plus the locals — but it’s very hard to get fully skunked.

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