Universal in appeal and availability, and yet experienced in their own unique way even by members of the same journey, the surfing road trip is one of the fundamental truths of your surfing life.
At its best, the road trip embodies the very essence of the surfing experience.
At its worst, the road trip embodies the very essence of the surfing experience.
The road trip came to cultural significance at a similar time to surfing itself, the two have since been intertwined. The Malibu longboard scene was in full swing by the 1957 publication of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, a confessional stream of consciousness about male prostitution, poetry, jazz, booze, weed and barbiturates.
Now if that doesn’t instantly recall your last safari, well maybe it’s still just all a bit too soon.
When you look back on your surfing life, perhaps floating above your recently expired corpse on your way to the afterlife, or perhaps technically still alive in old age, chewing the ear off anyone within earshot in a Tuesday night beach adjacent drinking hole via an autobiographical lament of days of yore, only then might you note that the truly significant chapters and defining epochs, rather than being heralded in years or even swells, are marked by formative road trip experiences.
Road trips where you departed as an earlier version of yourself and came back as someone else.
Road trips where you got closer to your art. Where you returned with a more intimate knowledge of both the spiritual and the material; your own true self and probably carparks, public toilets and backstreet mechanics with immigration lawyer-like hourly rates.
“The truly significant chapters of your surfing life, rather than being heralded in years or even swells, are marked by formative road trip experiences”
There’s the you before those two nights in the slammer in Gijon, and the you after.
Whether your version of the roadie means basically living out of your (Mum’s) car near a surf spot eating stale baguette standing next to an open boot, or setting up timelapse star porn photos of a VW T6 California parked under Milky Way just so, on a road trip with the production values of Blue Planet 2, the road is still the road.
And much like how down carves are best achieved with the correct application of technique, so too must there be fundamental technical truths for achieving road trip success.
Like where to go, and with whom.
“It’s Not The Destination, But The Journey“
The above platitude is a big fat lie. A well intentioned lie, but a lie nevertheless. When it comes to road trips, it’s pretty much all the destination, really.
I mean both can play a role, but realistically, it’s 2020. Your vehicle goes relatively fast, almost certainly along motorways that all pretty much look the same.
Whether you stop at an Esso or a Shell, and whether you get the sandwich meal deal and Starbucks or eat cold pasta you brought along and a Costa, you’re gonna get back in and get to where you’re going.
Sorry if that isn’t very romantic.
The destination on the other hand, will make or break your surfing road trip, and more specifically, the waves and weather found there.
If it’s warm and there’re waves, you’ll endure all manner of hardships, physical discomforts and emotional pain.
If you don’t need to pull on minging wet wetsuits standing barefoot in a puddle after sleeping in damp vehicle, that makes a huge difference to morale too, hence the SW France summer road trip popularity. You’re not going to be pioneering very much (other than, perhaps your own explorations of the deepest recesses of the tube) on a trip to a major surf hub, but truth told, you’re probably about 50 years too late for that, anyway.
I once did a summer road trip to the Hebrides (after a Thurso hoax swell and sharp left) and we came upon the stark realisation we could’ve been surfing in shorts in France for half the money. Which grated, pulling on the 5mil in summer and paddling out in cross-shore gales.
We bickered; whose ideas was it anyway? Turns out, it may have been mine.
Wherever you do choose, just tailor your expectations and goals accordingly. If you’re headed to the west coast of Ireland, brilliant. Few finer road trippable coastlines exist within our reach. But don’t expect sultry ‘beach hangs’. Think, ‘sorta like living in a car at home, but better waves’ and you’ll be sweet.
Likewise, if you head to Hossegor hoping for shorebreak tubes, don’t be too surprised if there’re 500 versions of you in the same car park with the same idea.
Your crew is key to enjoyment. You’re going to be spending so much time at such close proximity, you’ll almost become them. Thus habits like toileting, snoring, loud eating (the horror of realising, before nightfall on day one, that one of your group has the clicking jaw when they eat) will become very much part of your group dynamic. If you have low tolerance thresholds, choose wisely.
You could argue that the crew dynamic is actually more important than waves and weather. Because lacklustre swell and inclement weather can be overcome by vibe.
And as we have already established, as much as your vibe attracts your tribe, so too does your tribe begat your vibe.
Natural roles develop in any group and an organic, mutually beneficial division of labour results. Some people like driving, others fare better under duress, perhaps interrogation or torture. Meanwhile others are bad drunks, and should avoid certain trigger poisons: Stella or whisky, for example.
“As much as your vibe is your tribe, so too is your tribe, in fact, your vibe…”
Simple workaround coping mechanisms should help, perhaps you’ll do a bracing swim, walk or perform web-based admin from a nearby café while a more infantile member of the group takes their afternoon nap.
The key crew criterion, perhaps more than personality, hygiene and political views combined, is probably aligning keenness.
Trips with froth level disparities can be awkward. Dangerous, even. Ideally, all of you should be keen as mustard to surf, all of the time.
Alternatively, all of you similarly apathetic; But the frother and they who can’t really be arsed can make a troublesome mix.
Having said all this, being able to tolerate the genuinely unlikable human all up and around you is also part of rendering you a 4ft beachbreak loving connect between human being and saint.
I did a France trip with a friend of a friend (met him the day of the trip) who was a 50-something German porn addict (German DVD’s, he was from Devon) and constantly referred to something he called ‘his exercises’ which involved him trying to augment the impressiveness of his member by manipulating it while it was ‘angry’. He provided a full description of how this is achieved, which I’ll spare you for now.
Hence, dappled dawn rays through pine canopy, kettle whistling merrily for morning brew:
“Alright Jim? (not real name). You checked it already?
“Nah, just been doing my exercises…”
Ten days of that in Camping Municipal Seignosse, and yet look at me now; still coping, twenty years on.
Next: Road Trips: How & Why: – Navigation, seating plans, boards & contraband