Travel Tips: The feral surf trip

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Surfing takes us to far off places that other people just don’t go to. And once we get there, it pushes us a little deeper into the wilds still. That’s half the point of surf travel – the adventure, for if we only travelled for the waves, we’d all be headed to the Dubai Wave Pool or Retallack Flowrider.

Imagine hobbing home over that lot with a foot full of urchin spines

The other obvious lure of waves in wild places is the lack of crowds, but lack of crowds usually means the area is not particularly fit for sustaining human life, so we should expect all sorts of extremes and other hazards to our selves.

Based on my experience of travelling to 30 odd countries in search of surf, I’ve come up with a list of the top then threats to our well-being which might not seem obvious at first, so you won’t see any mention of malaria, earthquakes, war and so on.

1. Stubbed toes

Stubbed toes, micro-cuts on the sole of your foot, cracked heels…All very minor complaints when you’re at home but nothing screws your world up quicker than injuring your foot on day one of an adventure surfing trip. You’ll notice the locals don’t trot around barefoot so abandon any hippy ideals and invest in a decent pair of beach sandals and some trail shoes if you intend to trek to remote surf spots.

2. Dehydration

Take a 12hr plus air-conditioned flight, searing heat, and higher than normal physical exertion from all that extra surfing, and you WILL become dehydrated. I’ve seen people fainting and losing the plot through not keeping fluid levels topped up. The body needs salt and sugar as well as water: a can of Coke and a pack of salty peanuts is a fast way to get your electrolyte levels topped back up.

3. Giardiaisis

My worst ever tropical experience was at the hands of giardiasis.Millions of tiny heart-shaped parasites anchor themselves to the inside of your guts and give you the worst case of diarrhoea and vomiting ever. You can’t eat or drink ANYTHING, your breath reeks of sulphur, it’s all very depressing. Treatment is via some brutal drug combos that almost make you feel worse. How to avoid giardiasis? Don’t get sh!t in your mouth.

4. Recreational highs

Let’s be adult and realistic. Some people smoke weed. However, that spliff you’ve just been handed might not be packed with what you think it is. I’ve known many an un-savvy traveller spend two days flat on their back in a paralytic stupor, their mind trying to eat itself, after taking something to the head that they really shouldn’t have done. My advice? Chill out in the evening with a couple of local beers; it’ll rehydrate you and relax your tired muscles.

5. Coppers

Another reason to avoid no.4! Ever seen a police truck drive through the streets of Kuta loaded with a fresh batch of Westerners who were caught with their hands in the cookie jar? Their facial expressions say it all: off to a Balinese detention centre where the only thing going for you is your height, and nothing to look forward to but your parents re-mortgaging their house to pay for your bail and legal fees. Likewise, beware the stitch-up or sting, usually apparent when an offering is too good to be true…

6. Dogs

I like dogs, a lot. But it is a fact that overseas, dogs can carry rabies. Once I was sharing an apartment in Morocco when one of the guys let two dogs in he’d befriended during the day. In the morning we awoke to find them both dead from rabies. We spent several hours in the local clinic sorting out cure shots and missed a banging surf.

7. Sea ulcers

Warm tropical oceans contain much more bacteria than our own cold frigid seas. This means that any cut you get stands a chance of ulcerating and taking on a life of its own. Make sure you clean all the sand out of your cuts after surfing, let them dry and air on land, paint them with iodine or rinse with hydrogen peroxide. It won’t help healing, but a few drops of superglue or ‘plastic skin’ will stop the ulcer spreading for the remainder of your trip.

8. Touts

Most travellers wise up to touts and scammers pretty quickly, but if it’s your first big trip away from home, you may find the street hustlers quite intimidating. The first rule is: don’t buy anything. Next rule is: don’t even appear interested. There’s nothing you need from these guys, but if you show the slightest hint of interest, they’ll be on you like white on rice and they can be very persuasive. Most altercations are quite light hearted but I’ve seen a few turn ugly; walk by with a purposeful stride, rebuff with a smile and pretend to be occupied with something else.

9. Rum

Or Arak. Or Sang-Song. Unless you’re a tea-totaller, accept that you will loose a couple of mornings and a few million brain-cells to this stuff. Mostly it’s just cheap alcoholic water with some colourings thrown in. Proper spirits (Smirnoff, Bacardi etc…) are imported and cost a lot, so your cocktails will be laced with cheap jungle juice even if it is poured from a brand name bottle.

10. M-150

Like a semi-solid, non-fizzy version of a certain silver-canned drink we all know to well, M-150 is prolific throughout South East Asia. It’s a crude, brutal energy drink that speeds your heart up and sets your teeth on edge. I know a guy who spent a night drinking vodka (slows heart down) mixed with M-150 (speeds heart up) and it set his heart into palpitations. Now he’s fitted with a pacemaker and can’t surf in case his ticker goes pop.


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