Your first tropical surf trip

Six tips to have the best experience

You are about to spend your hard earned money and precious vacation time on the surf trip of a lifetime and you are stoked! Warm water, perfect waves and cold beer, what could go wrong? Well, lots! And inevitably something will go wrong no matter how well you’ve done your research. Having realistic expectations and a good attitude can make the difference between a miserable week or the time of your life.


Here are some of the ways you can mentally prepare yourself in order to enjoy a stress-free surf trip.


1. Bugs and sweat are part of the deal.

There are very few tropical surf destinations where biting insects are not an issue. Surf trips and bugs go hand in hand. Bring bug spray and lightweight clothing to cover up (we recommend going for natural bug spray like Bert Bees natural insect repellant). Sleep with a fan and a mosquito net if possible. But sometimes there is only so much you can do. Arrive with realistic expectations and you will have a lot more fun. The same can be said about the heat. Whether you are lucky enough to have AC or not you will certainly spend plenty of time outdoors in the heat, which can often be oppressive (remember to use a reef-safe, natural sunscreen). Bring a hat and reusable water bottle wherever you go, and expect to sweat. Don’t stress on a damp t-shirt or wiping your face in public. It’s normal and all part of the fun!


girl in sun with woven hat
Getting stranded in the beating sun with no hat, you make it up as you go along



2. Plan to spend a lot of time sitting around.

Because of the heat, tropic cultures tend to never be in a hurry. Things happen when they happen. Being in a hurry will just get you stressed out. It’s best to double the amount of time you normally expect something to take. In Mexico and much of Central America, it is common to see hammocks in restaurants. The idea is that you order your meal and then take a nap while you wait. Simple outings like going to the store might require socializing with several people before completing your task. Bigger projects like car repairs could take weeks.  To enjoy your surf trip fully, you will save yourself a lot of stress if you can go with the flow and slow down a bit.


Nothing better than a nap in a hammock with a puppy


3. Heed the advice of the locals.

Nine times out of ten the locals can make a better prediction for the best place to surf than your favourite surf forecasting app. It is awesome to do your research ahead of time and have an idea of the places you’d like to surf. But you might just have the best session of your life if you ditch your plans and being willing to trust the locals’ advice. And this applies to more than just the waves. The locals might introduce you to the cuisine you can’t pronounce, or natural remedies you would not think to use. Lime juice on mosquito bites is the best and papaya leaf juice was literally a lifesaver when I got a high fever on a surf trip.

What to pack on a surf trip

Don’t forget a fully-equipped first aid kitRead our packing list for a full list of recommendations.


Jumping with a boat with some local fisherman is an excellent way to score some uncrowded waves


4. Be flexible, hold plans lightly.

Simple plans such as going to surf a particular location can change at the drop of a hat. The road might be flooded, the boat may have a mechanical issue, your guide might arrive two hours late and hung over or the waves might be awful the entire trip. Be flexible, go with the flow, try to make the best of whatever happens. Often the best adventures of your surf trip happen when the cab driver drops you off at the wrong side of town and you have no idea how to communicate in the local language to get yourself back. As Yvonne Chouinard, the esteemed climber and owner of clothing brand Patagonia says, that is just where the fun begins!


Adventure is when everything goes wrong. That’s when the adventure starts.



A group of surfers decide if they want to paddle out in subpar conditions or search for another spot.


5. Try to understand cultural differences before judging them.

Things are done differently in different cultures. I was frustrated with the way Mexican drivers never used their turn signals to pass on the highway. Until I figured out the system. Turn signals are used by the slower driver in front to indicate when it is safe to pass. The drivers actually work together on the road versus the more competitive style of driving I was used to in the States. These subtle differences come up all the time. Often there is a very good reason for something I don’t understand. Trying to keep an open mind even if you don’t agree with the way things are done can prevent unnecessary agitation.


Eating a fish who is staring at you might be uncomfortable, but very delicious!


6. Disconnect.

Most places around the world will offer wifi or cell coverage with a local SIM card.  But there are still plenty of places where you just can’t connect or the signal is very slow at best. Remember you are on a surf trip, if you must check messages, try to do it once a day and leave yourself open to the possibility of being wifi-less for the better part of the day. The first day is the hardest but after a couple of days on a cell phone, you might not even miss it!

Some of the best adventures are had in the middle of ne where


You know those girls, Debbie Downer and Too-Good Tamera? Don’t be those girls. Enjoying your surf trip is really a matter of choice, set realistic expectations and you might just have the time of your life!


Looking for travel insurance & want a discount?

I highly recommend World Nomads for a number of reasons: they cover many activities such as surfing, diving, skydiving etc. You can book after you have department from your home country. They cover trips over 30 days, and they donate a portion of their profits to good causes. I’ve got Still Stoked readers 5% off with code STOKED5 but only when you use this link – Sadly this discount is not available for North Ameria & Canada residents.



We know you have some great surf trip tips and stories of your own. Please add your comments below.


I am a writer and wanna-be big wave surfer. Surfing is my muse. I write about it and how it’s teaching me to live better. I hold certification as a nutritionist, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and lifeguard instructor. My story “100 Days in Mexico” of how a solo road trip surfing my way through Mexico changed my life can be found here


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