Eleven Important Factors to Consider Before Paying for Your Next All-Inclusive Surf Camp
Surf travel is one of the best parts of being a surfer: New cultures, new waves, and new friends. But some surf retreats are admittedly much better than others. If you are going on an all-inclusive surf trip here are a few factors to consider before dropping your down payment.
#1 How far will you be staying from the break?
This might be the single most important factor in booking your trip. Can you walk to the waves? Are there multiple boats or trucks that will take you? The last thing you want is to be stuck at camp when the group is tired and the waves are pumping 15 minutes away. Be sure the agenda is to surf and that there are multiple options if you end up being at a different skill level than the rest of the surfers on the trip. Unless of course surfing is just part of what you came to do and you are also happy to relax at the camp with a good book.
My recommendation is to stay someplace with waves right out front, take a sleep-aboard boat trip such as our Mentawai trip in October 2020 or stay at a camp with multiple trucks, boats and surf guides. If going for the last option be sure to chat with the event organizer to get a feel if they will take you out any time of the day or if you will be waiting for the rest of the group.
#2 Does it blow out early, and if so, is the tide right for surfing in the morning?
Many locations have onshore winds becoming problematic for surfing by late morning. That means you might only be getting one surf a day. If this is the case be sure to check the tides. Ask your hosts what kind of tide the particular location likes. If is likes a low tide but high tide is in the morning for your week of travel you might think twice before booking that location.
#3 How consistent are the swells in that location?
There is nothing worse than getting skunked on a surf trip. Some locations simply do not have consistent swell but do offer very small waves on most days. If you are looking to surf some overhead waves you will want to check a website such as surf-forecast.com to see how consistent users have rated the swell for that location during your month of travel. Shoot for overall consistency rating of at least four stars.
#4 If traveling to a sand bottom destination, ask how the sand bars have been this season.
Sand bottom surfing spots are amazing! No reef cuts or urchins is a huge bonus. Plus you will feel more confident surfing when it is shallow. However, they can be fickle. What was a racing barrel last year might just be a big mush burger this year if a large storm or swell has displaced a lot of sand. Ask the camp hosts as well as any friends you might know who have recently traveled there.
#5 Is there alcohol?
While this may not be a concern for some, if you are a drinker and you show up only to find out not only is no alcohol included, and there is none available to buy nearby, you might be a little miffed. Avoid this by asking ahead and bringing your own if need be.
#6 Are there snacks? How are the portion sizes at meals?
Even worse than no booze is finding yourself hungry after a long surf and being served only a salad for lunch. Some surf camps are a long way from civilization. There might not be any stores within walking distance. Ask ahead about snacks and portion sizes. Always bring plenty of power bars just in case.
#7 How many people are allowed at once?
You definitely don’t want to roll up on an already crowded break with more than a few other people. That isn’t a great way to make friends. If staying right at the break this won’t be such a big deal because you can choose your times to surf. But if traveling together by truck or boat you won’t want your group to be very large.
#8 Are at least some of the staff local people? Is the camp well respected by the local community?
Many indigenous communities are tight-knit and surf communities can be very protective of their waves. To avoid conflict with the locals be sure the surf camp is in good standing with the community and you have the blessing of the locals. Always respect the locals!
#9 How good are the waves overall?
Ask around, do a facebook shout out, watch youtube clips. There are world-class waves and then there are mediocre waves. If you don’t know much about the place you are going be sure to get the scoop from someone who has been there, not just the people who are trying to sell you the trip.
#10 Who else will be there?
If the boat holds 8 people, try to get seven friends to go with you. If the truck goes out with four people, recruit three friends. This way you know the skill level of the people you are surfing with. You don’t want to be with a bunch of short boarders frothing for big waves if you are on your longboard looking to cruise on chest high rollers.
If it’s a women’s only trip, read testimonials and look for comments about the comradery and the vibe. Check out the coaches, guides and owners. A good coach, like Serena from our Surf Getaways or Twiggy from our Ments trip, can make or break your trip!
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Also, check if the spot you are going is very crowded. Often the reason to travel is to avoid the crowds at your home break. If that is the case you don’t want to go to a notoriously crowded break.
#11 How cold is the water?
Even if the website says it’s warm, be sure to check before you go. You might be excited to leave your cold winter waves behind you so you show up without wetsuits. But if you find the water is too cold to surf in just a bikini or boardshorts your holiday will be ruined. Coldwater to one person is warm to another. Be prepared.
Any other tips? Feel free to leave in the comments.
Cover image by Alexa Hohenberg for Awoni Bikinis