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It’s been nearly six months since most of us have flown anywhere, and it doesn’t appear things will be opening up anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be enjoying surf trips. Indeed, all you need for a bit of an ocean-based adventure is a car, a coastline, and a trunk full of camping gear.
After jet-setting after swells to practically every coastal country on the planet, some of my favourite memories are from road trips down to Baja, where a few college friends and I would camp on secluded beaches, hundreds of miles from the nearest town, surfing empty waves by day and stargazing at night.
And virtually every major surf epicentre has a “Baja”—a nearby zone where things are a bit wilder and you can get lost in nature. Australia has Tasmania, Europe has France, Portugal, Spain, South Africa has Mozambique, and Bali has far-flung coastlines in western Java.
You don’t even have to leave your home country to get away from it all and enjoy some waves and solitude. National and state parks abound in coastal countries, and most of them have empty beaches and unmolested waves just waiting to be enjoyed by the intrepid wanderer—or anyone who is willing to drive an extra hour or two.
For those who are are considering setting out on a surf/camping trip to make the best of this extended global shutdown, here’s a list of essentials you shouldn’t leave home without.
1) Tent: Let's get the damn obvious out the way first. While it is possible to cowboy camp under the stars in desert locations such as Baja and Western Australia, most climates have enough moisture in the air to produce dew overnight, even if it doesn’t end up raining. While you don’t need a lightweight backpacking tent for car camping, make sure your tent has a quality rain fly to help keep you dry. Want a decent tent idea? See HERE.
2) A diverse quiver: If you're going rough, likelihood is you're not going to know what's around. Packing a varied quiver should sort you right out. Given the industry's seeing a bit of a boom right now, it's the perfect time to have a chat with your local shaper, talk about the coastline, types of waves you'd expect and get that dream whip dialled in.
3) Sleeping bag: This should be a no-brainer, but it’s important to understand that not all sleeping bags are created equal. Do some research on the climate and temperature of the area that you are visiting, and make sure your sleeping bag is rated to at least 10 degrees F. colder than what you expect to encounter. Here's a handy link to our pick of the bunch: Sleeping bag
4) Wax. If you're going off grid, take a load of wax. More than you need. Way more, in fact. Last thing you want is to be stuck in the wilds of say, Patagonia, and be stuck with no stick for your board. Get a couple of blocks, HERE.
5) Water/filter: Depending how far out in the boonies you are going and how long you will be away, you may want to invest in a water filter, Steripen, iodine tablets, or some combination of the three. Otherwise, make sure you have enough water to keep everyone in your party hydrated and fed for the entirety of the trip (a gallon of water per person per day at minimum), then add an extra 25 percent just to be on the safe side. Also make sure you have an extra container of water specifically designated for refilling your radiator if you run into car trouble. There's a decent one, HERE.
6) Spare tire/jumper cables/tools: Speaking of car trouble, you are going to have to be self-sufficient if things go wrong, so make sure you have a spare tire, tools, basic mechanic skills, and jumper cables. A bit of car knowledge and ingenuity can come in handy too. I once had to strap the muffler of my car on with the handle of a cooking pot—it might have been janky, but it got me out of the Baja desert and safely home. Sure you'll know where to get these but just in case, they're HERE.
7) Sleeping pad: I know surfers are “feral” and “tough,” and sleeping on the ground might make you feel like a hero, but sleeping pads do more than just keep you comfortable at night. The also offer insulation, which is essential when sleeping on the cold ground. It doesn’t matter how warm your sleeping bag is—if you don’t have a layer of foam or air between you and the dirt, you will freeze at night.
8) Camp stove: Again, you don’t need a tiny, lightweight backpacking stove, since you will likely be camping out of your car. A two-burner propane stove is easy to travel with, and allows you to enjoy the comforts of your home kitchen while enjoying nature. Make sure you plan out your meals, bring enough food, and build yourself a “camping cook box” full of old, used pots, pans, and utensils, as well as essentials such as oil, salt, and pepper. Get a lil' stove, here.
9) Matches: You wouldn’t believe how many times first-time campers (and even those with a lot of experience) have set out with a cooler full of food and a stove to cook it, but no matches to light the stove. A cigarette lighter works just as well—just make sure it has enough fuel to last the trip.
10) Map: If you stay out in the sticks long enough, your phone will likely die, which means no GPS to help you find your way home. Grab a map of the area you are visiting, and make sure you know how to read it. Map reading, navigation, and orienteering is a dying art, but one that is essential for anyone serious about getting away from it all.
11) Appropriate clothing: Here’s another one that might seem obvious, but that people screw up all the time. Make sure you know what the weather is forecasted to do during your trip, and be prepared for surprises. A rain jacket, knit cap, wool socks, and pair of gloves have saved more campers than you can imagine.
12) First aid kit: Medical supplies are another thing you should never leave home without, especially if you are planning to spend time away from civilization and convenient access to hospitals. Pre-packaged first aid kits are readily available and relatively inexpensive, but you can also create your own feral, low-cost kit with sanitary pads (for sterile blood absorption), superglue (liquid stitches), alcohol (cleaning wounds, obviously, but also as a fire starter and an effective deodorant if anyone forgot theirs at home), and some prescription-strength pain killers (for emergency use, not recreation). An Benadryl and an EpiPen is also a good idea, in case anyone has an allergic reaction.
13) Cord: Perhaps the most commonly overlooked tool for backcountry survival is a length of quality cord. It can be used for just about anything, from strapping your board to your back during a hike or tying a snapped strut together on your truck to hanging out wetsuits to dry and creating a make-shift fishing line.
Cover shot of Sean Jansen on his camping, cycling road trip across California