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16 October 2014

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Board Choice

on next : Gerry Anderson

Surfing Overseas
Posted: Mark, Feb 06

It’s only natural that, once you get to your feet here in Ireland and catch the surfing bug, that you might develop a curiosity to surf elsewhere.


Most surfers prioritise surf when holiday time comes – that’s just the way it gets to you. And there are so many places to surf. The general rule in the northern hemisphere is to have some sort of a west facing coast to catch the prevailing global swell patterns – on the whole, swells tend to move west to east across our part of the world. The west coast of the States, and all the European countries with Atlantic coasts on their west side, have good surf (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France, Spain, Portugal, the Canaries etc). There's smaller stuff in the Med too, but harder to find.


There is any amount of resources to help you surf overseas. You can’t escape surf culture in the great meccas of California, Australia etc – surf is everywhere. But in this section, here’s a few thoughts on getting overseas, and what to be aware of before and during your trip.


There is a destination guide at the bottom of this section. Please feel free to add to it by mailing your post to:



Many surfers travel without insurance. When you aren’t earning a fortune to start with, insurance can often be the last thing on the list of priorities. You really should travel with insurance. No-one in our line-up has ever had a medical nightmare overseas, touch wood. But think about it. You take a bad beating in a new country on a rocky reef. You need medical care urgently. You are stuck overseas, and being denied medical care because you did a short cut with your insurance. Inside the EU, I travel with the new EHIC (European Health insurance Card). This has replaced the old E111 form, and gives UK citizens free automatic access to certain basic health care. Get one – for free – at any post office, or via , or inside the UK by calling 0800 66 55 44.

But you’ll need more than an EHIC if you get badly injured. Insurance-wise there are two options. Firstly, insure yourself per trip. Secondly, many surfers I know surf overseas more than once a year. When you get to that stage its worth thinking about yearly coverage. Many find this cheaper in the long run.


Read Books and Online Stuff

I’ve seen most of the European publications. Some of them make surfing too easy, naming exact spots all over the place. It’s the surfing equivalent of sitting in the sofa and having someone do everything but the surfing for you. Finding, then working out (or ‘wiring’) waves for yourself is the best part of surfing. Overseas on a short trip you may feel you don’t have the time for that, so read up as much as you can before you go, and get the best detailed maps you can of the place you’re going to.



From Ireland to Bondi and Indonesia, talking about - and especially writing about specific places to go surfing - can cause a lot of resentment, especially from people who live close to the spots in question. It's called ‘naming’, and if people go too far and name places, it can cause genuine anger and even violence. Generally, the rule of thumb for most people is a book called Stormrider – as these publications stand out a mile. They cost about £25 stg, they’re consistent, well annotated and most surfers have a dog-eared copy as their surfing bible. Senior surfers are consulted when a Stormrider guide is written about a country, (including Irish surfers on the section about here).


There is a European Stormrider, and a separate global one, plus a US one I think. The European one is good, with a good ethos. Most Irish websites take as the guide that ‘if the spot is named in Stormrider, then its cool’. A bit mad when you think about it. A minority of others feel that even Stormrider goes too far in naming too many places which should be kept as so called ‘surf jewels’. On this site, our policy is only to name only the recognised surf meccas such as Portrush, Bundoran and general areas like West or North Donegal which have perhaps hundreds of specific places in them. I agree Donegal spots should not be named, while at the same time allowing the Irish industry and the Irish surf meccas to prosper as promoted surf destinations bringing in much needed international revenue. I also reckon it's good to welcome the skill and thinking of fellow global surfers when and if they choose to come here to our cold waters. If they act like idiots, ignore them. If they share the aloha spirit, make them feel at home. Certainly the most recent pocket guides give too much away, by way of local detail, but that’s just my personal view.


Finally, check the websites like Surfing Ireland too (see links page). There's lots of overseas reading online there.


Packing Boards

It’s a right hassle travelling with boards – they’re big, awkward, and there's all sorts of hassles for surfers who go overseas and bring their own boards. The worst feeling in the world is handing your board over to a sleepy excess baggage official at an airport. I’ve had two custom boards punctured over the years on planes, and I could have cried. I got the insurance back once, to the value of half the board, but that’s not the point. Other surfers tell tales of boards getting slashed, snapped, etc etc. The bottom line is to pack your board as best you can:


~ Remove the fins.

~ Bring the overarm strap – you’ll be glad of it on a long airport concourse or a long access walk to the break.

~ Surround the board in bubblewrap or a second board bag before you go. This can take ages, so allow time.

~ Pack two boards together, it can reduce cost – and damage

~ put your wetsuit / towel in your board bag. It takes it out of your luggage, and provides more padding.

~ Noses and side rails especially seems to get more damage.

~ DO check your board for dings/damage the minute you get it back at the other side. Insurance is sometimes useless if the damage is filed after you leave the airport.

~ DON’T put sellotape directly onto your board. I did that once and was picking the glue off for months.

~ once you get really good and are travelling with a full quiver, you can buy a semi-hard case on 2 wheels with a handle.


Boards cost about 20 quid extra EACH WAY on most EU flights. To Madeira it's about twice that, and a right rip off if you ask me. It’s ironic, but many long haul carriers don’t charge at all for boards. I've brought several longboards back from Oz (on Emirates and Singapore Airlines), and never been charged a penny. They simply include boards in your overall weight allowance, which is really fair. If you’re only going for the craic to a place though, and the airline board charges are steep, check the charts at the last minute, and unless it's set for perfection, consider hiring boards once you get there. It’s far cheaper, less hassle all round, and will save you money on the board charges of the airlines. For most though, the whole idea is to bring your own board, and to improve yourself on it by bringing it with you overseas. That being the case, prepare for arguments at check in with the low cost carriers especially, and a real sinking feeling once you realise that your return board charge has just cost you more than your flight ticket.


I think the UK/Irish surf lobby has been weak in selling the economic benefits of surfing to the airlines and the tourism sector. Many airlines take golf clubs for free, welcoming golfers like gamblers to a casino. Why not surfers? A shortboard is way lighter than a set of golf clubs. Even a small surfai contributes thousands of pounds to an economy. Surfers are a huge part of the tourism economies of the European countries on the Atlantic seaboards. We eat and drink when we’re there, constituting a fair percentage of the overall tourism income of a destination. The surf lobby should be stronger in saying to the airlines and the tourism sector “take our boards for free – we are only coming here to surf - and in doing so we are gladly contributing to the wealth of your country”.


Plan Your Trip

This sounds so simple, but it’s not in practice. You’ll probably not travel alone, soagreeing the priorities before you go is often the source of real conflict.


~ what kind of transport / car hire when you get there, if any?
~ Style of accommodation and food?
~ how hardcore the trip is to be, easy or hard waves?
~ what breaks do you all agree you want to see?


It's so easy to arrive somewhere nice, and just sit at the local beach break in the sun for a week. In doing so, you limit your scope. In my experience, car hire overseas is a must. Planning is essential in terms of mileage and the types of break to be surfed on the trip. Agree all this before you go. Budget for it too. Better still, just have the hire car waiting for you at the other side. It’s often cheaper if you book it online before you travel. And soft racks are a must. Some car hire companies don’t do roofbars and don’t like the idea of you having a surf board on their car, so bring soft racks and tie straps, just in case.

Anything to add? If you would like to contribute and share your experiences send us an email.

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