Solo surf travel for women by Shannon Davidson
Travelling solo as a female is not for every woman. You are a lot more vulnerable to dangerous situations than that of a solo travelling male, especially in culturally varied countries. Personally I enjoy the freedom that is offered with travelling on my own, having to think on my feet and knowing that I only have myself to rely on to get from location to location, safely and on time. It’s vital to keep your wits about you and your head screwed firmly on your shoulders, always aware of the environment around you and more importantly the strangers around you and their interactions with you. I believe the positive aspects of travelling alone far outweigh the risks involved and I’m happy to inspire other woman to travel solo too! One of my favourite quotes is to “never miss any opportunity in life, for fear no one will join you” and many of my surf trips are based around this outlook.
I have recently built my website www.surfchickareta.com sharing my travel experiences with the world. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and as surfing is my absolute passion it just comes naturally to write about it. Whether you have just discovered surfing or spend more time out at sea than on land, there’s something for every girl to learn through my website. As I started to surf when I was 14 years old and have spent many months (and many more to come) living abroad, I have experienced first hand what it’s like to travel solo and the many challenges that arise. Many of my friends and family have grown to understand that my entire lifestyle is crafted around the sport of surfing. They know I’d be happy to live in a crusty old fishing town with no attraction but a pumping right hander. To me surfing is like a relationship with the ocean. How often do your friends vanish off the face of the earth when they have a new lover in their life, then come running back to spending every day with you once they break up? Well to me the ocean is that love in my life, I’m absolutely addicted and therefore the majority of my spare time is spent surfing. A Valentines Day spent solo at sea is my favourite day of the year! Below are some of the most critical aspects I’ve gathered over the years of travelling alone.
You certainly want to be prepared and plan ahead for any trips abroad that involve remote locations, rugged and wild environments such as jungle and jagged reef and travel by alternative transport such as dugout canoes and local boats with no safety precautions in place.
Many surf adventures I have been on, I don’t know how I would have got through the trip without my basic survival kit. One time I came off my motorbike and landed in cactus-like thorns in a remote island in Indonesia, spending eight hours digging thorns out of my feet. I hate to think what the outcome would have been without my first aid kit. With no external assistance outside of the small base of surfers, there was an incredible resemblance to Peter Pan & The Lost Boys, having to deal with every medical situation independent of hospitals and medical authorities. Injuries can be common in the surfing world and my best advice is not to rely on anyone else for first aid equipment and to come as fully prepared as possible.
I don’t hear many female surfers complaining about this aspect. I can admit that some days out surfing feels like a bit of a dream, sitting straddling my board surrounded in nothing but blue waters, perfect waves and of course healthy, tanned and toned men with no women in sight. Although I stay focused on actually catching waves rather than working on my dating skills in the water, it’s inevitable some guys will want to have a chat at some point during the session. I actually ran a bit of a social experiment while I was living in the Mentawais, whereby I paddled out with the goal of not making any conversation with any guy in the water and simply focusing on how many waves I could catch in the crowd. The result was that many of the guys got greedy, took way more waves than their quota and even started dropping in on me. My next session I paddled out, made brief eye contact with many of the surfers and made the effort to simply ask a few guys how their surf was going. This made such a big difference in the overall vibe in the water. Some guys stood back and asked me if I wanted the next wave that was looming on the horizon and a group of guys even called me into a sizeable set wave “yeeewing” as I dropped down the steep face.
The point is it’s great to always paddle out with a good attitude, don’t be a snob but also don’t be the flirty girl that goes out just to try pick up guys, there’s a big difference between the two! Back in my little surf town of Byron Bay in Australia, I’m very open to talking to anyone in the water and I’d be described as very friendly and laid back. However, being in a very remote island in the Mentawais (where it took me two weeks to even see another girl out there) is a whole other arena. My boyfriend at the time who owned one of the surf camps, warned me quite crudely about my friendly, open approach to talking to guys in the water. I explained to him that it was just my personality, but he told me to tone it down out in the islands.
I learnt over the coming months about the dark side of the surf industry out there. With only a handful of surf camps set up in the scattered lush islands, many guys opt for charter boat trips. There’s around 30 different boats that buzz around the islands anchoring from break to break, averaging around 10-12 guys per boat. Many have wives and kids back home but suddenly find themselves living a “little boys dream” of surfing perfect waves, drinking copious amounts of beer and living without any rules whatsoever.
My biggest advice is to find out as much as you can about the country or island you are surfing at, for every location on the globe has its sins. While I didn’t run into any trouble, the risk certainly was there as I got invites onto the charter boats for dinner and to hang out back on the mainland. If I hadn’t been told about the area then perhaps my naivety would have seen me stepping onto one of those boats.
My opinion is that both guys and girls should be treated equally in the lineup. In general a guy isn’t going to favour a girl and be easy on her because she looks good in a bikini, in fact I find it quite often to be the opposite. Guys can be ruthless and some still have the mentality that surfing is a guy’s sport and girls aren’t strong enough nor capable enough to surf more challenging waves.
If you are learning to surf then you shouldn’t be so far out of your comfort zone as to put yourself and others in danger. If you can’t duck dive the waves it’s better to surf away from the crowd, but here I’m talking about girls that are intermediate to advanced surfers who are treated as though they’re not good enough to be in the lineup. However, it’s not going to take long for anyone to recognise that you can surf good.
If you’re new to the area or just paddled out, you really need to stand your ground when it comes to catching waves. Again remember to have a good attitude in the water. You don’t want to paddle out like you’re the Queen and everyone should bow down to you, but if it’s your wave and you’re in the right position, don’t be afraid to call a guy off it. If a guy is going to drop in on you, or anyone for that matter, it will only take one wave for him or her to realise that you just won’t put up with it. When they paddle back out you want to say something to them but not in an aggressive tone. Humour is a saviour in this situation, let them know that they owe you a wave now or that you want a “party wave” the next time they’re on one. Also don’t be afraid to chat to other guys in the water about what they just did, therefore you won’t be alone if they try to do it again or wants to get in an argument with you (yes this does happen!). At least this way you will have backup from other surfers. I believe there is a tight community of surfers around the globe and I’ve seen it happen many times, where strangers will bond together to stand up against guys acting inappropriately in the water. Often the offender will paddle in embarrassed or straighten out their behaviour.
Since the birth of surfing, there’s been a quote floating around that “only a surfer knows the feeling”. It’s been there since the Duke Kahanamoku days and will continue to be spoken for 1000’s of years to come. I’d say that the spiritual aspects of surfing is one of the most addictive feelings aside from the art of riding a wave. It’s absolutely mind boggling how much mother nature teaches us when we are out in the ocean and how many of those lessons are intertwined with our daily lives. It’s not something that can be truly described until you experience it yourself. The most profound realisation that you experience from the very early days of surfing is just how small human beings really are up against nature. It’s moments like feeling a powerful swell surge ruthlessly underneath your ant like body, when you’re caught on the wrong side of a monster wave or when large sharks pass within a short distance to you that you realise you have no control whatsoever over nature. Sometimes your years of training in the ocean can never prepare you for certain moments and that’s why you need to be a committed surfer to survive in some wild conditions, mentally and physically. It takes years to break down comfort zones in the ocean, but once you reach the point where you see the ocean as your companion, you will find yourself fighting less against her and more trusting in her flow.
Surfing goes in hand with a healthy lifestyle. I must admit I’m a bit of a health freak, but only because I know how much my diet affects my surfing abilities. My diet is rich in fresh fruit (mmm such a treat in the tropics) and plenty of vegetables and salads. I’ve been vegetarian for close to two years and don’t think I could ever go back to eating meat and certainly don’t miss it. However I could never give seafood up!
I notice a vast difference in my energy levels when I get plenty of servings of fruit and vegetables throughout the day. It’s such a different energy than the energy provided from sugar, refined foods and other short term energy boosts. It’s a totally clean energy and eating raw foods, straight from the ground really helps you to feel more connected to nature. Some days I surf up to eight hours and it’s definitely important to choose healthy, revitalising snacks in between sessions.
If you’re not going to take surfing seriously and head out into the water after partying all night (yes I’m guilty of this back in the days) then you will most likely spend the session falling off your board, finding yourself in all the wrong spots, being sucked over the falls and generally making a fool of yourself. For me going out partying doesn’t even come close to the feeling of being fit, healthy and on top of my game, pulling off manoeuvres and turns I haven’t done before and being able to appreciate the ocean at such a deeper level. Generally I’m a bit of a grandma as I head to bed early and rise early to get out in the water for the most magical time of the day, watching sunrise over the sea. I’ll never grow tired of the butterflies in my stomach as I wake each morning excited for what the ocean will bring me.
Surfing was once perceived as a sport for dropout stoners, especially throughout the 70s, but that perception has certainly changed over the past decade or so. I think it’s great that surfing has evolved into a professional sport where you have the opportunity to make a fulfilling career if competition is for you. I deeply encourage parents to get their girls into surfing as young as possible. It is such a grounding force in life and discourages bad choices made when growing up, such as drugs, sex and partying. Because of the overall lifestyle change that comes with surfing it has such a positive effect, mentally, spiritually and physically. I hope you become as engulfed in the surfing lifestyle as I have and continue to search for that ever perfect wave.
Written by Shannon Davidson aka “Surfchickareta”