The notion of getting lost in order to find oneself is, quite brutally, easier in theory than practice.
Sure, the Eat, Pray, Love approach of traveling alone sounds romantic and alluring, although in actuality, roaming foreign countries with little else than a passport and a wide-eyed openness to experience is a lot tougher than it sounds. There’s logistics and loneliness, there’s navigating the unknown and the burden of doing it all alone – which is not for everyone. (Drop anyone alone in a Japanese train station, dragging a boardbag during rush hour, and watch him or her promptly descend into madness; speaking from personal experience and the scars that still linger on that one.)
But if you can do it right, and maintain positivity through the hurdles, solo travel can be incredibly rewarding. One person who has mastered the art of taking surf trips alone is Kepa Acero – from remote islands off India to the desert coastlines of Africa, Acero is like the one-man surfing version of Magellan. So, who better than the Basque Country native to break down what it’s like?
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What was the first surf trip you took all by yourself?
“That was in 2010, when I first did a world tour by myself. I took my backpack, three surfboards, and I simply bought a ticket to Namibia. That was when Cory Lopez and those guys documented that wave they found by Google Earth [Skeleton Bay]. Then I went to Indo, West Oz and Chile. It took me six months and after that one I never stopped traveling solo. I love it.”
Why go on a surf trip by yourself?
“At that time I was reading a lot of Jack London. I was very inspired by the idea of going to natural environments and living the experience of surfing amazing waves and connecting with the surroundings. I think in the society we live, we are not encouraged to stop, think, and be alone. It’s an experience that I wanted to live and recommend to others, because it’s a unique way to connect with different people around the world, while also with yourself.”
What’s the best thing about a solo surf trip?
“You learn. That is the best thing. You want to find waves but there is a point where you also need to meet people. You’re forced to connect with people you otherwise wouldn’t, because it’s a human necessity.
“I think you also develop a sense to know people from the very first look. You learn to decide fast. Who to trust and who not to trust. And of course, I love the fact that you’re the one who makes all the decisions. If you want to stay, you stay. And you leave whenever you want to leave.
“And what I love the most is camping at a beautiful wave – you surf, fish, make a bonfire, and have dinner in a dream location looking at the stars.”
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What’s the most challenging thing?
“For me, the most challenging thing is the day you leave home. You’re gonna catch an airplane to a place that you don’t know and you’re gonna be a stranger in a foreign land. At that point, I feel the fear, but it’s great to face it. That is challenging. Once you arrive to the place you start thinking what to do, how to get to the places, where to sleep. Your body and mind are working in the same direction. It’s difficult, but it’s also a great feeling.”
What do you do differently when you go on a trip by yourself, versus with other people?
“I love traveling with my friends also, but when you are with your friends you are sheltered. When you are by yourself you don’t have that security, so you are more opened to meet people and make friends. You’re more open to getting to know the cultures around you.
“Also, local people are more open to help and share when they see a guy traveling solo than when they see a group. There is more sympathy.”
What essential items should you bring when going on a trip by yourself?
“It depends on the place, but the more compact you go, the better. You need to be light, you don’t want to bring more weight than what you can carry with your hands. I try and bring things that can be converted – like a jacket to use as a pillow, or a boardbag that can double as a sleeping bag, a Swiss army knife is always necessary. Also, a very light tent and a compass in case you are somewhere far and out of cell service.”
Where are some good places for a solo surf trip?
“I really like to go to Latin America – places like Peru or Ecuador. There are amazing waves, good food, and a lot to explore. In Africa, I would say Namibia and Senegal for a first-timer experience there. It is pretty easy and friendly vibes. Then once you conquer that you can start going deeper in Africa.”
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Do you try to make friends when you’re on a solo surf trip? Or do you prefer to be alone?
“I embrace loneliness when I am able to. It’s an amazing experience to be alone, especially in natural environments. If you have the opportunity to be by yourself in nature, that is a privilege and something that I think everyone should have at least once in a lifetime. But also, I love to meet people – sometimes I need to meet people. I think you travel solo not to be always by yourself but to force yourself to know yourself, to meet people, surf great waves, and live a fascinating human experience.”
Any other tips for solo traveling surfers?
“Do it. Just take your backpack and leave. If you use common sense and you keep a low profile, you’re gonna have an amazing experience that will change you forever.”
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