PACKING FOR YOUR NEXT SURF DESTINATION
If you have just booked your surf vacation or surf camp and are a novice or beginner surfer, it’s a little daunting knowing what you need to bring along, especially if you have never surfed before. Even if you already have surf experience, this can act as a good surf holiday checklist to make sure you’ve got everything covered before leaving home.
Some surf destinations will have a lot or some of the items we’ve listed below to save you lugging them from home, but often, especially if you are travelling to an island destination for your surf trip, some things can be quite costly on location so you will save some money if you include them in your surf camp packing list. How annoying it would be to wait to get to your surf camp only to find that an essential item you require on your surf vacation is not actually available or costs 3x more than at home!
Let’s start with the basics: What’s the weather like where you are going on your surf holiday?
Always check the water and air temperature where you are headed. If you are someone who feels the cold anyway (like, you’re always the one shivering when everyone else thinks it’s still quite warm out) be extra-prepared. The general advice is that if the water temperature is above 75ºF (24ºC) you won’t need a neoprene wetsuit, but if the temps are hovering between 70ºF (21ºC) and 75ºF (24ºC), you might feel more comfortable in what we call a ‘shorty’ (a neoprene wetsuit with short legs rather than a full wetsuit). Anything below 70ºF (21ºC) you definitely need a full wetsuit.
If you are coming to Swell between December and April and you do tend to feel the cold more, bring a shorty, a 1mm (or 2mm if you are extra-shivery) neoprene body suit as our water temperatures hover around 23/24ºC during those months. You definitely don’t need one between May and November when water temps are more like 28ºC/29ºC.
What do you need to wear when surfing?
This is one of those most common questions we get in our inbox at Swell. As a beginner surfer, your experience of surfers so far is probably only in magazines or movies; bronzed dudes in surf shorts and gorgeous tanned chicks in bikinis. Well, (and hopefully this news won’t disappoint you), lots of surfers don’t look at all like that. In fact, now we know so much more about the damage the sun does to our skin, most surfers over 30 are choosing to cover up.
TIP: It’s a good idea when packing your hand luggage to pack some essential items should your larger bags be delayed. Toothbrush and paste, travel-sized sunscreen, a spare T-shirt or two, underwear and something to swim in the ocean will all help you get through the first 24 hours should your bags not arrive with you.
Here’s what we recommend bringing to wear in the water during your surf vacation:
A surf cap: I wear an FCS surf cap with straps that come around your ears and fasten beneath the chin. Mine has an all-around brim like the one shown in the photo below and offers me excellent sun protection on my face.
One of the reasons why we recommend a hat is because however well you put sunscreen on your face, you inevitably wipe your eyes and cheeks each time you fall off the surfboard and the protection your sunscreen offers inevitably wanes
Long leggings. Surf leggings will protect you from rashes that the rough surface beginner surfboards have for grip. They will also protect your legs from being burned by the sun. I wear ones from Speedo, but they are also available from many other brands.
A one-piece swimsuit, or a bikini?
It’s really your preference. We get it that you probably want to get a tan on your surf holiday and do feel free to wear just a bikini and sunscreen whilst you are surfing if you are not having lessons with us. We do recommend a one-piece suit to avoid losing one or more essential parts of a bikini during a wipeout. As someone who once lost the bottom part of a bikini entirely once during a shore break wipeout in Barbados (you know, the ones we regularly see on Kookslams’ Instagram feed) a one-piece is a much safer bet. We don’t have any shore break in the Dominican Republic where we surf by the way.
A ‘Rashguard’ or ‘Lycra’
This is a top that you wear over your bikini or one-piece to protect you from the sun (and from rashes on your arms whilst paddling). The best ones are made with a fabric that is already Factor-50 sun-protection guaranteed, i.e. when you wear one, you don’t need sunscreen beneath. We strongly recommend the use of them whilst you surf and at Swell they are compulsory during lessons (but we provide them for you!). If you are not coming to us for your surf camp vacation, then check with your host whether they provide them for you, or if you have to buy your own. Ideally, they are tight-fitting as it’s easier to paddle without ‘flapping’ fabric around you. Our advice is to buy genuine ones from good, recognised brands like Quicksilver, Ripcurl, ONeill etc. as they will last much longer and offer genuine sun protection. The cheaper ones tend to be faked brands and the fabric stretches quickly, breaking up the surface and destroying the sun protection offered.
Surf or reef booties
Surf or reef booties are not necessary if you are surfing on sand (a beach break for example), but as most waves occur when a wave that has travelled across the ocean hits a reef protecting the shore, reef booties will help protect your feet from either sharper edges of rock or corals, or from things like sea urchins that have a nasty spine. We recommend a split-toe bootie like the one below from Quicksliver. 2mm is ideal. 1mm is not quite thick enough to repel the urchin’s spine and 3mm booties will then be a bit too stiff to surf in easily; that’s why we say 2mm is ideal.Sunscreen/Zinc.
Apart from your surfwear, the next item to bring on your surf vacation should be good quality sunscreen (assuming you are going to surf somewhere warm and sunny, like the Dominican Republic).
Sunscreens come in all levels of protection and whilst many purport to be waterproof, they often are not. Check the reviews of sunscreens and try and buy one that is manufactured for watersports rather than for someone who wants to tan and wade or swim gently in the sea. There’s a big difference (note our earlier comments about rubbing your eyes). We really like the Ambre Solaire Kids Factor 50 – not the spray, but the cream. I also use (on my face) Sunzapper Ultra because I find it can last me a full 2 to 3 hours in the water whilst surfing. Best of all, neither of these brands contains oxybenzone, a chemical that is known to damage coral reefs. A little pot of reef-friendly Zinc cream is also a good addition to pop in your bag – Zinc stays on even better than suncreams and is great for extra protection from sunburned lips.
A travel towel. The best ones are super lightweight travel towels made of microfiber, perfect for chucking into a backpack. And they dry quickly, usually just a few minutes in the sun is enough, so your bag won’t get soggy and heavy. They’re also great to sit on if your driver wants to keep the seats of their vehicle dry and as sand free as possible whilst you are driving back and forth to the beach. I always use mine to sit on, on my little scooter when I’ve finished surfing. It prevents me from sliding around on the seat whilst driving in wet clothes.
A changing poncho. These are towelling ‘mini-tents’ that you can put over your body whilst you change beneath, away from prying eyes. They are great, if not essential if you plan to change into ‘normal’ clothes straight after surfing and there is no changing room to hand.
An essentials medical kit. Whilst of course, we hope that you won’t have any injuries (thankfully it’s rare for people to get injured whilst surfing), inevitably at some stage during your surfing journey, you will have a scrape or a bump, so be prepared. We have our own medical kit at Swell, but nevertheless, travelling with your own little medical kit is smart. It can be small and really practical and should contain the following:
- Iodine solution (for cleaning up a cut or scratch)
- Cotton wool buds and cotton wool balls
- Lint for dressing
- Quality waterproof plasters
- Emergency wound closures, like Micromend or Sterostrip
- A sharp needle for removing foreign objects from your feet or other parts of the body.
- Paracetamol, Ibuprofen and also a small tube (or tablets) of a product containing Aclovir. Aclovir is a cold sore remedy essential if you are unlucky enough to get those from too much sun exposure (it’s very common). Quick use of Aclovir can stop a cold sore before it breaks out.
- An antibiotic powder or cream (for putting directly onto wounds).
That’s it, a small but really useful medical kit for surfers.
For beginner surfers, if you are travelling to a surf camp like Swell, usually, all the things listed below are automatically provided by your host teaching you to surf so you don’t need to bring any on your surf holiday. But, if you are not attending a surf camp, your host does not provide them, or you are surfing independently, here’s the list of surfboard/surfing-related items you would need to bring or buy at your destination:
A Surfboard: Do check the surf forecast to see if the surfboard you intend to bring is suitable for the expected surf conditions and ask for local advice if you are unsure. It can be better to rent so that you can change up your board depending on the conditions. Surfboards often get damaged in transit and are usually at least $100 USD each way on flights, so renting is often a smarter idea.
A Surfboard leash (and a spare one)
Surfboard fin set (don’t ever travel with your fins installed on your surfboard – always take them out and put them in a sleeve inside your surfboard bag).
Fin key (for putting in and taking the fins out)
Ding repair kit and/or an instant repair tape like Phix Doctor marine grade tape
Reusable water bottle. At Swell, we insist all our clients bring a reusable water bottle on their surf vacation. There’s no excuse now for using or buying plastic water bottles if there is a water supply that you can refill from. As you enter the surfing world, you will likely see first-hand the amount of plastic in our oceans 🙁
Travel insurance. I cannot tell you how many times we see in the surfing destinations we’ve lived in, a GO FUND ME page that has been set up for someone who has had an accident either surfing or more often, travelling around on a scooter for example but has no travel insurance to pay for their treatment. As a result, they are reduced to begging for help. Medical care is not usually free in any country in the World and it’s incredibly unwise to travel without an insurance policy in place. These policies are comparatively cheap to obtain and usually give a very high level of coverage for emergencies, including repatriation to your home country in case of anything really serious. These policies will also help you if you have delays or cancellations of your flights, lose items or have items stolen. Please, don’t be one of those people who think, ‘I’ll be ok’, because you just might not be: Spend the extra $50 to $100 USD to protect yourself. Use Google or your preferred search engine to search for ‘trip insurance’ ‘travel insurance’ or ‘vacation insurance’. Make sure that the policy you choose covers water sports (or doesn’t have exclusions for ‘extreme sports’ as surfing is sometimes classified). It’s a good idea to buy an annual policy if you are going to be making more than one trip in a calendar year.
Adaptors and chargers; For your adaptor, check the socket type of the destination you are headed to, or if you are not sure, buy one of the more expensive multi-socket adaptors that cover all socket types. Don’t forget your ‘phone charger!
Check your data roaming policy from your ‘phone service provider. Does their data roaming cover where you are headed without incurring lots of extra fees? If their charges are going to be excessive, buy a local sim card as soon as you arrive at your destination: They are often sold in airport arrival areas. Using a local number can save you a fortune on roaming charges. Remember that apps like WhatsApp will still work even if you have a new SIM card with a different number in your ‘phone (just select ‘no’ if Whatsapp asks whether you wish to change the number registered to your Whatsapp account).
Final travel tips for your surf vacation
Check the validity of your passport before you book your vacation; when does it run out? How long will it take to renew, if necessary?
Check any visa requirements you might need for the country you are headed to. (Most nationals don’t need a visa for the Dominican Republic)
Check any compulsory or recommended immunisations you might need
Tell your bank you are travelling; most credit card providers have a travel advisory section where you can let them know it will be you using your card(s) in an unusual place. It will help prevent the rather embarrassing experience of not being able to pay for things!
If you are on medication, do you have enough for the length of time you will be away?
We think we’ve covered everything you need to bring on your surf vacation, but if you have any other tips we haven’t covered, do get in touch with us!
ABOUT SWELL SURF CAMP
At Swell we have been offering active watersport holidays since 2009. We offer high quality accommodation, tasty food and a social vibe for people of all ages. We offer surf lessons, kitesurfing lessons and Wingfoiling courses. Get in contact with Clare if you’d like to join Swell Surf camp