“The airlines just take the wind out of your sails,” she said. As president of a non-profit that donates surfboards to underprivileged children, she took on the feat of traveling with boards each month to various destinations and flying with multiple airlines.
Unfortunately, I understood what she meant perfectly. I knew the scowls of the airline workers when they looked at my board bag like I was carrying a body bag with a corpse. I also knew too well how careless workers could be with my most prized possessions. Surfers pay high dollar to transport surfboards, and are lucky if they arrive unscathed.
Last summer, I packed four surfboards in one board bag to take to Nicaragua. Three were to donate to kids. At the airport, Spirit made me leave two boards behind and pay $100 to take the other two. They did not care who the surfboards were for. This past summer I traveled to Peru to do a project donating surfboards to children. I called the corporate office of the airline we flew with months in advance, but no one cared that the boards were donations from a non-profit. Luckily, when we got to the airport the workers at the check in counter only charged us for two out of the three bags. This was the first time I caught any type of break donating boards.
I remember returning home after an epic journey to the east where I surfed in New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and Indonesia.I flew from Australia to China and then from China to California and did not have to pay a cent to bring my board. In fact many of the airlines in Australia and Bali do not charge for surfboards. However, the final leg of my trip I flew from California to Florida with American Airlines. They demanded $150 to bring my surfboard home. The board was personally shaped for me before the trip for $350.
I actually considered leaving my board behind, but then our first session together at Piha in New Zealand curling into fast, left barrels flashed across my mind’s eye. I saw us duck-diving monster sets the biggest day of the swell at Indicators in Raglan. I remembered the comical path my board took to get repaired in Fiji after having its nose smashed by another airline upon arrival. I had to bring it on the boat two different days to meet a guy on another boat who would bring it to Nadi, another island, where it would get repaired and I would pick it up before flying back to Australia. I recalled the speed and drops we took in Indonesia and the secret left that brought my turns to the next level. Even though the price to bring my board home was steep, after the memories and waves we shared I couldn’t fathom leaving it behind. I paid the ridiculous amount with my credit card adding it to my escalating debt.
When taking surf trips I never tried to get a discount or deals on surfboard fees. But as a founder of a non-profit and doing projects with others, I find it is strange the airlines don’t adjust their rates or want to show support. Organizations like Surfers for Autism, Special Olympics in surfing, and the Share the Stoke Foundation boast countless stories about how surfing can be used to help change lives for the better and how surfing can even be used as therapy. I have volunteered with all of these and witnessed local surf communities come together to offer support. Individual surfers and surf companies place value on projects that use surfing to help others and prove it by donating boards, traction pads, wax, leashes, sunblock, and all the essentials.
Even though the most resistance comes from the airlines when donating boards to kids in other countries, we deal with it like we deal with the waves, accepting and surfing what comes our way.