I suppose it all started because I wanted to do something reckless and adventurous, which I’ve found are often one and the same. A fear of waking up at 50 and realizing I’d never had a real adventure has influenced most of the decisions in my adult life. After a year of working in Iraq, I needed freedom and waves, both of which are conspicuously absent in Baghdad. When I returned to the U.S., I set off on what is turning out to be an adventure of a lifetime: chasing swell while living on a motorcycle called Spiff.
Five months later, I’ve traveled somewhere around 12,000 miles; I can’t be exactly sure because I had a little odometer issue for a while there. Up to this point I’ve stayed in the U.S., with the exception of a brief foray into Canada, but I’m currently gearing up for a trip through Baja and beyond. While I’m not yet as experienced as some (see: Gary Conley), I feel like I’ve learned some important lessons along the way. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your extended motorcycle surf adventure:
1. Know your motorcycle.
For the love of God, take the time to get to know your motorcycle and how to work on it. The last thing you need is to have it die on you somewhere remote with no idea of how to get it running again. You’ll also save a lot of money by doing things yourself, which means more gas, more travel, and more waves. Before you leave, practice changing a tire, swapping an oil filter, chain adjustments, pulling the carburetor, and anything else you might need to do while on the road. Oh, and carry your tools with you because removing a tire is difficult to do with just your hands.
2. Pack smart and light.
You’ve packed for your trip? Good, get rid of half of it and repack. Traveling on a motorcycle is a lot like backpacking, if your backpack could propel you at high speed with almost no physical effort on your part. But just because you CAN take something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. I’m constantly looking for items I can ditch because, like backpacking, there’s a finite amount of space on the bike which means that everything is going to have to be packed and unpacked in a certain way; the more stuff you have, the more annoying this becomes over time. A good trick is to make as many items “dual use” as you can. For example, board bags will make good sleeping pads and a rolled-up jacket is fantastic pillow. Take your best all-around board because, unless you figured something out that I couldn’t, you’re only going to be able to take one.
3. Be outgoing.
Unless you have the money to be sleeping in hotels every night, you’re going to need to find places to sleep. While you may have friends all over the place, chances are there will be times that you don’t know anyone in a given area. What I normally do is ask people in the lineup, at motorcycle shops, or anyone with whom I make a connection whether they know where someone can camp for free without being woken up at 2AM by men with guns and badges. Local knowledge is always key and, at the very least, you’ll be told where you might be able to camp. If you’re lucky you’ll get a couch or an empty room from a stoked new friend. We’re lucky. As surfers, we operate in a community of people who are travel-oriented and often ready to help out. Having said that, never expect a handout and don’t ask for one; if the adventure dictates you sleep outside in the rain, you sleep outside in the rain. Oh, and a motorcycle with a surfboard attached is a fantastic conversation starter – take advantage of it.
4. Have a good attitude.
The highs and lows of living off a motorcycle are significantly more extreme than when traveling via 4-wheeled vehicles. You’ll be excessively hot, cold, wet, tired, and stiff, and possibly all in one day. Everybody knows that dinging a surfboard out of the water is the worst feeling ever… I promise, you’ll drop the bike on it at least once. You’ll miss the swell you’re chasing because you broke down or you’ll have trouble finding somewhere to sleep after a long day of riding. Just remember the adventure is the sum of its parts. Keeping this in mind makes the hard times feel a lot less stressful. The alternative is to not be out doing it at all. I mean, you have to be on the road in the first place to get that flat tire. A bad day on an adventure is still a day on an adventure and that’s better than most things.
5. Most importantly, do NOT have a plan.
There have only been a handful of times when I’ve committed to being somewhere by a certain date. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but I would have to advise against it whenever possible. Having a rough idea of what you want is good but having plans you can’t change will kill the adventure. You never know what’s going to happen when you pull into a new place and you need to maintain the option to stay for a few weeks or leave later that night. If the surf is really good somewhere, stay. If there’s a girl (or a guy) who wants to show you around town the next day, you’d better not leave. If you’re invited to a party, show up. And if someone tells you there’s a really cool place you should check out, go. You’ve got to allow the adventure to dictate what happens.
When I started out, I figured I’d be in southern California at this point, by way of British Columbia, via Maine. However, I said “yes” to a lot of unplanned opportunities. Now, I’m sitting in Central California training for a job that’s going to allow me to work from anywhere – and thus continue the adventure indefinitely – while prepping to head into Baja with a couple of Aussies I met along the way. None of this would have happened had I tried to control the trip rather letting it control me. Again, do NOT have a plan – well at least one that can’t be changed.
If you’re toying with the idea of this sort of adventure, do it. I promise it’ll be worth it and you’ll make a lot of new friends. Keep both tires down and I’ll see you in the lineup!