4 Ways to Salvage a Surf Trip if the Waves Go Flat

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It’s like losing your wallet or throwing out your back: it’s the dreaded flat spell. No traveling surfer ever plans on it, but they do happen. And sometimes they happen on a surf trip, which is kind of the worst case scenario.

You picked your destination, did your homework, saved your money, scored the best price on a flight, booked an Airbnb on the sand, got someone to watch your dog, double checked your passport and took off on your trip.

No, the forecast didn’t look fantastic, but you had confidence that there’s certainly be something to surf during your stay. At the very least, waist-high at a warm-water reef break is always better than waist-high at home.

Turns out, it wasn’t. And it’s not. It’s a lake.

Sure there are ways to hedge your bets. You can pack a groveler board. You can rent a log. But eventually, you just have to find something else to do like find an epic hike or a culture center. Fortunately, some of the places in the world that have the best surf also have other fantastic options for enjoying the ocean. No matter what you choose to do, it’s better than scrolling through your phone.

Diving and Snorkeling
Snorkeling is probably the number one alternative to surfing when the waves goes flat. It’s simple, doesn’t require much gear, and you’re immersing yourself in ocean life.

Dive the reef you surf to see how it makes the wave break. Explore a local shipwreck or just marvel at the sea life.

SCUBA is a bit more complicated (you have to be PADI certified), but it’s also available at most island surf destinations. Freediving is a little more involved than just snorkeling, when you start working on your breath-hold time. This should never be done solo.

We’d always recommend packing a mask, snorkel and fins for your trip. (Bonus: Fins can also be used for bodysurfing or teaching someone how to surf.)
Photo: Finn Gross Maurer/Unsplash.

Every surf community in the world has a tie to the local fishermen.

Whether that’s surf fishing, deep sea, spear fishing or handlining, angling is always a fantastic way to spend a day and learn about the waters. There are usually sport fishing boats at any location.

While you likely have a good chance of getting fish, it can also be expensive. Ask around town and you can often find a small operation with reasonable prices. Maybe it’s just a local captain who will take you out for a morning in his panga. Plus, you may come home with dinner.
Photo: Yannick Armspach/Unsplash


Yeah, we know how many surfers feel about those SUP’ers at your home break or while traveling. But we’re not talking about being a wave hog or even riding waves. We’re just talking about stroking out and seeing the coast from a different vantage point, getting some sun and a little workout. Standup Paddleboards are available for rent on every coast—fresh or saltwater—in the world. For as much as we oppose them in the lineup, they are a fantastic way to spend time on the water with your kids or significant other. They’re cool for fishing, exercising and seeing wildlife. Like snorkeling, paddling is a great way to spend time with family or a girlfriend/boyfriend on a trip. And hey, if you happen to paddle past a spot with a one-foot wave and no one out… we won’t tell anyone.

Photo: Damir Spanic/Unspalsh

Underwater Training

This is fun in a novel sort of way, mostly because even if you live on the beach at home, these are tough to practice without clear, tropical water. This is a hypoxic workout that big-wave surfers have been doing for decades which involves variations of diving to the sea floor, picking up a rock, using it to keep you down and running with it. The idea is to increase lung capacity. When your body is static you can stay underwater much longer. Exertion uses oxygen, therefore, by putting your lungs through a workout minus air, you’re really expanding those lungs. Some mountain athletes do hypoxic workouts, as well. This is definitely a challenge. You’re not likely going to see a lot of results if you only do it a few times, but it’s a way to mix things up from a morning jog. Just be sure to do it with a buddy—You don’t mess around with shallow water blackout.

Photo: Courtesy of The Wave I Ride.

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