How we found the greatest hidden beauty of surfing
You can build a tennis court just about anywhere on the planet. When you finished reading this, you could probably be swatting at fuzzy green balls within a 10-minute drive from where you’re sitting right now. But you can’t build a surf break just any old place. And therein lies one of surfing’s greatest beauties. You see, even if you’re a first timer just wanting to experience surfing as something new (because you live in Dusseldorf *insert your landlocked hometown here*), you’ll need to travel even just to find out if you like surfing at all. There are some people who are lucky enough to live right on the coast. But even then, while tennis courts are the same shape and dimensions the world over, because of the raw natural features that need to come together to form waves, no two surf breaks are quite the same. Yep – if you’re gonna surf, chances are you’re gonna travel for it.
For instance, there’s a wave in Oaxaca state, Mexico, that’s so beautiful, so powerful and so improbably perfect that you have to stand there with your toes in the sand facing the mighty Pacific Ocean to believe it. Puerto Escondido is the town. Zicatela is the beach. The local drink is Mezcal (a tequila’s tangy cousin) and tuna practically leap into fishing boats, making the fresh and spicy fish tacos the greatest on the planet. Go there to surf ‘Puerto’ and you’ll probably be tempted to check out other breaks a little further up the coast. You’ll see deserts of cacti, mountains jacketed in jungle and townships of splendour, and you wont help but fall in love with the people, geography and liveliness that is Mexico.
Meanwhile, across the planet, there’s a cave on a tropical island that opens out to the Indian Ocean. You need to descend a cliff face, clutching your surfboard, to get to it. Once you’re in, you need to battle out through the swells and current to reach what is possibly the greatest left hand reef surf set-up the world has known. Welcome to the infamous Uluwatu, on Bali, Indonesia. Yeah, for sure it’s super-famous these days, but that’s the point. As a surfer, wherever you are in the world, you’ve heard the tales and you want to see it – to surf it – for yourself. On your way there, you’ll pass an enormous temple on the cliff face. Balinese will be worshiping the gods of the sea to keep themselves and their visitors safe. You’ll hear whispered superstitions – don’t wear green while surfing! It’s the sea goddess’ favourite colour, and if she spots it on you, she might just take you with her…
Everywhere you turn on Bali you’ll see statues of the fearsome and beautiful gods. People burn incense, offer food and hold processions in their honour – on mountains, on beaches and in the streets. This is the Island of the Gods, after all. Go there to surf ‘Ulus’ and explore further across Bali and the islands beyond. Don’t freak out, but you’ll get swept up by the intoxicating culture and wont come back the same…
The great deserts of North Africa empty their rasping sands into the sea, while somewhere in the frozen North Atlantic; hellish storms send massive oceanic swells thousands of miles to meet them. Go for a dawn surf at Taghazout’s cranking right hand point break and you’ll be paddling out to the soundtrack of the haunting call to prayer, blasted from tinny speakers at the top of evocatively shaped spires. Surf all day because it’s always offshore and break the fast (if you’re there at Ramadan) with the locals under a blood-red desert sunset. That evening, smash down a hearty goat tagine (traditional clay hotpot) and savour desert air flavoured with heady Moroccan spices. And hash, if you’re that way inclined.
Hit all three of these surf spots and you’ve just travelled the earth and seen some incredibly diverse places and cultures. You might even be able to have a quick chat in Spanish, Bahasa or Arabic these days. And the most thrilling part? Well there are thousands more incredible experiences out there in almost all the countries that fringe our planet’s oceans. One of the purest and most wondrous pleasures of surfing – for your Rat & Dragon crew – is looking back at the shore from the lineup and seeing a new and exotic skyline across the water that you could never have imagined. Is it Brazilian rainforest mountains as you surf Ilha Grande? Are there onion-dome mosque roofs and pointy minarets as in Morroco? Castles on the cliff-faces in northern Spain? Swaying coconut tree crowns in the Philipines? The bright lights of Sydney off Bondi Beach? The multi pointed pagodas off Bali?
Don’t get us wrong. We don’t have anything against tennis (or Dusseldorf) but a dedication to surfing – even just trying it in the first place – comes with a taste of the whole lifestyle it’s wrapped up in. The desire to surf provides the initial impetus, but what happens along the way is nothing short of high adventure. Surfing may be the drug, but travel, worldly knowledge and adventure are the side effects. It’s a sport that comes with a lot of baggage. You should get yours packed soon. And when you do, tell us what the skyline looks like from your next surf.