When away from the home break, taking a few minutes to study the unfamiliar beach and the waves can help a surfer avoid injury.

Let's go surfin' now

Everybody's learning how

Come on and safari with me

— "Surfin' Safari" by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, The Beach Boys

It's time to go on your first safari. You're stoked to the max. This will be the first time you will be riding waves away from your home break — the first time you will be surfing an unfamiliar wave, at an unfamiliar beach, in a lineup of strangers. Some homework, preparation and thought can make the journey pleasant, but without research a trip can rapidly turn crazy.

The web can provide information on breaks in faraway places. Pull up the maps and study them. Have some idea of the coastline and its relationship to major cities and to where you are staying. Surfer Magazine publishes descriptions of breaks around the world and useful local knowledge that is helpful when getting around in a strange country. 

Keep a journal

A journal will help in preparation, during the trip, and afterward. A simple notebook will do. Start with a list of what is needed for the trip. Record detailed descriptions of sessions and breaks to help keep the memories alive and to provide guidance when you return to a specific break.

Note factors such as the structure of the beach, the vibe in the crowd, the takeoff spot and overall impression of the spot. When you return home, the journal can help you reconstruct pleasant memories of the trip.

Pick your companions for the journey carefully. The reactions of relative strangers cannot always be predicted and can cause problems on a safari, and living with someone you don't know well may cause friction. On one trip to Barbados, my two companions bailed out of the accommodations on the first night of a two-week trip because there was not enough “excitement and action.” Gee, thought we were there to surf and not to party. I was left with a solo room, solo trip, and no transportation. I went out, rented a car, and had a great safari. Money can overcome just about any travel problem.

It is wise to research the laws, customs and transportation available in the destination country. Some knowledge of the local scene will increase the richness of the experience. What is the food like? Where do the locals go at night? What do they think of Americans? It is wise to avoid being the “ugly American” with behavior thta is loud, pretentious and boastful. Better to quietly blend in to the local culture.

Drugs and criminal behavior are to be strictly avoided. Getting into trouble in another country is not only dumb but dangerous. You do not have the same rights as in the United States, and prisons in other countries can be pretty bad. If something happens, contact the U.S. embassy immediately.

Transportation requires special thought, as the surfer will need to convey both him or herself and the stick to the break. The standard sedan will require tying the board to the roof. A hank of clothesline is perfect for this. Place a towel on the roof to protect it from the wax. Then tie the board to the car from the front bumper to the back bumper, including the fin. Next secure it laterally by passing the rope around the board and through the passenger compartment of the vehicle. The last thing one needs is for the board to come loose, fly through the air, and injure someone or something. On one trip to Hawaii I scored a station wagon with a metal roof rack; this made transporting the stick much smoother. If using a panel truck, taking out the passenger seat will allow the board to fit in the cabin.

Survey the break

When arriving at a new and unfamiliar break, resist the first instinct to rush into the water, paddle out quickly, and get some waves. It is not a good idea. When I arrived at a foreign break, I would sit and drink a full cup of coffee. This gave me quiet time to study the break. Where is the paddling channel? How many are in the lineup, and what is the vibe of the crowd? What are the surfing abilities of the mob, and is there localism? Where are the currents? What happens when I lose my board, and how can I get in without it? A few minutes of study are well worth the time.

Behavior in an unfamiliar lineup must be considered. Generally there are three areas in the water. There is the testosterone, or T-zone, middles, and the boneyard at the tail end. If you are a surfer on the World Tour, head straight out for the T-Zone. All others — and that is almost all of us — should go to middles. And unless you are a real kook, stay out of the boneyard.

Do not poach waves. The easiest way to make the crowd hate you is to steal waves and drop in on others. This behavior will turn a nice day into an unpleasant session, with the rest of the lineup gunning for you. Friendly give-and-take works best with the throng and guarantees a mellow go-out.

Timing sessions is essential. The midday sun in the tropics is harsh, and a noon session can result in a mega sunburn. Sunblock makes the wax slippery and is useless. I prefer morning and sunset sessions, with a nap and lunch in between. Dawn patrol is usually less crowded, and by midmorning when the crowd arrives you have had your fill of waves.

Two go-outs a day will result in lots of surf. Three a day is too many and can result in fatigue, injury and sloppy surfing. And skip the all-night parties; dawn patrol comes early and is not happening if you do not get enough rest.

If the safari is longer than a week, a day of rest is essential after about seven days. Fatigue and low energy can set in after a week of solid waves. Take the day off and you will return to the lineup sharper and ready to attack.

With regard to clothing, two pairs of board shorts are needed for rotation. Rash guards are essential. Bring plenty of underwear, and shorts, jeans, and a golf shirt or two for time out of the water. On the plane wear a decent outfit. Put it in the closet when you arrive and it will be fresh for the flight home, or if you are invited to the President’s Palace.

Most of all, have fun and stay safe, and hopefully this will be the first of many surfing safaris in your future.

Fred Weber is a goofyfoot who lives in Ocean City. For suggestions or to comment email wavelengths.fw@gmail.com.