Unless you’re looking for super high end luxury or romantic seclusion, there’s a good chance that there’s a surf camp out there that would be ideal for the next dream trip idea ticking away in the back of your head.
There are many reasons why camps are becoming so popular among surfers: solo travelers love the social aspect, beginners and intermediates enjoy the included surf lessons/guiding and equipment rental, and anyone on a budget will struggle to find anything more wallet-friendly. What’s not to like?!
The only problem is that there are so many surf camps popping up all around the world that trying to choose one can be an absolute headache. Here’s a walk through of everything you should consider when looking for a surf camp courtesy of the experts at LUEX Surf Travel.
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO AND WHEN?
It may seem like common sense, but first you need to narrow down where you really want to go, or if your dates are fixed, where is in season and is likely to have good waves.
You need to consider your ability level at this stage too – while you may have visions of pulling into throaty barrels after a couple of days in the water, the reality is that learning to surf can be a long and slow process! Destinations like Sri Lanka, France, Portugal, Bali and some areas of Central America are a good choice for new surfers, with friendly waves ideal for learning on with heavier spots to step up to as you progress.
Other factors to consider when choosing where to go are how far do you want to travel (do you have enough time off for a long haul destination?), how ‘exotic’ you want to go (Asia can be a huge culture shock, at least away from the main tourist traps), and what your budget is (flights to places like Sri Lanka can be very expensive, but it’s very cheap once there!).
In terms of swell seasons:
- Indonesia gets great waves with incredible consistency from July through September, though the off-season can also produce great surf with fewer crowds
- The Maldives offer clean, sapphire-blue waves from March and bigger swells from May, but can pick up swell at any time of year
- Morocco starts firing with powerful surf and cool offshore winds from around September/October
- South West Sri Lanka is warm and glassy throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere winter, while Arugam Bay is better from March to November
- Southern Europe (France, Portugal, Spain) are warm and party-central during the summer, but get more swell during the colder months
- Central America offers are choice of Pacific or Caribbean coast so you can find good waves pretty much all year round; likewise in South America where you can choose between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts
- Africa has an absolutely bewildering amount of surf spots. J-Bay in South Africa is probably the most famous, and starts cooking in March and works through September; Senegal is at its best from November through to February
WOULD YOU RATHER SLEEP IN A TENT, DORM, OR PRIVATE ROOM?
While the name does include camp, many surf camps – in fact most surf camps – don’t actually involve any camping! Options typically include dorm rooms (you can fill one with just your own crew if you bring enough people, otherwise you’ll be sharing with other traveling surfers), and shared double rooms.
There’s normally also an option to take your own single room, if privacy and the chance to retreat (if the fun and socializing gets too much) are important to you and are in line with your budget. However, there are also a couple of true tent-based surf camps – including some fancy ‘glamping’ options – in Europe and Costa Rica.
While surf camps generally tend toward fairly basic and budget-friendly accommodation standards, there are a number of higher end choices available in most destinations too – but don’t go expecting gourmet fine dining and über-luxury resorts.
Consider what amenities are really important to you: fast and reliable wifi, swimming pool, excursions and non-surf activities, food (what’s included? what restaurants are nearby?), air conditions? This is where you can really start to narrow down your options in your chosen destination.
DO YOU NEED SURF LESSONS OR GUIDING?
Most surf camps offer lessons or guiding, whether included in the price or as an optional extra package. If you’re a total beginner you should definitely take lessons regardless, but if you’re more advanced it may be better and more economical to book just a couple of hours refresher course, or a day or two with a guide to find out more about the local breaks.
Most surf camps tend to run group lessons, which are great fun without the pressure of intensive one-on-one coaching. They’re a great way to start your surf career, but if you’re struggling or want to work on particular skill sets you may want to choose a camp that offers more focussed individual coaching too.
Depending on what your ability or needs it can also be worth looking out for camps specializing in particular ability level coaching (dedicated beginner, intermediate or advanced lessons), age groups, or girls-only courses.
Equally, you should research what qualifications and experience the instructors have – just because someone’s a great surfer doesn’t mean they can teach surfing! Likewise, surfing can be a risky undertaking and safety should be a high priority: are the instructors trained in CPR and lifesaving techniques?
WILL YOU NEED TO BORROW A BOARD AND WETSUIT?
Generally surf camps have a wide range of equipment available to rent or borrow, ranging from boards to wetsuits. This is great news for beginners who don’t need to shell out for expensive gear before they’ve even tried surfing.
Even if you have a full quiver of boards at home, flying with them can be expensive and risky (airlines aren’t generally particularly surf board friendly), so it’s still worth considering borrowing a board.
Definitely do check before hand what’s on offer though, as you don’t want to be stuck with a huge soft top barge if your standard whip is a 5’6 Hypto Krypto!
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A PARTY OR SOMEWHERE MORE CHILLED OUT?
Surf camps come in all shapes, sizes and ambiences – it’s imperative that you choose one that matches the vibe you’re looking for from your trip! Do you want to party all night, or do you need to escape from the rat race and relax somewhere for a week or two? Would you prefer a very social big group vibe, or rather spend some quality time with your significant other or close mates? Are you looking for mod cons and sophisticated surroundings, or do you want to get back to nature in a more remote and rustic locale?
It’s also worth bearing in mind what sort of people the surf camp you’re looking at caters for: what age range, what nationality, etc. What languages are lessons available in? Are the staff and instructors bi-lingual? Multicultural surf camps can be a great way to meet people from other countries and learn new languages, but there’s no point paying for surf tuition if everything is lost in translation!
Some of these aspects of camp life are pretty abstract and hard to figure out before you actually arrive, but checking out social feeds like Instagram and Facebook can often give you a good idea. Otherwise, just speak to a surf travel agent for more objective advice!
This article was originally posted on LUEX Magazine.
Featured image ©Andrew Shield/LUEX