Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson are the godfathers of surf exploration. They, along with a few other luminaries like Peter Troy, hacked their way through Central American jungles, dodged dictators and dysentery in West Africa and explored the dusty corners of the world in cramped VWs and colossal container ships.
Everywhere you dream of, everywhere you’re too scared to visit they have written about, photographed and spent hours in sun burnt bliss solitary gliding in empty perfection.
Australian Jim Banks believes that ‘Most surfers aren’t very adventurous.’ When did surfers stop being explorers and become tourists?
I agree with Jim Banks, who is a true adventurer. For all the talk about how surfers tend to be free spirits roaming the globe, most are pretty complacent and prefer their creature comforts.
Roughing it is a thing of the past. The seventies and half-way into the eighties decades were the golden ages of surf adventures, with lots of discoveries in Indo, etc.
The rise of surf resorts took a lot of the incentive out of adventure travel. Now, it’s all about surf tourism. Only the most feral young Aussies and Euros are still doing the adventure thing.
In the development of surf tourism Nias is often held up as a spot that faired poorly, but what about the winners? Where do you feel surfing has had a positive impact?
Hard to hand out any accolades for the positive impact of surf resorts. All the ones I’ve seen are pretty self-serving, putting nothing back into the communities (okay, there’s some local employment going on, but that’s a given at any place where you start a business overseas).
The shining exception is Tavarua, which has done enough things for the local Fijian communities to take up the entire magazine. The goodwill they’ve created in Fiji is phenomenal.
In terms of putting back into the local communities, they should be the standard by which other surf resorts measure themselves.
How come some areas such as Mexico and Central America took off as destinations but others like West Africa, even with its proximity to Morocco, didn’t?
Politics and social instability. A lot of Africa is just too damn dangerous nowadays. When we traveled through Africa things were pretty benign compared to the present times.
Speaking of which, it’s not much better in El Salvador, a place with great surf but unbelievably high crime and violence. Surf tourist there have to be sequestered in compounds just to feel semi-safe. Plus, it’s pretty hard to get around in Africa. Mobility is everything.
Who was your inspiration? Does youth need any?
My personal inspiration was Peter Troy, the Aussie adventurer who was way ahead of his time. But generally, all those surfers who were going to faraway places in the 60’s and relaying their adventures in SURFER magazine were a source of inspiration.
Was there a Peterson/Naughton manifesto?
Go for it.
I’m lucky enough to work with university students and the only thing that I really envy is when they leave to ‘going travelling’ with no time frame and no real goal. Do you find the same as an adult?
Alas, the same cannot be said as an adult. It’s funny, because if you’re a feral traveler at 20 you’re a hero, at 50 you’re a bum.
Life has a way of piling on responsibilities and baggage that are pretty unimaginable when you’re young and footloose.
Your writing is full of the realties of travel yet threaded through with a gentle humour that reflects the positivity of open horizons. Is it important to find the lighter side of things when you find yourself in those darker corners?
Absolutely, without humor all is lost. It’s ironic how the most scary situations can make for the most laughs. Both of us have a very self-depreciating senses of humor, and this not only helps you to get along but also helps diffuse what are otherwise tense and bleak predicaments.
Laughter is the social glue that holds the world together.
In the world of analogue cameras, hand written text and snail mail did you ever loose anything?Any stories that didn’t make it through?
Given the constraints of space, lots of stories didn’t make it into SURFER. Putting together the book has allowed us to expand on those stories, as well as photos.
There’s always talk that the past was a ‘simpler’ time. Do you buy into this?
The past was simpler in the sense that things were more rudimentary, travel-wise, and the world did seem like a safer place overall. For instance, no one in their right mind is going to travel through Afghanistan these days, but in the 70’s it was considered another route on the hippie-traveller trail.
El Salvador was downright benign compared to what’s going on there now. Civil wars have torn up most of Africa. And as far as communications goes, we were in the dark ages compared to the cyberspace world where we all live. So yes, in that sense the world was simpler.
Every hipster with a tent and a camera has copied your Baja ‘Orange Tent’ cover shot in one form or another. Are they sending you royalties?
Royalties? What are those? Last month we were in a surf shop and saw a full-sized poster of Craig’s actual cover shot for sale. Craig was as surprised as anyone to see it.
Are there any modern guys and girls that inspire you?
Cyrus Sutton is one cool cat and a very talented film maker.
I asked John Callahan if we’re simply searching down the back of the couch looking for crypto reefs and points that only fire on a blue moon. Is there anywhere left?
Lots of places are left, but how consistently they break and how safe it is are subject to debate. Really, look at a map of the Pacific Ocean and what you see are thousand upon thousands of tiny islands, each with surf potential (at least in your imagination!). But in reality, artificial waves are the future for the masses.
If you could, what advice would you give your adventurous young selves before heading south?
Advice? Forget the return ticket, just keep going. The world you left behind is not going to miss you and the world ahead awaits.
Where haven’t you been? Where’s next?
Haven’t been to lots of places. Really, it’s all relative. New Zealand is still on our list. Ditto with the Maldives. We’re both still excited about the prospects of going to new places, and the world is full of new places. If anything, we appreciate the travels more now that we’re older.
A piece of universal kit that goes with you everywhere?
The only thing we’ve taken wherever we go is a sense of humor.
What you riding these days?
Craig’s still one of the last remaining kneeboarders alive on the planet. I’m riding the whole range: longboards, shortboards, fish, SUP. It all depends on the conditions.
Over the decades my shortboard has gone up in length about a foot (from 6’6″ to 7’6″, but it’s still the same template). It’s actually more fun riding all kinds of different boards, whereas in the seventies and eighties everyone pretty much just rode tri-fin shortboards.
So the explosion in surfing has brought some unforeseen benefits and opened up minds to alternative wave riding equipment.
Oh one last thing…
What’s the best surf tale you’ve never told? Feel free to go into grizzly details.
Some of the best tales we’ve never told will be in our next book, where we are deep in the heart of darkest Africa and wondering if we’re going to get out alive. Stay tuned.