Last Updated: 29.09.2023
If you’re planning a tropical surf trip, there are number of things you are definitely not going to forget to pack. These include your surfboards, boardies or bikinis, your surfboard bag and your passport. But there are certain other things than the obvious that you need to pack when you are going surfing. To ensure you’re prepared for just about any scenario though, we’ve put together a list with 10 other essentials you shouldn’t leave home without.
So read on to make your next tropical surfing adventure to a destinations such as Costa Rica and Nicaragua anything but a bummer. And don’t be afraid to let us know if there’s anything that we’ve missed!
1. Fin Keys
Small and unassuming, fin keys tend to disappear at an alarming rate on surf trips. For this reason, we recommend you take at least a couple with you.
There’s always one person who wants to ‘borrow’ one anyway and for whatever reason never returns it. So, having a backup will ensure you can still swap out your fins if necessary without having to endure the skeptical gaze of the person you’re hitting up for theirs. If you find yourself sans fin key, an Allen/hex key will do the job just as well. But there won’t be many situations when someone has one of these but no fin key.
2. Broad-spectrum Sunscreen
Sunburn in tropical environs is the worst. They also make you look like a total kook. So if you’re planning a tropical surf trip to an equatorial nation such as Costa Rica or Nicaragua, remember to pack some broad-spectrum sunscreen.
The best types will protect you from UVA and UVB radiation. Both of which can damage your skin and lead to more serious dermatological issues further down the track. A good sunscreen should also be 30+ and contain no oxybenzone. This is one of several ingredients known to be toxic to coral. In regards to performance, low-quality sunscreen can feel greasy. If it finds its way onto the deck of your board, say hello to a couple of awkward faceplants when you try to stand up on the first wave of the day.
Aim to apply three tablespoons worth of sunscreen to your body if you’re in boardies and a bikini. Do so no later than 30 minutes before you hit the water, too. It should then be reapplied every couple of hours, given that it will become less effective the longer you spend in the water.
3. Spare Legrope
Like fin keys, a spare leggie won’t take up any room in your boardbag and is an item you must carry on your tropical surfing trips. Not to mention that having another leggie to use if and when the other snaps will ensure you don’t spend most of your trip swimming rather than surfing.
Consider taking a few different lengths and thicknesses especially when its a tropical surf trip. This way you can wear the thinnest one in small surf and enjoy less drag when you’re on a wave. Conversely, a thick legrope is ideal if you’re riding a bigger board in overhead waves.
If you’ve ever had to turtle stroke your way over a razor-sharp reef to retrieve your favorite surfboard, you’ll already understand the value of packing multiple leggies. If you’re yet to experience this joy, however, let us tell you it’s not something people are lining up to pay money for.
If you intend to take on a particularly rocky point or a reef break, do your feet a favor and take a pair of booties with you. While they look and feel kind of rare in tropical locales, the alternative is that the soles of your feet become a sea urchin’s new nesting ground.
Cuts and grazes sustained while tiptoeing across rocks or reef at low tide can also turn into nasty infections if left untreated. Our advice for your next tropical surf trip? Slip on a pair of ankle or shin length booties and enjoy strolling across that treacherous rock shelf or reef like it was a freshly mowed lawn. The fact that they feel super unpleasant when you’re squelching around on land in them is well worth it for the freedom they offer. Sometimes, they’re the only thing that will allow you to access the best waves in the area without doing serious damage to yourself.
5. A Deck of Playing Cards
A deck of playing cards is the x-factor when it comes to planning any surf trip and not just for tropical surfing. Not only will you have a bit of fun with your friends as darkness falls and your day of wave hunting comes to an end, but it’s also a great way to get people off their phones.
Poker, rummy, hearts and even blackjack always deliver good times whenever anyone whips out a deck of cards at our Costa Rica and Nicaragua surf camps. You’ll soon find out who amongst you is the card shark and who couldn’t deal a hand to save their life. The best part is that card games naturally lead to some good banter. You can even make things really interesting and play for the right to catch the first wave the next day then sit back and watch just how competitive everyone becomes then.
6. Soft Racks
Nothing halts the momentum of a surf trip like exiting the airport with all of your gear in tow, only to discover there are zero taxis willing to take you and your sleds. A common problem no doubt, but one that can also be avoided if you take a pair of your own soft racks.
Trust us, planning a tropical surf trip becomes a whole lot easier when you know you can travel freely with your own tie downs. It’ll save you from the exorbitant fees some drivers will demand and ensure your fiberglass pride and joy isn’t strapped down using a dodgy rope. If you’re renting a car, straps will allow you to put the boards on the roof and free up some much-needed space inside the vehicle. Just remember that some rental companies will consider your agreement void if they see you do this, so maybe be a little discreet when fixing them to the roof.
7. A Book
It may not strike you as something you need to carry to a tropical surf trip but we guarantee that if you bring a book, you’ll end up reading the first chapter 10 plus times. That’s because reading after a long day in the waves is like literary chloroform. With even the most exciting page-turner lulling you to sleep with every sentence.
Of course, books can be impractical to travel with. For this reason, we recommend only bringing one or two thin paperbacks. A language book if you’re heading to a foreign country is a great idea, however, this might not keep you entertained.
Try taking a book about the history of the country you’re staying in instead. It’ll help you wrap your head around their cuisine, politics, unique geography and even their art. More importantly, a history book will help you see things from the local’s perspective.
No self-respecting surf town is without an ample supply of wax, which can make taking your own seem redundant. But here us out.
Because you stripped your deck of wax before packing your board, you’ll need to re-wax it once you arrive. The very last thing you’ll feel like doing on the first morning when the surf is firing is waiting for the local surf shop to open to buy a fresh block. You’ll be crippled by anxiety and go mad trying to find a spare block. Take as much as you think you’ll need and then take a little bit more. Alternatively, if you’re visiting our Costa Rica or Nicaragua surf camps, you can leave the wax at home. We’ve got enough stockpiled to last us till the apocalypse.
9. Ding Repair Kit
Leaving a crack or a chip in your board unattended will weaken the foam within it. This in turn makes your board more susceptible to creasing or snapping. Such a situation can leave you without a board while your mates enjoy the perfect waves.
One way to avoid this nightmare scenario is to carry your own ding repair kit on your next tropical surfing adventure. They’re discreet and easy to pack, but most of all their perfectly good at fixing minor damage to your surfboard. Some places you visit will have a shaper or a ding repair shack that’ll fix your board for a small fee, and a little bit of money injected into the local economy is never a bad thing. For every other place, a ding repair kit is a great item to have with you. Just remember too when planning your surf trip that it’s only got to work once for it to pay for itself.
Most beginner and intermediate surfers won’t notice a change in their board’s performance when they switch fins. But you’ll quickly realize how essential an extra set are if yours blow out in a remote location.
Fins have a habit of being completely destroyed on surf trips when you decide not to bring any. Perhaps even more infuriating than not bringing any though is having to borrow some. Only to discover your new friend has a different fin setup to you e.g. FCS or Future. Talk about a cruel joke. Be smart and think ahead. Take an extra set of fins with you and enjoy the peace of mind knowing you’ve got backups.
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Essential items include a swimsuit, rash guard, surfboard, leash, sunscreen, and a hat. Additionally, pack lightweight clothing, flip-flops, and a reusable water bottle.
It depends on personal preference and convenience. Many tropical surfing destinations offer surfboard rentals, allowing you to avoid the hassle of transporting your board.
In most tropical locations, a wetsuit is not necessary due to warm water temperatures. However, consider a rash guard for sun protection and to prevent skin irritation.
Insect repellent can be beneficial, especially in tropical areas where mosquitoes may be present. It’s a good idea to include it in your packing list.
Bring any personal medications, a basic first aid kit, and items like anti-diarrheal medication. It’s also advisable to pack motion sickness tablets if you are sensitive to boat travel.