Do you travel more than a pro surfer?

In all of professional sports, I doubt there are many athletes who travel more for their job than professional surfers. In fact, I doubt there are many people involved in any profession who travel more than professional surfers do on an annual basis.

Unless you are, oh, I don’t know, an exploratory oil engineer, a FedEx airline pilot, or some sort of covert operative, there’s a real good chance that the world’s top wave chargers are circling the globe far more rapidly than you are.

So just what does the schedule of a professional surfer look like?

To begin with, the 36 surfers on the ASP World Tour compete in 11 different events that take them across Australia, Brazil, South Africa, France, Portugal, Tahiti, California, and Hawaii over the course of the year. During the 4-6 weeks between events, many of these surfers are jetting across the globe chasing swells and doing promo shoots in countries that include the expected (Indonesia, Fiji, Costa Rica), the remote (Namibia, Madagascar, Iceland), and the downright dangerous (I’ve seen articles on surf in Libya, and it actually looks really good).

Considering the constant demands of chasing swells that can pop up in any corner of the world, many pro surfers spend little more than a month or two at “home” in any given year.
To dig deeper into the traveling life of a professional surfer I recently caught up with a team that’s been traveling with pro surfer Ian Walsh of Maui, Hawaii.One of the world’s best big wave surfers, Walsh largely forgoes contests in favor of searching out some of the largest, most remote waves on the planet. When he’s not stroking into bulbous, death-defying pits that would assuredly kill the rest of us, Walsh is making various promotional appearances around the globe for one of his major sponsors, Red Bull.

On a recent trip that just came to a close, Walsh and his team flew from Hawaii to Africa for a month of chasing swells from the sharky waters of Cape Town to the remote sand spits of Namibia. After Africa, the Walsh team was needed back in New York City for the premier of a Red Bull snowboarding film, The Art of Flight, during which time he jetted out to Rhode Island to hunt down some waves from a mid-autumn hurricane swell.

From New York the team hopped over the pond for a week of wave-hunting on the west coast of Ireland, after which time it was off to Salzburg, Austria via Prague to drop in at the Red Bull headquarters for a few days. Throw in a quick trip to Rome, and then it’s back on the wave-hunt by flying to Bulgaria to begin work on a documentary based around searching for surf in the Caspian Sea.

That particular trip involved driving overland from Bulgaria to Istanbul, then catching a plane to Baku, Azerbaijan, which is a place I feel you don’t regularly find many pro surfers. This, of course, is further evidence of the ever expanding quest of searching for waves in places you’d never think there was good surf.

On top of this particular 6-week whirlwind, Walsh was also spotted this year taking two trips to Indonesia, two to Fiji, three to Mexico, and of course, a couple of trips to Las Vegas thrown in for good measure.

If planning these trips sounds like a logistical nightmare, consider the fact the majority of pro surfers are sculpting their travel arrangements around shifting swell models of where they think the next big storm is going to rear its ugly head. It’s not unheard of for surfers to chase a swell from Tahiti to Hawaii to California and literally ride the same waves (albeit at smaller levels) they just rode the day before.

To add an additional variable, pro surfers don’t exactly have the luxury of flying carry-on with their favorite roll-aboard luggage. Aside from schlepping around a quiver of anywhere from 4-10 boards (which are really fun to travel with when flying to Mozambique and boarding a dilapidated fishing boat for a 3 week feral mission into the middle of nowhere), the modern surfer needs a small studio of electronics such as camera gear, video gear, and laptops to document the entire journey for the sponsors, magazines, and surf companies who make a lot of the travel possible.

So the next time you’re riding business class lamenting the fact you’ve been on the road for the last 2 weeks, consider the fact there’s some surfer out there trying to stuff a big silver board bag into a decrepit Nicaraguan taxi who’s chasing a swell he spotted while camped out somewhere in Sri Lanka. He’s sleep-deprived, heavily vaccinated, and willing to throw himself over a 20-foot ledge onto a jagged coral reef all for a chance to chase the dream we call the cover of a magazine.

In other words, it’s just another day on the job.

For more info on Ian Walsh and a greater window into the life of a professional surfer, check out the surf blog

Photo: {Justin Clark;}