Kalle Carranza: surf guide, Patagonia ambassador, and ex-professional surfer. Born and raised in Nayarit, Mexico. Photo: Alejandro Fuentevilla

Why Go with a Surf Guide?

If you’re looking for a more authentic and truly complete experience on a surf trip — a guide will get you there.

Croix Gagnon

Often, when one thinks of “traveling with a guide,” there can be a false image that pops up in people’s heads. Maybe it’s the one of the guy stepping out of a tour bus with a sign on a stick herding a line of clueless kittens toward the next site. Maybe it’s not.

What we’ve discovered, however, is how invaluable and downright extraordinary is can be to see a place with a surf guide. So many of unplanned speed-bumps that come with navigating a totally foreign area on your own are erased with a surf guide. A surf guide moves fluidly in their place — as a local should — and their knowledge of the coastline, surf breaks, and communities in general inevitably carry you toward great waves. Sometimes, even waves no one’s heard of.

“It took me a while to realize the value of having a guide for a surf trip, but some of my best travel experiences have all been with guides,” says Chris Dodds, of San Diego Surf Padres. “I think I used to look at it as kind of impersonal or that I was surrendering my freedom for someone else’s plan. But now, I actually consider myself lucky to know these guides as friends. They have showed me around their home areas and taught me things I would have never have learned on my own. I have gotten to hang out with their friends and share meals, stories, and best of all — epic waves.”

Still need convincing? Dig into the following reasons on why we love traveling and supporting surf guides so much at Thermal.

Having an “In”

“Knowing the area and having grown up here, I know almost all the surfers and all the locals, as well as all the right spots to eat at, local/secret beaches, the right tides and swells for every single spot. So, yeah, nothing can replace the knowledge of someone who grew up in the area. With me, you’ll be running into other surfers that are well-respected and immediately being introduced to them and being a part of the gang. You immediately have an “in.” It's like experiencing NYC with a local restaurant owner vs with a person that's only lived there for a few years. We know the history about the place and how it's changed over the years." —Kalle Carranza, Sayulita Surf Mission

See, Kalle Carranza is a former pro-surfer from Sayulita that has graced the covers of international surf magazines the world-over. Seeing a place with a guy like that...well, having an “in” indeed. But about that “in.” What’s that even mean? Well, it could mean which ceviche cart has the freshest catch on what day. Or, it could mean knowing a mayor of a town that literally holds the key to a gate that’s blocking the road to a perfect righthand point. The “in” is the kind of intel only a local has — and that’s a good person to roll with.

A PhD on the Wave Out Front

“My one piece of advice that I always give my clients is this: You’ve waited so long, you’ve paid so much, and you’ve traveled so far…Get in a new mind-space, leave your local break mindset behind, forget about catching any wave that you can. Be picky, wait for that wave that has your name on it, the one that you will remember when you go home, the one that I call a “life-changer.” That’s why you came out here. Don’t throw yourself over the ledge on something that doesn’t feel right; give it up to someone down the line in a better position. I would rather paddle over a wave counting on the next one out the back being a bomb — and find nothing — than take a mediocre wave, kick out down the line and see the next one behind it, bigger and better, reeling at me in absolute perfection, knowing that I should have paddled over the one I took…That’s why I’m here.” —Earl Sullivan, Asu Camp Surf Club

Some waves are easy to learn, and some waves that might look absolutely perfect...aren’t as easy as they appear. That’s where a trusted surf guide becomes essential. Especially one based on a boat or out at a remote lodge — a guide that’s been stariung at certain waves for years on end (between actually surfing them, of course). A surf guide — like Earl at Asu Camp — knows exactly which wave of the set to take, which wave might section, which wave might become the wave of your life. Guides like that are said-wave experts.

Straying from the Script

“Quick decision making and team playing are very important on any adventure and that is something essential I have learned on my many trips. Every trip is unique and adapts to the travelers’ desires. I love what I do and I love being a host and sharing my experience and love of our planet. So beyond the surf, that’s also what my trips are really all about.”  —Alex Otero, Atacama and Puertecillo Adventures

Maybe the surf was pumping the entire morning…but the wind has gone onshore at 11am…or the tide is toon low and the reef is dry…what now? A surf guide’s been in this exact situation — at this exact spot — so, yeah, they’ve got some Plan B’s, if not Plan C’s. In fact, pulling an audible on a trip is often what proves to be the very best ones. And that low tide ruining the wave out front that everyone’s over? A guide normally knows about wave with a certain bottom that prefers that moon cycle. You’d be surprised where a little bit of trust will lead you…

Being Mobile (Literally)

Truck Surf Hotel: home is where the truck is

“For me, our trip is definitely about the freedom to travel and explore different surf spots, parking our ‘home on wheels’ in beautiful locations near the ocean. We have a continual connection with the outdoors, and also a connection with the local communities from the places where we visit. We’re pretty lucky to say that each trip brings so many unforgettable moments. Every week is different and that’s what is so special about life on the road: it’s always an adventure and exciting.” — Daniela Carneiro, Truck Surf Hotel

Should you have the pleasure of hitting the road or open seas and traveling with a guide for a time (as opposed to meeting them when needed) there’s definitely something to the actual going with them. Seeing a place through their eyes and how a true local interacts with their community — it’s invaluable. Of course, you’ll be led to epic surf along the way, but hitting the road with the guide is a virtual driving lesson in their culture.

Actual Exploration

“The Galapagos, for example, are truly a huge archipelago and it is not easy just to grab a boat to get to the far away corners of the islands on your own. But I will say that there are still plenty of breaks to be discovered. As a reference, we found a new one just a few months ago, and my friend Diego found another one a couple months before that.”  —Eduardo Salazar, Untamed Galapagos

See, guides get bored of “the program,” too. A solid surf guide doesn’t just mail it in and go to the expected breaks — they’re curious, too. And if that means a little discovery along the way, ultimately, that stokes out all travelers involved (guide-included).

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