If you've been dreaming of surfing your way around the globe, a gap year can be one of the best ways to do it. There are plenty of different types of programs for gap year surfers in just about every region from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia.
Depending on what you're hoping to learn during your gap year experience, you can choose to spend most of your time in one location, really 'diving' into getting to know your host community and country, and maybe even doing some volunteering or teaching on the side. If staying put doesn't appeal to you, though, there are also plenty of opportunities for you to 'catch a wave' from one surf spot to the next, chasing the next wave around the world.
Where to Go
Technically, you can surf just about anywhere with a coastline and decent waves, but we all know some beaches are created better than others. There's great surfing on the West Coast of the U.S., but what's the point of taking a gap year if you're going to stay that close to home? To take your adventures farther afield, here are some places to look:
One of the most popular countries for surfing gap year programs, South Africa offers world-class swells all along its extensive coastline, making it one of Africa's top locations for amateur and pro surfers alike. Some of the best waves can be found in places like Jeffery's Bay, St. Francis Bay, Durban, and colorful Muizenberg.
Costa Rica and Panama
Another major destination region for surfing, this southern stretch of Central America boasts bicoastal options for surf enthusiasts. Head to the gorgeous Guanacaste region on Costa Rica's northern Pacific coast, or make the best of the short but sweet season in Panama's famous Bocas del Toro islands.
Why wouldn't you want to master the breaks in the birthplace of some of the world's top surfers? Brazil's more than 4,600 miles of coastline and endless geographic diversity makes it the perfect place to spend a year -- or more -- riding the waves around spots like Itacaré, Florianopolis, and the islands of Fernando de Noronha.
With more than 16,000 miles of coastline, you could surf in Australia for years and never go back to the same beach twice. You might have to make a few repeat visits, though, if only to get the full experience at world-famous surfing destinations like the Gold Coast, Bells Beach, Noosa Heads National Park, and Queensland's appropriately named Surfers Paradise.
The thousands of islands in the Indonesian archipelago offer eternal opportunities for adventure and exploration. Many of the surf spots in Indonesia aren't ideal for beginners, but if you've got some experience under your belt (or board), head to islands like Bali, Lombok, Java, or Sumatra.
Planning Your Trip
Unlike yoga or scuba diving programs, there isn't necessarily a universal certification process for surfing. If you do decide to stay with one program or in one spot, though, you may be able to turn your time in the waves into more of a semi-permanent position. If you like the organization and location, it never hurts to ask if they're planning on hiring any more instructors!
Perfect for more indecisive travelers, shorter two- to eight-week programs help introduce you to a new location, beaches and friends, then let you move on before it gets repetitive. If you're hoping to maximize travel opportunities and see as many different places as you can, it's probably best to stick with short-term or informal options instead of committing to something more permanent.
Some gap year program providers offer a combination surfing-volunteering option, which allows you to mix time volunteering with locals with your time out in the water. This is a great way to strengthen your connections and develop more than a surface-level relationship with your host community.
Your costs will vary depending on where you go, how long you stay, what else you're doing while you're there, if you're working or if your provider offers housing or meals during your stay. Housing, food, and transportation will always be your biggest expenses while traveling, so any way you can cut down on those will help you save costs.
In general, a long-term program in one location will be more affordable than a couple of shorter stints since program costs tend to decrease the longer you stay in one place, plus you won't be spending money on flying off to a new country every month.
Most countries grant standard tourist visas for 90 days, so if you're not planning on staying in a particular country for longer than three months and have a U.S. or other relatively powerful passport, you should be fine. There are exceptions to this rule, though -- for example, Brazil requires U.S. citizens to get a visa before arrival -- so do check the individual visa requirements for any country you plan to visit, especially if you're considering a longer stay.
Many program providers offer housing options or can help connect you with hosts. Since you'll likely be spending most of your time in less developed, more rural areas, housing options might be somewhat limited, and don't expect that everywhere will have fast WiFi or even running water 24/7. If you don't mind sleeping in a hammock once in a while, that's another way to solve the housing issue and cut costs.
Health & Safety
If you're going to a tropical location, be sure to stock up on bug spray and sunscreen! It's never a bad idea to check with your local travel clinic to determine if there are any particular health concerns in your destination or if you need to get any vaccines. No matter how great a surfer you are, you definitely want to have some kind of travel insurance -- the last thing you want is to pay out of pocket when you get stranded in a monsoon and have to get rescued.
Want to earn $10,000 towards your gap year?
US residents ages 14-25 are eligible to apply for our USA Gap Year Fairs Scholarship, due Apr 15th. Register for a gap year fair to learn about eligible programs!