discovering The world's best surf camp
My journey to find the world's best surf camp: After 15 years travelling the world as a surf journalist, I've spent many a month holed up in surf camps under the guise of work.
Some surf camps are great, some good, others are just plain grotty. Despite the hazards of the less-than-decent ones, its the passion that keep you going. As Mark Foo once quoted, "it's not tragic to die doing something you love".
Here are nine of the best camps that can give you a surf trip of a lifetime*....
G-Land Bobby’s Surf Camp, East Java, Indonesia
Established in 1975, Bobby's is the world’s first surf camp and in my humble opinion, still the best. The success of Bobby’s is down to two things: the wave and the isolation.
Located on the very eastern tip of Java in the middle of a national park, Grajagan stretches for a kilometre down a coral reef, offering seven different sections including some of the most perfect waves on the planet.
Being so isolated, it also evokes a pure surfing feeling. There are no nightclubs (the generators and the lights go off at 10pm), no shops and nothing at all to do but surf your brains out, have a few beers in the evening and press repeat for two weeks. Pure surfing bliss.
Namotu is a wave rich Fijian surf camp that was one of my favourite destinations on earth - and that was before 2009, when due to ownership restrictions you were unable to surf the neighbouring wave of Cloudbreak off Tavarua.
Namotu is managed by legendary Australian couple, Mandy and Scott O'Connor whose ability to put you at ease in their lodge is a massive part of the appeal.
Well, that and the fun lefthander out the front, the incredible fishing, great kite surfing facilities and one of the world’s deadliest house cocktails, the notorious Skull Drag.
Now with access to perhaps the best wave in the world at Cloudbreak, one of the world’s best surf camps just got better.
Shaka Beach Retreat, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has warm water, a Caribbean and a Pacific Coast, consistent offshore winds, uniform swell and a stable democracy.
Basically anywhere in Costa Rica is better than most place everywhere else, but Shaka Beach Retreat is my favourite in all of Costa Rica.
Private beachside villas are nestled in the tropical gardens with fruit trees which spill onto the ridiculous pretty beaches and great waves on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Great for intermediate and beginner surfers, you can also try one of their yoga packages which adds flexibility to one of the most chilled surf camp experiences on the planet.
Nihiwatu, Sumba, Indonesia
Located in the middle of the remote Indonesian island of Sumba, calling Nihiwatu a surf camp might be pushing it.
Surfers are limited to just ten, meaning you have exclusive access to the world class wave (known as Nihiwatu or Occy’s Left) which sits right in front of your luxury villa.
Throw in world-class diving, fishing, yoga, horse rides, five-star food and you see why staying in Nihiwatu goes far beyond surf experiences anywhere else in the world.
Chill In Ericeira, Portugal
In 2011, World Surfing Reserve status was given to the iconic waves around the Portuguese town of Ericeira, placing it alongside other legendary surf centres such as Santa Cruz, Malibu and Australia's Gold Coast.
The new Chill In Ericeira Surf House, run by former Portuguese national champion Joana Rocha, has taken advantage of that and plunges visitors right into the heart of the town’s historic surf culture.
The amenities are fairly basic, with shared bathrooms, dining areas and a communal kitchen, but the vibe is pure, chilled out surf.
Whether you're a beginner or an expert, the camp’s guides will take you to the best waves, be that the crunching tubes of point breaks such as Coxos or the benign beaches closer to the camp.
Island Vibe, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Island Vibe is a legendary South African backpackers' surf camp, perched on a sand dune overlooking the Indian Ocean, a five minute drive away from the famous righthand point of Jeffreys Bay.
Directly in front of the hostel is the wave of Kitchen Windows, where most mornings you will see dolphins zipping through the fast right handers. July to October is the best time for waves, while sightings of southern right whales are also a daily occurrence then.
The bar has been a haven for international surfers and travellers for two decades and the town of Jeffreys Bay with ridiculous steakhouses and surf shops is just a short walk away. I’ve had three of my best surf trips of my life here and the Island Vibe atmosphere was crucial to all of them.
Latitude Zero, Telo Islands, Indonesia
Latitude Zero owner Matt Cruden has spent the last two decades as skipper of the boat Mangalui, scouring and discovering the best waves in all of Indonesia.
A few years ago, he decided to set up his dream camp in the Telo Islands. It has access to all level of waves - including world class beachbreaks, a rare gem in the coral infested waters of Indonesia.
If the thought of two weeks of post-surf poolside cocktails seems too much, you can also choose a half boat, half land camp deals. Matt’s fast boat (the legendary 250hp tender called the Foxy) can have you surfing the best waves anywhere in a 100 mile radius.
Add onto that incredible cooking and the Cruden family's hospitality (Matt’s wife Jen and four kids live on the island) and you can see why this is my newest favourite camp.
Koala Surf Camp, Hossegor, France
Sitting directly in front of two of Europe's (if not the world’s) best waves of La Nord and La Graviere, Koala Surf Camp can’t get you any closer to the epicentre of Europe’s surf capital, Hossegor.
It has a real surf house feel, with a rag tag bunch of keen surfers from all over world sharing the surfing trip of a lifetime.
Hossegor’s La Centrale and the infamous RockFood Nightclub is a 200 metres stumble to the south, assuring good times, all be it at the risk of missing the early waves.
Two big balconies provide the ideal peanut gallery vantage points and give the views up the beach, a five mile stretch of sand that provide some of the most consistent, perfect beachbreaks in the world.
Pitstop Hill Surf Camp, Mentawai Islands, Indonesia
Located in the Indonesian Mentawai Islands in the region known to surfers as Playgrounds, Pitstops was one of the first, and still the best, land camps in the area.
I'd done many a boat trip through the area, which has the highest density of perfect waves anywhere in the world, but had stayed away from land camps, fearing lack of access and mobility to all the great waves like Rifles and Kanduis.
However, Pitstops overcomes this by having fast boats and experienced guides on hand at all times to whisk you over to the best conditions.
There's also a fun, quite soft right directly in front (called Pitstops) and it's a five minute walk to the legendary break of E-Bay. The camp is nestled in manicured gardens, it's superbly run and the chance of getting seasick is practically zero.
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