“It’s a small world… but I wouldn’t want to paint it…” Steven Wright
Google Earth has been crucial in finding some of the world’s newest waves. Intrepid surf explorers like Kepa Acero, Alex Grey, Chris Burkard, Harrison Roach and Mikhala Jones have used the tool to find perfect, never-ridden-before waves in places such as Angola, Alaska, Indonesia, India and Antarctica.
But, in terms of exploration these finds are, both literally and metaphorically, the tip of the iceberg. Where could the next unknown waves be found? We take to Google Earth to find out.
1) The Chagos Islands
Deep in the heart of the Indian Ocean, the Chagos Islands or archipelago lie between Africa and Indonesia, about 500 km due south of The Maldives, directly in the path of the same swell lines that roar through J-Bay, sweep into Indonesia and smash against Western Australia.
In addition to their location is their sheer size. The archipelago consists of seven atoll formations, including the largest atoll structure in the world, the Great Chagos bank with a total area of 13,000 km2. Are we starting to get a picture of the potential of this place?
Unfortunately these islands are the most important military outpost in the Indian Ocean, a British Indian Ocean Territory, leased to the USA and operated as a joint UK-US naval support facility. Still with the waves on offer, a few years in Guantanamo might just be worth it.
2) Ascension Island
Where is it? 7°56’ S, 14°22’ W, which is quite accessible, really. Ascension Island is a 60-square mile lump of geriatric molten volcanic rock right in the middle of nowhere, bang smack in the heart of the South Atlantic Ocean that now serves as a British naval and communications base.
It operates under British rule, has one small treacherous wharf and a reputation as one of the most isolated islands on earth. Crowds, therefore, shouldn’t be a problem.
However from the swell charts, it looks the early months from Jan to March would be the most consistent and there is a variety of reef breaks, points and a harbour that look like they could provide incredible waves.
The coast of Iran is tucked up in the Gulf of Oman. The surrounding coasts of Oman, Yemen and Pakistan had all been surfed, by a mix of Dubai expats, war correspondents, army dudes and surf explorers, and yet Iran had never been touched.
Until Irish surfer, scientist and all-round legend Easkey Britton travelled there in 2011. She found waves and taught a few Iranian woman to surf (you can read all about it here). Since then those initial surfers have kept it up and with Easkey’s continued encouragement, a nascent Iranian surf culture has been established.
However, they have only explored a smidgen of the available coastline and Google Earth reveals beachbreaks, the odd coral reef and rivermouths that might provide excellent waves with the right swell. Pack the headscarf and 6’0” and desert jewels await.
A recent UK TV show hosted by Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud called Escape To The Wild featured a couple and their three children living off the grid on a tiny, remote, island in the Vava’u chain located near Tonga. And I couldn’t help but notice a series of tubing lefts that were breaking just in front of their self-made house as Kevin wanged on about solar power and self-sustainability.
A check on Google Earth sees this island is just one of thousands in a triangle that takes in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. The waves in these areas have been well documented, but the potential of these other islands has in no way been fully explored. There just has to be another Cloudbreak out there somewhere.
And the worst thing? The three boys growing up on the island didn’t even surf. The isolation, lack of education and general weirdness of the parents I can understand, but living there and not surfing is just plain childhood cruelty.
5) Terra del Fuego
“There has been surfers in the area before,” Basque surf explorer Kepa Acero tells Mpora, “but I was pretty sure no one had been this far south to this wave. From checking Google Earth swell charts and local maps there was the possibility of incredible waves. I had to go.”
Kepa did in fact go, to the very southern tip of South America, documenting his solo travels all the way to the end of the Earth. Once there he discovered a perfect lefthander and the exhilaration of finding a new wave after months and months of planning, travel and setbacks.
Kepa who had discovered waves in Indonesia, Angola and India, believes there are more perfect waves in Terra del Fuego and beyond. “With time, and patience, and Google Earth, uncrowded perfection awaits.”
6) Okinawa Islands
The Japanese Islands stretch like a string of pearls between the southern tip of Japan down to the northern tip of Taiwan, making a border between the Pacific and the East China Sea. With China close by these islands have been disputed by China and Japan for centuries and were also scenes of some of the Pacific’s heaviest Navy battles in the Second World War. But it’s surfers who might be fighting over it in the future.
The islands are surrounded by numerous coral reef passes and with them copping the same typhoon swells that light up the Philippines and Japan, the potential for exceptional waves in this tropical paradise is huge. A Google Earth check shows potential on the bigger islands of Okinawa-Jima and Amimi, but the specks like Takera-Jima have to have waves. Just watch out for the 50 year unexploded mortar shells.
7) South Sumatra
With Indonesia being such a surfing hotspot, you’d think that finding undiscovered waves would be impossible. But it’s worth remembering that waves are still being discovered on Bali, a relatively tiny island that’s housed intrepid surfers since the early 1970s. So when you look at southern Sumatra, which has 1000 odd miles of coastline before the well known Mentawai Islands start screening the coast, you get glimpse of the potential.
The coastline is often inaccessible by road, and while there are well known spots around places like Krui, this is part of the world that might just have the most untapped source of incredible waves in the world. You’ll probably need a boat, some anti-malarial tablets and whole of lot of luck, but out there in the jungle is a wave with your name on it.
8) Orkney, Shetland and Faroe Islands
The arrival of better wetsuits has led to a whole “cold water” movement, pushing the surfing world farther north to places both cold and remote. The Orkney, Shetland and Faroe Islands fit the bill, the islands that fan north out from the tip of Scotland out into the North Sea between Norway and Iceland.
There is a small but diamond hardcore surfing community in these parts, but even they haven’t scoured every available nook and cranny, of which there are thousands, in the islands. The winds and weather make exploration difficult (though not on Google Earth) but with an abundance of swell and a mix of reef, rivermouths and beaches, perfect waves await. As do the ice cream headaches.
Similar to the above, just a little colder, more raw, bigger and featuring big fuck off bears. With over 34,000 miles of rugged coastline, snow-covered mountains, fjords, violent weather patterns and 30-foot tidal changes, this is not an easy place to go exploring for surf, but only a tiny fraction of the wave potential has been touched.
Most of the waves are found in the huge swathe of the Gulf of Alaska and in the Aleutian Islands that sweep out in a straight dotted line towards Russia. A recent mission featuring surfers Alex Grey and Pete Devries for Surfer glimpsed the incredible quality that is on offer. You’ll need cash, time and Bear Grylls-like survivor skills, but there is a vast expanse of unchartered surf territory just waiting for those that seek adventure and the thrill of a beautiful, harsh environment.
Located high up in the Bay of Bengal and sandwiched between Thailand and India, both of which have waves, the waves of Burma lie waiting to be explored. A narrow swell window and a long time embargo on tourism have kept surf exploration to a minimum around new tourist destinations like Ngapali Beach and Cheduba Island.
However, farther to the east lies a thousand kilometres of beaches and reefs, with good old Google Earth showing rivermouths that provide passes through the coral and completely uninhabited by humans, let alone surfers. Warm water is a given, as is a plethora of tropical diseases, but sometimes you have to pay to play.
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