Ultimate LUEX Packing List for Your Next Surf Trip To A Distant Paradise

So, I’m getting super excited about an upcoming 2-week boat ride through the Mentawais.  My OCD brain is also already obsessing over my packing list, because out there (in the middle of nowhere), I won’t be able to just run out to a shop to pick up something I forgot to carry along. I’m also already thinking about what to bring because my particular brand of packing OCD can be oxymoronically summarized as; make sure I’ll have everything I need AND make sure I pack as little as possible.

surfboards on board
Photo by King Millenium Charters

You don’t want to bring more than can comfortably fit into your board bag and a small carry-on bag.  If you are anything like me, your board bag is going to take up 100% of your maneuvering and bag-carrying coordination/ninja skills.

So here are a few thoughts on packing for a tropical surf trip.  I know there are some nutjobs out there who have been going on surf trips to Iceland and all that… serious kudos to those guys, but I will not voluntarily be freezing my ass off on a surf vacation and stick to rubber-less longitudes and latitudes for now.

Go easy on the clothing

Functional, lightweight T-shirts/tanks and shorts for your everyday wear and a long-sleeved T or light hoodie for the plane, the scorching days when you don’t have a lot of sun cover, or for if your roommate likes the air conditioning a lot colder than you do.

For the Gals. Lightweight mumus and sarongs are my best friend because they are so multi-functional, Use them as towels, beach blankets, pyjamas, cover-ups, scarves and everything in between,  plus they are easy to stuff in your board bag to fit whatever shape you need for padding and protection. Leggings are also ultra multi-functional: yoga, surf, plane, PJs. And of course your favorite bikinis and swimsuits.

(For guys, I imagine that this list looks like 3 T-shirts, one long-sleeve, some rashguards, boardshorts, a towel… done.  Your lives are so easy)!

light travel luggage

For everyone who’s been to a tropical surf destination before – you know, for everyone else; oh you will know!! Skin protection is crucial, especially if you don’t want to look like a red lobster on day 2 which prevents you not only from laying in the sun but most probably will keep you out of the water too. I usually pack a couple of rashguards, leggings, boardshorts as the basics. Maybe consider a surf hat, lightweight towel, and a neoprene vest as well.

Think about baggage limits and oversize fees when packing your surf gear

2-3 surfboards – tops!  You should preferably be comfortable riding all of them, but one should be your all-around favorite.  Your backup(s) should be for bigger or smaller waves than you would use your old faithful for… depending on what you can expect from the swell in that location at that time of year.

Related article: The Ultimate List of Airline Surf Baggage Policies

My editor never brings more than 2 boards and, to be fair, I usually only ride my favorite board.  But I’ve seen plenty of people snap or buckle boards on trips, so having a spare shortboard in your bag doesn’t hurt.

Other usual suspects that are crucial on a surf trip are:

  • Tropical wax, base wax, wax comb.
  • An extra leash – or two.
  • Extra fins.
  • Ding repair kit of your choice.

My latest addition to my ever-growing perfect packing list is a Yoga Mat, which comes in handy when the hard deck of your surf charter is just too hard for your afternoon nap and of course to stretch before your surf sessions. I also bring the foldable pocket reef booties.  I like knowing they’re available to me, even though I’ve never used them, and they take up no space.

A good board bag is crucial.

Some people get professional-level packing accouterment… custom cardboard rail protection, etc.  I don’t think they’re necessary and they disintegrate anyway when wet. If you’re worried, slice a pool noodle floatie or pipe insulator in half and put those around your rails.    I do typically go for some bubble wrap in between and around my boards.

I use packing cubes for my clothes (yep, that darn OCD again), and I place them in the empty spaces around the noses of my boards, between the tails and the bag, and along the tail and nose rails.

Tech & Miscellaneous for the slower days

  • Laptop/iPad, stocked with plenty of movies, tv series, and surf videos for lay days and travel days.
  • Kindle/paperback.  Again, make sure you’re entertained.  Oh, and don’t try to read something super profound or heavy on your trip.  Keep it light, adventurous, surf-related, or inspiring (Finnegan’s Barbarian Days should top your list if you haven’t read it yet).
  • A universal adaptor that will work for all of your gadgets.
  • Phone & phone charger – duhhh!
  • Camera/drone?  I use my phone for pictures, and I just haven’t gotten into the go-pro/drone thing, so all that takes up too much space for me.  There will be a professional photographer on my boat trip, too. But if you’re into it, feel free to go nuts with the filming gear.
  • Snacks of your choice.  Dried fruit, nuts, jerky, dark chocolate whatever floats your boat and keeps you fuelled and ready for your next surf sesh.
  • Charged power bank – might not seem that way, but LIFESAVER.
  • USB/external hard drive to download pictures/videos of your surfing.
  • I always bring a small notebook/journal to document moments I don’t want to forget.

Depending on where I’m headed, and if I have space, sometimes I’ll bring candies/little trinkets for the local kids.  The simplest things can brighten up their day, and yours.

Meds & First Aid for those nasty reef cuts and general health

I am an 80% believer in certain vitamins and supplements.  Magnesium for muscle recovery and for good sleeps. Turmeric pills and ibuprofen to reduce muscle inflammation.  Zinc, echinacea, and vitamin C in case you start feeling snotty. Probiotics and digestive enzymes to help your gut deal with food changes.  Charcoal pills in case you eat something your stomach doesn’t agree with.

Then, the real meds. Dramamine in case you have a rough boat crossing.  Zzquil in case you can’t fall asleep. Immodium in case you get a bad case of the …you know what I mean.  A pack of cypro or other antibiotics to use prophylactically if you have to get stitches after surfing questionable water, or in the event, you do get an infection or some sort.  Steroid cream for a bad/infected rash or skin reaction. A few heavy-duty painkillers like tramadol as a backup, because there are some situations that ibuprofen can’t help (when you’re on a boat, the nearest clinic may be a long way away).

first aid box

A GOOD first aid kit.  Mine always contains basic bandaging supplies (gauze, tape, regular band-aids, waterproof post-op bandages, small scissors, duct tape– which works for boards as well as skin in a pinch).

Neosporin/betadine/some other antiseptic and antibacterial.  Alcohol and hydrogen peroxide for cleaning out bad cuts and ears.  Some people swear by paw paw cream for reef cuts and sunburn. Also don’t forget the Tweezers for pulling bits of foreign organisms (reef, sea urchin spines) out of your body!

I always bring some sort of tiger balm, salonpas, or Doterra Deep Blue cream to massage into sore muscles.  It makes me smell like a 90-year old Asian grandma but feels SO GOOD on my tired, overworked shoulders and lats.

Toiletries. Sunblock & Zinc

I always use reef-friendly tinted 30 SPF all over + Surf Yogis zinc on top of it for my face, and make-up removal wipes to take off all the sunblock and zinc and avoid breakouts.

I usually just bring shampoo and conditioner, figuring shampoo is basically soap.  I make sure that all products are reef-friendly (paraben, oxybenzone, and octinoxate free). And (of course)  I bring a deodorant. PLEASE! For all our sakes!

I also bring good, cold-pressed organic virgin coconut oil as my all-around moisturizer, plus it’s super-functional: its antibacterial qualities help with minor cuts, it soothes sunburn, you can put it in your bulletproof coffee, it helps to save your sun and saltwater-fried hair, and it can be a good massage oil in a pinch.

Oh yeah…

Bug spray/wipes – again, people who traveled to tropical destinations know..

Last but definitely not least

Passport – or you’re not going anywhere! Make sure you have fulfilled any visa requirements/paperwork you need in advance. Electronic copies of your travel itinerary and passport that are accessible offline on your phone.

TRAVEL INSURANCE!  Make sure that you have all the details of your health insurance and travel insurance policies with you – a friend/trip organizer should also have a copy of all the above documentation.

And… you are set!  Have a wonderful trip, hopefully, confident you have all of the things and only the things you need!