Perfect Pipe and Backdoor

Perfect Pipe and Backdoor

Travel tips for Surf Photographers

          Even though right now travel is currently pretty restricted in most parts of the world I thought it would be fun to go over some tips for when we can all get back to chasing swells across the world. Traveling has given me some of the best experiences of my life but has also caused some extreme stress when it comes to worrying about gear and plans. These are a few things I’ve started doing in order to try to relieve some of that stress.

Keep Your Gear with You

          I know many people swear by pelican cases but I personally do not own one. It’s not that I don’t believe in them or don’t think they provide enough protection, it’s that almost all of them are too big to carry on to a plane. I try to keep almost all of my gear with me throughout my travel because I trust it more in my hands than anyone else’s. While I do think pelican cases are just about bomb proof and should be able to handle almost anything you throw at them, that will mean nothing if it doesn’t make it on your flight. I’ve seen it happen several times where a checked bag gets mixed up and sent on a different flight and you might have to wait a couple days for it to get back to you. If you arrive to your destination and the best day of the swell is the next day and it’s going to take 3 days to get your bag back you are going to be kicking yourself for checking your bag. This is the main reason I try to keep my gear on me. While your friends surfing may be able to rent or borrow a board if theirs don’t arrive, there is very little chance you will be able to rent a camera and water housing on short notice to get your shots. There is one caveat to this plan, often airlines will over book flights and start requiring people to check bags that don’t fit. While I’ve never had to check my camera backpack, I’ve had a flight where there was no more room in any of the overheads and luckily there was a nice women who offered to let me put my back under her son’s seat. While I was cringing every time I saw him put his feet on it I trusted him a lot more than anyone that would handle it on the tarmac.

Somewhere in the Caribbean

Somewhere in the Caribbean

Pack your Water Housing Safely

          It’s a nightmare to travel with a water housing, they are big and bulky and the most convenient way to pack them is often the worst way to do it. Often the easiest way to pack your water housing is to put it together like you are about to swim out to shoot and put it in your bag. Unfortunately unless you are traveling a rather short distance this could cause your o-ring to compress and render it not so water tight anymore. Most water housing manufacturers will always suggest that you do not store the housing with the o-ring compressed as if it is stored like that for too long it may not uncompress. This means a six hour flight to the other coast you might be alright but the two day trip to Cloudbreak (at least if you are coming from the east coast) you may need a new o-ring. The way I have gotten around this is I have put my water housing together with a layer of bubble wrap in between the two halves and then bubble wrapped the whole housing together for better protection. It makes it more bulky but it still saves room compared to storing it in two pieces. I also will not tighten my latches to make sure I do not compress the o-ring. I also put just my camera body in the housing to save space in my bag for lenses and ports. This has worked for me in the past and is how I still travel with my housing.

An epic afternoon in Nicaragua

An epic afternoon in Nicaragua

Prepare to be Searched and Research your Destination

          With a bag full of camera equipment and a water housing that has a pistol grip, getting pulled aside to have your bag searched is almost inevitable. Give yourself plenty of extra time to make your flight, because I’ve had this happen to me several times. It’s also very time consuming for me to repack my gear because almost all of it I wrap in bubble wrap. If you are lucky the TSA won’t make you unwrap it but they might so it’s best to have extra tape in your bag if you want to re-tape it. Also, be aware of restrictions in countries you may be flying to, I know several people who have had their drones confiscated at the airport because they are illegal in Nicaragua. (The last I heard you can get them back when you leave but they charge a daily fee to hold it in the airport for the duration of the trip, if you are staying for a month that could be the cost of your drone. An extra tip, from what I’ve heard airport customs tend to be stricter than coming in by car or by boat.) Something that may seem like common knowledge but wasn’t for me is that almost every country requires a ticket of departure from that country upon arrival. This happened to me when heading to Nicaragua for the first time, I didn’t know when I was coming back so I booked a one way ticket. When I got to the airport to leave the airline asked me if I had a return ticket or a ticket to somewhere else to prove I would be leaving the country. The way I got around it was to buy a return ticket at the airport and call up the next day when I got to Nicaragua to cancel the flight. This only works if you have money for the ticket at the time, which I didn’t so my dad picked up the tab and was refunded his money in full the next day.

Looking out of Cloudbreak

Looking out of Cloudbreak

          While it may be pretty difficult to travel now, eventually everything will go back to normal and we will be able to catch that epic swell in the Caribbean or spend those two weeks in Indo. Hopefully these tips can help you arrive on time, with your gear intact, and with minimal stress. I know I can’t wait to get on a plane again and chase a swell unfortunately that maybe a bit longer for me as I am going through the slow process of renewing my passport during a pandemic. Any travel questions feel free to ask in the comments below or message me.

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 All Photos Copyright of Dave NIlsen Photography 

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