Boat charters or land camps: What’s a better surf trip?

So you’ve put in your vacation notice (two weeks!) and ordered up a new quiver.

You’ve got your heart set on somewhere tropical, and one of those boat trips like you’ve seen in the mags has really piqued your interest. But is 10 days on a boat really worth blowing through some of your savings?

Maybe … maybe not.

You could score waves like this by boat (pictured here) or by land, just kind of depends on your budget...and sea legs. Photo: Beau Flemister
You could score waves like this by boat (pictured here) or by land — just kind of depends on your budget (and sea legs). Photo: Beau Flemister
What’s the alternative? A pretty cush land camp with 20 other dudes vying for time at the ping-pong table after supper?

Maybe … maybe not.

Let us break it down for you. Here are the pros and cons of boat life versus surf camp living. Honestly, either way you go, it couldn’t be that bad.

Scoring waves

A photo posted by Ratu Motu (@ratu_motu) on

Boat charter: This category’s where you truly get bang for your buck on a boat. In a place like, say, the Mentawai or Telos islands in Indonesia, waves can be quite inaccessible by land and/or far apart from each other by motorbike when on said island.

Enter the boat. The captain pulls you right up to the channel of HTs, or Cloudbreak or Macaronis, and you jump off said boat or get whipped in the drop-off dinghy to your wave of choice, however many waves you please in a day. Pretty ideal.

Land camp: Of course at a land camp, you can sit on a wave and stay there until the perfect swell hits (or for as many swells as you want), but it’s a bit limiting.

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You’ve got the wave out front — and better hope there are backups in the area that you can walk/motorbike/boat to from camp. As far as quantity of waves goes, a boat charter beats the camp any day.


A photo posted by Ratu Motu (@ratu_motu) on

Boat charter: Depends on the boat, and duration of stay, but most surf charter boat trips run on 10-night or 14-night cycles and are all-inclusive (minus airfare), running roughly $1,500 to $3,000-plus for the whole package. (Beers could cost more.)

If you’re paying any less than $1,500 for a 10-night trip to, say, the Mentawais, there’s probably cause to be suspicious of the ship.

Land camp: Also depends on the camp/location. For instance, you could be staying at a simple homestay in front of a firing wave and be paying $15 a night for a room, and $10 a day for meals. Or you could be at an all-inclusive Salina Cruz Mexican surf camp and be paying $1,000 a week (or at G-Land at a surf camp paying $500 a week for everything).

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There’s a wide variety of land camps, but let’s just say you’ll be paying half the price as a charter boat.


Can't do this on a surf charter boat. The joys of mobility. Photo: Beau Flemister
Can’t do this on a surf charter boat. Photo: Beau Flemister
Boat charter: For better or worse, you are definitely stuck on the boat. Unless, of course, you get seriously injured or ill — they’ll find you a way to a hospital.

But as far as breaking away to the closest island for a night off the ship, that’s not really in the cards.

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Land camp: The world is yours. Wanna borrow a canoe and paddle around the point and explore? Go for it. Want to leave camp for a day or two and check out the pointbreak that works on a certain wind? Hop on a moto or rent a car to manifest that destiny.

Yes, the cool thing about staying on land is that you’re not at your captain’s mercy. Freedom of mobility wins out when you’re behind the wheel.


Some of the surf land camps these days ain't all feral boys clubs. Telo Island Lodge, Indonesia. Photo: Beau Flemister
Some of the surf land camps these days ain’t all feral boys’ clubs. Telo Island Lodge, Indonesia. Photo: Beau Flemister
Boat charter: Depends on the boat, but most of them these days are made to pamper — as in fairly comfortable quarters, gourmet food (whenever you want), fishing/diving gear, cold beers, the works.

Land camp: It also depends on the place. Some, like Nihiwatu on Sumba, are five-star-resort-style digs complete with personnel assigned to your comfort. Not kidding.

Others, however — like a little camp I know of on Papua New Guinea — may not be able to guarantee that the outhouse is working. Usually you pay for what you get, but a lot of surf camps on land can resemble summer camp for adult males — ping-pong table included.

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Ya sure don't meet local ballers like this stuck on a boat for 10 days. Photo: Beau Flemister
Ya sure don’t meet local ballers like this stuck on a boat for 10 days. Photo: Beau Flemister
Boat charter: Culture? What’s that?

In my opinion, one of the downsides of staying on a boat is the (usually) complete absence of local culture and interaction with the indigenous population. Some trips are so dialed that you’re received at the airport, whisked to the boat and setting sail before you even get a grasp of what the nation is all about.

Land camp: Whether land camp, homestay or shack on the beach, your interaction with the local culture around you is much more robust (and, hopefully, welcome) than if you stay on a boat.

Indeed, mingling with the village folk, spending a few shekels in the bazaar or having a cup of tea with your host can turn a good surf trip into a truly unforgettable one. “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” right? Lennon’s right.

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