Eat Pray Surf. My Experience with Solo Female Surf Travel



Solo travel is something I would scrawl on a prescription pad and hand to the nearest person suffering from a mid-life/existential crisis. It’s the perfect cure for the twenty-first century burnout. After years of avoiding or ignoring your issues, I guarantee you solo travel will make you confront them.

Although for me, the whole Eat Pray Love thing did not fit my lifestyle. If it’s ‘me time’, it’s ‘wave time’. So instead I decided I’d do the Eat Pray Surf.

So that’s what brings me here. I’m a solo female traveller with a surfboard in tow, careening around Asia. I’m ceaselessly salty, my muscles are beat, my eyeballs are red and my feet have some nice battle wounds but I feel awesome!

Although by no means has this trip been easy. A while back I was in a war against myself.

Rewind a few weeks ago, I was perched in my bungalow trying to get the guts to paddle out. I was on my second cup of coffee, watching the waves and pottering around in procrastination.

When you’re a solo surfer there is nobody egging you on and no second opinion on the conditions. I think my apprehension fell back on a session when I paddled out under the guise that the waves weren’t as sizey and the tide wasn’t as low.

My first wave hurled me down the line; I felt the power and revelled in it. The sets rolled in and my second wave thumped me hard. After a generous hold down and a litre of swallowed saltwater, I paddled back out.

I looked around the lineup and all of the sudden felt completely out of my league. No one was speaking and everyone had their eyes on the big blue silhouettes forming on the horizon. Suddenly I was scrounging any wave I could to get back to the shore.

But the thing was, I wasn’t out of my league. I was just alone. I did not have company or anyone to give me the tough love “you’ll be alright” that I needed.

It was just me versus my mind.

I’ve paddled out since and of course, I was fine. But the thing I learned from that experience was that I needed to believe in my abilities and myself. Throw yourself in the deep end and see if you can swim.

This sort of scenario has been repeated many times on the trip. I think back to the night where I was keeled over in nausea, with no open stores selling medicine or drinking water. I recall the day when my feet were torn-up from the reef and I created a makeshift operating theatre with tweezers and a sharp twig of bamboo. Or the day I walked several kilometres in the tropical heat because I ran out of money and needed to find an ATM.

Each of these occasions I prevailed. Through all my careless planning and dodgy corner-cutting ways, I managed.

Surfing was the easy part. Every morning I’d paddle out and feel like I was practising my own unique form of meditation.

In the more isolated locations I would get asked if I was lonely. Ketut, my homestay Mama would ask “Shanti where your boyfriend?”

She would try to find me a nice local boy to keep me company. When I would befriend people in the surf or at the homestay she would be very happy for me, worrying I was sad with nobody who loved me.

When you’re solo travelling you become a target for conversation, which, for a social person like myself is wonderful. In the surf I’m always the one to greet my fellow ladies in the water. After just a smile and an encouraging hoot, I’ve made new friends. And as for out of the water? All I need is a beer and an observation point for the waves. Good company tends to follow the good view.

Although I’d be lying if I said that I was never in the slightest bit lonely. Back when it was Easter I received a call from home, my friends and family were all partying together for the long weekend. The swell was small and my eyeballs were so sunburnt I could barely paddle out without the sun’s glare making me cry.

All morning I was moping around feeling sorry for myself until I finally decided to get in the water and try for some peelers.

After bobbing around for a little too long, a grey, smooth body surfaced next to me. A big snort from a pair of nostrils and a flick of the tail, it slipped away. With a shriek of delight I realised it was a Dugong cruising below me.

I sat up on my board and breathed a sigh of relief. Look where I am. The water was translucent blue and palm trees perched on the cliff face. An endangered sea cow just popped up to say “hello”. How could I feel down?

From then on, I used that reminder as my cure-all for the mixed bag of emotions you encounter when solo surf travelling.

Feeling lonely? Get in the water.
Feeling bored? Get in the water.
Feeling hungover? Get in the water.

Throughout the entirety of my trip I’ve encountered only three fellow solo female surfers.

Why is that?

It is not a hard thing to do.

You just need to be open to spontaneity with a healthy balance of street-smart, able to improvise and willing to enjoy the ride. Female or male; it makes no difference. Don’t leave all the fun for the boys!

So that brings me to right now. I have spent several weeks surfing solo, lugging around my board, meeting countless friendly faces, writing, reading and my fair share of drinking. Although I have had months of travelling with companions, solo surf travel has by far been the pinnacle of my travels.

I’ve pushed myself more in this chapter of my trip more than ever before. I have found a level of peace within myself and I feel healthy, energised and incredibly happy.

I never thought I’d say I done the Eat Pray Surf in a serious sense, but as a water woman, this has been better than any fad detox, self-help book or meditation retreat.

So ladies, book that flight, grab your board and get on the road – adventure awaits!


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