Preparing ourselves properly for adventure sets us up for safety, but not only that — preparation makes adventure possible.
“People don’t seek to minimize risk. They seek to optimize it… We’re hard-wired to enjoy risk [because] there we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop.” — Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life
We need more adventure in our lives. Real adventure involves uncertainty and risk, which creates anxiety and fear. That fear has a message for us: prepare. If we prepare properly for adventure, we reduce both the uncertainty and the risk. At the same time, we want to be just ready enough — we don’t want to waste time and energy over-preparing or over-packing.
So, how do we prepare? One key aspect of preparing is knowing what and how to pack. It’s easy to be certain that you have everything you need, and nothing more. Make a packing list, use it , and refine it.
I first visited Brazil on a kitesurfing trip in 2008, and I’ve been doing kite trips there with with SurfinSemFim since 2015. Over these last few years I’ve traveled the entire northern coast of Brazil by kite, along with trips to the Philippines, South Africa, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Mexico, and many other places.
My packing strategy has been informed by all of these journeys, and most of all by an unsupported (no vehicles) trip that I did with my fellow guide Andre Penna from Natal to Fortaleza in November of 2016, and more recent trips where I worked as a guide with SurfinSemFim. Whether I’m traveling as part of a group or working as a guide, and whether or not I have vehicle/boat support, I always start my packing as if I am guiding and traveling unsupported.
Preparing your gear properly is also part of acting, traveling and adventuring responsibly. When you’re prepared you create the conditions for success, for yourself and your teammates. When you’re not prepared, you create the pre-conditions for trouble, and not just for yourself. Putting yourself in danger is your own choice; putting others in danger due to your choices is irresponsible and unacceptable.
In short, to maximize your readiness for adventure, think and pack like a guide. Let’s break it all down.
If you start a trip with gear in poor condition, you’re not setting off on an adventure, you’re setting yourself up for an emergency. Your kite gear must be in excellent condition. You cannot responsibly consider undertaking an adventure, even as a client, with gear that you are not certain of. Using the packing list, check all your gear well before your trip to be sure you know what condition it’s in, and do any maintenance or replacement well in advance.
Only change one thing at a time. You’re already going to a new place, so don’t set off on a trip with equipment that is new to you. It’s fine to replace things, but it’s best to replace them with the same or similar model. You want all of your attention available for the experience. If you change something up, you’re adding variables that may distract you from being where you are.
Use kites that you are comfortable with. I fly Boardriding Maui Cloud kites because I love how versatile, compact, and nimble they are, but you can use whatever, as long as you are quite familiar with the kites. For an unsupported trip, you will want a kite with as much range as possible — that is, a kite that behaves well when overpowered and that also offers good low-end power.
Bring a board that you know and love, and that is comfortable to ride. Especially for long distance trips it’s good to have some flex in the board, a cushy deck pad, and the option of using footstraps or going strapless. The shape of the board may not be as critical as you think, because you will be more focused on covering ground and riding a wide variety of water features along the way than staying in one place and riding perfect waves. I have used various boards successfully, including a Firewire Vader and several F-One production boards. The Vader is great because it’s fast, goes well upwind (when necessary), and works as well in high wind as it does in light air. On the other hand the Vader is a bit stiff, and doesn’t have footstrap inserts. The F-One surfboards are cushier and have inserts, so that’s what I’m using this season.
Make sure your list includes all of the components, tools and spare parts that you might need. I once broke a fin on my way to Ilha dos Poldros — not a place with any spares available. I was very gratified to have a set of spare fins with me, and the tools required to swap them out. Don’t be the person whose trip is cut short by a missing screw.
I love foiling and foils are incredible tool for exploration. They also have their limitations — most of all, foils require some depth of water, which can make it quite challenging to explore new territory. Foils also don’t mix well with other types of boards — you move much faster and at different angles to the wind. If your team is bringing foils, great, if not, stick with what the team is riding.
On the water equipment
This category includes everything else that you will wear or carry on your body (outside of your pack) while you are in the water. What I present here is what I would carry for an unsupported or while guiding; you may need to carry less as a client or with support, but again, if you want to be ready, pack like a guide.
Waterproof backpack: There are more and more water packs becoming available. We’ve been using the Watershed Animas pack very successfully for the last couple of years — it’s big enough, totally waterproof, and has proven to be very durable. I’ve also used a Klymit Splash 25 or a Watershed Big Creek when I wanted something smaller than the Animas.
Small dry bags: I use a couple of smaller roll-top dry bags inside my pack to keep things organized and for a second layer of protection from water and sand.
Sunglasses: Especially late in the day, it’s important to wear some good polarized water sunglasses to protect your eyes from glare and prevent eye strain, pterygiums, cataracts, other forms of eye damage — and just to be able to see when heading west into the setting sun. I wear Kurtis Surf Goggles — grab a pair of the Necker or Duke model and use coupon code BOWEN for a discount at checkout.
Sun protection: I’ve tried various solutions over the years and at this point I aim to cover as much as possible, especially if I’m in the water for most of the day, several days in a row. I come home with less of a tan, but I don’t have to fiddle as much with sunscreen. On top I wear a hooded rash guard like the Patagonia RØ Hoody or XCEL Drylock Hoodie. On the bottom I wear a sunga (aka “speedo” to most Americans; I get mine from Carioca, in the classic cut) to hold everything in place, a pair of thin tights for sun protection, and a pair of lightweight quick-drying surf trunks (like Patagonia Light & Variable) so I don’t look like a complete moron.
Shoes: For tropical trips I only need three pairs of shoes: Havaianas (sandals or “flip-flops”), trail running shoes, and reef boots. When I’m in the water somewhere where I don’t know the terrain 100%, I wear reef boots in case I run into something sharp. You never know when you’re going to get out of the water and walk somewhere, so I throw my Havaianas in my pack so I have them handy.
Tow line: I carry a tow line rigged to my harness. I use about 6 meters of 5m-6m Dyneema/Amsteel line tied to the back of my harness on one end and to a carabiner on the other end. The line is coiled so that it remains secure while I’m riding and can be easily unclipped and thrown to someone or something that needs a tow. Only carry rescue gear if you know how — and are willing — to use it.
GPS/Radio/Satellite: Emergency communications gear can get complicated. Depending on situation I will have some combination of GPS tracking, marine radio and satellite communications device. In general the minimum for overseas trips is a GPS watch and a Garmin inReach device for emergency comms. If I’m working with a team on the water, we may use marine radios, but they are hard to make proper use of and so we rely for the most part on hand signals. Be sure that your inReach is actually in reach so that you can use it in case of emergency; if it’s buried in your bag you probably won’t be able to get to it when you need it. I keep mine in a small waterproof case stuffed inside my rash guard.
Spares and repairs
I carry extra fins, spare hardware, kite canopy repair tape, kite bladder repair tape (Blenderm), board repair tape and/or quick epoxy, some bits of kite line, and whatever tools I might need (hopefully very few). Some zip ties, duct tape and threadlocker (aka Loctite) can also come in handy.
Hammock: One of my favorite things about traveling in Brazil has been learning about the hammock (rede in Portuguese, pronounced “hedge-E”). In Brazil you see hammocks everywhere! In the tropical climate they are cheap, versatile, compact, comfortable, and perfectly suited to the environment. I’ve learned to carry one whenever I’m in the tropics — I was very happy to have my hege handy last December when we arrived at a small fishing port at 0200; I set it up and grabbed a few hours of peaceful sleep before dawn broke and we continued our journey to Ilha de Lençóis. Get a lightweight hammock with a built in net and 20m of strong lightweight cord to string it up with.
In addition to a hammock, I pack a small lightweight backpack for hiking and running, a water filter, a water bladder, and a multi-tool.
One of the great things about traveling in the tropics is that you don’t need much clothing! My basic list is 2 pairs of surf trunks, 2 lightweight wool or capilene t-shirts, a puffy jacket (Patagonia Micro Puff), a sun hat, a head/neck scarf (like a Buff) and a couple of pairs of quick-drying underwear (my favorite is Saxx). Pants? It’s usually too hot to wear pants, but for sleeping out and airplane rides I love my Lady Pants
Ear plugs! I do have a pair of fancy noise-cancelling headphones but I only use them to listen to music or watch movies from my iPad. For sleep and noise protection I use cheap hardware-store earplugs. Crying baby? Pre-dawn roosters? Jet engine exhaust? Best 50¢ I’ve ever spent.
Sunscreen: my favorite is Sunbum face stick for my face and hands. If you cover up as I describe above you won’t need anything else, aside from your favorite lip balm.
Headlamp: I always travel with a headlamp (these days, a USB-rechargeable model with red light mode for night vision, like the Black Diamond ReVolt). Pack like a guide, and have a headlamp when you need one. You will.
Insurance: Gavin McClurg has a great article about insurance for adventure sports, so I won’t duplicate all of that here. The bottom line is that most travel and medical evacuation insurance does not cover kitesurfing. I currently use Dogtag, which does cover kiting and other adventure sports, and has excellent customer service.
Laminated emergency contact card: Make up a document with your identification (DOB, passport number) and insurance and emergency contact information, print it out and then go to Kinko’s or whatever and have it laminated so that it’s durable and waterproof. Carry this on your person at all times.
Fiber pills: You want to poop, right? Travel disrupts my digestion, and I often end up constipated. I pack a jar of all natural fiber capsules (like RenewLife Fiber Smart) and down four of them every morning with a large glass of water. Problem solved.
I pack a small prefab first aid kit with a few additions including a pair of gloves, safety scissors, a few tablets of Pepto-Bismol, Immodium, Alka-Selzter, ibuprofen and a tube of Surfer’s Salve. Ask your doctor for a prescription for some oral antibiotics (like Keflex) to take with you in case you get an infection and can’t get to a pharmacy right away.
Training: I recently completed a two-day Wilderness First Aid course hosted by NOLS and although it took some time it was very worthwhile.
This is all up to you, but I often have a bunch of cameras and gadgets with me. One thing that’s come in very handy is a multi-port USB charger. I recently found one this gadget from LOOP that combines a universal AC plug adapter with a four-port USB outlet – very handy and quite light too!
Packing on the water – unsupported
When I’m traveling by kite on the water without any support from land I use a dedicated packing list. I want everything I need but nothing more, and I want to be as light as possible. If you know anything about light weight backpacking you can leverage these skills here as well. Backpackinglight.com is a great resource.
Pump: You will need a kite pump, and if you are carrying your own gear, you will want a small one. We use this Intex hand pump – note that you may have to graft on a fitting to match your kite valves. I was able to scavenge the proper fitting for my Cloud kites from an old full-size kite pump.
Packing on the water – guiding
When I’m guiding a group on the water I carry many of the same things that I would have for unsupported travel, without some of the clothing and electronics and with the addition of some extra food and water. Snacks for quick energy and some pain meds are key for getting people out of trouble, along with the first aid, rescue, and emergency gear mentioned above.
And… you are ready!
2018 Kite trips in Brazil
For 2018 I’m introducing two very unique itineraries with SurfinSemFim: a slower, friends & family-oriented trip (SurfinSemSLOW) and an kitesurfing adventure skills training trip (AdventureSemFim).
These are both in addition to the full calendar of short-, medium- and long-distance kitesurfing trips that SurfinSemFim offers throughout the year, and all SurfinSemFim trips including my own will introduce you to the joy of travel by kite in Brazil, and to the global SurfinSemFim Tribe, a community of like-minded lovers of the life outside. We also provide help with packing and a full packing list to everyone who joins us in Brazil.
Your feedback will be very important as we finalize both of these trips, so please don’t hesitate to indicate your interest using the form below:
SurfinSemFim, Andre Penna, Boardriding Maui, Kurtis Eyewear, my dad, and everyone else who has helped me figure out what to pack for various trips over the years!