Last week we rode into Los Angeles and after a good 1000 miles of towing a surfboard behind me I sold it to a bloke in a car park near Venice Beach. Now for what it’s worth I thought I’d share my thoughts on bike touring with a surfboard.
Why did I think it would be a good idea to tow what is essentially a huge sail behind me for over 1000 miles down the Pacific coast?
I asked myself this question a number of times after setting myself up with a trailer, wetsuit and board. When we arrived on the coast of Oregon we found ourselves hugging the coast, cycling past surfers enjoying fun-sized Autumn swells in incredibly beautiful parts of the coastal route. I knew the question, “why the hell DIDN’T you surf while cycling the Pacific coast?” would be one that would haunt me forever, which is precisely the reason why I knew I had to do it.
The prevailing wind is behind you if you cycle south down this coast, so I was only ever punished for my sins on rare bad weather days when the wind switched and came from the south. That said, when I did encounter a headwind it was a struggle to say the least. Headwinds are bad enough when you’re just riding a bike. They’re much worse when you’re carrying 4 heavy and wide panniers and so much worse still with a surfboard behind you.
I’d watched a Patagonia surf film – Slow is Fast – about a few surfers cycling the Californian coast with surfboards and knew it could be done. Though the film features some nice shots of clean waves and foggy vistas, it’s useless at showing you how they carried their surfboards or for any practical help at doing it yourself. For that I had to do some online research and then just kind of made it work.
A how to guide to bike touring with a surfboard…
The first thing you need when bike touring with a surfboard is gears. In particular, you’ll want low gears because let’s face it you will not be travelling as fast as you once did when boardless. Upgrade to a bigger cassette or at least make sure you’ve got triple chain rings so you can still make it up the hills without needing to replace your knees. Luckily for me I had already done this back in Nanaimo, BC.
The second thing you’ll need is a desire to surf that far surpasses a desire to go fast. Not having a deadline was great because it meant we could slow down and fit in more rest days to get more surfing in. The worst feeling when you do get set up with a surfboard on your bike is not having the time or energy to use it.
Next for the practical stuff: get a good bike trailer. You might be able to carry a board alongside you on a bike but when that wind gets up I reckon you’ll be wanting the extra stability and better aerodynamics that a trailer allows. I found myself a BOB Yak single wheeled trailer on Craigslist for a good price. These things are relatively lightweight and have a great reputation amongst bike tourers. Having just one wheel means you can still enjoy leaning into the corners on the downhills and you’re a little slimmer when squeezing through narrow paths or manoeuvring onto ferries, etc.
Now make sure the board isn’t going to fall off. At first I was just angling my bags under the surfboard and hoping it held with straps alone but that soon got annoying. It took far too long to fiddle about with in the morning and I found the straps slipping as we rode. The problem is getting the nose of the surfboard to sit above the rear wheel, or rack and panniers in my case, and the tail of the board over the trailer tyre but without bending the mud guard. Alyce finally put her foot down after it took about twice as long to pack up one morning and we went to a hardware store.
I picked up a 4 foot long piece of L-shaped steel with holes in it. The holes mean it’s a bit lighter and are very useful for securing it to the trailer, which I did with a few cable ties. You could use nuts and bolts for a more secure rig but the cable ties held for well over 1000 miles for me and were much cheaper and lighter to carry (not that I was too worried about carrying a few extra bolts at this stage..).
Finally, get yourself some pipe insulation to stop your board getting a beating from the rack and there you have it – you’ve got yourself a fully functional surfboard-touring setup.
- If I did it again, I would not tow a BOB trailer with a rear rack and panniers. I think the ideal setup is to put your bags in the trailer with the board and forget the rear rack. I found that the trailer and rack connected occasionally on sudden steep dips, mainly coming off pavements, and I was a little concerned that something could break as a result.
- Now that I’ve sold the trailer, too, the difference that towing the extra weight and wheel made is even more apparent. Bike touring with a surfboard will slow you down and if you’re anything like me you’ll be drinking trail mix like water and doubling your dinner portions. That’s not to say it’s not worth it though.
And there you have it, kids. A highly informational and hopefully educational insight into bike touring with a surfboard on the Pacific Coast of the USA. Join us again next time when Alyce will be explaining how to carry twice your bodyweight of food on two wheels.