Between transcontinental flights, chartered trips and Google Earth, it seems like the world gets smaller every year. Nearly every coast of the globe has been mapped for surf potential, and more often than not, we end up chasing waves to surf camps full of people who read the same article or saw the same video edit that we did, rather than striking out on our own to find something new.
But there are still a few quiet corners to be found, and a handful of modern-day adventurers who are willing to seek them out. Kepa Acero is one of those 21st Century explorers. Travelling well off the beaten path—and often completely alone—Kepa has spent the past decade keeping the spirit surf adventure alive, and leaking home videos of his travels that would make even the most settled among us want to burn the map and head out on our own.
Unfortunately, 2017 was a bit of a quiet year for Kepa, as he suffered a broken back that dry-docked him for a while (see HERE). But word on the street is that Kepa is healed up and back on the prowl, so before he disappears completely, we thought we’d catch up with him and see where his wandering is taking him.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Kepa. We knew you'd been sidelined by a back injury this past year. Can you tell us about the accident, and how you coped with not being able too surf?
It was a totally unexpected accident. The last few years I have traveled alone in a lot of remote places, often surfing alone, which can be pretty dangerous and requires a certain level of commitment.
So it was pretty ironic that, after many years of this, I was at home in Mundaka, surfing with my friends during Christmas, when I had my accident and almost lost my life.
So it was pretty ironic that, after many years of this, I was at home in Mundaka, surfing with my friends during Christmas, when I had my accident and almost lost my life
I took a solid wave and pulled into the tube. The tide was very low, and the wave was sucking out a lot. From there, I remember that the section was too long and I could not make it. I fell forward and hit my head on the sand, and I don’t remember anything after that.
Fortunately, a friend pulled me and saved me. He says I was blind—that I could not see anything. A few people took me out of the water, and once I was in the hospital they told me I had a broken cervical vertebra with displacement, and another broken dorsal. I was very lucky that I was not paralysed, and a year later I am able to walk and surf again .
The recovery was not so bad, and I wasn't out of the water for too long. But after an episode like that, you appreciate that time you have in this life. Seven months later I was good to go, and traveling through Indonesia.
How long have you been back in the water? Did you go on a trip anywhere to celebrate being healed up?
Two months after the accident, I started to catch whitewater with a longboard, and little by little I got better. I made a first trip to the Hebrides, Scotland, in June 2017—it was a bike/surf trip—and I felt fine. But the trip to Indonesia in August was a celebration. I remember paddling into my first eight-foot wave and making my first barrel. It gave me a bit of fear, but then I got over it, and I spent the whole trip riding tubes and celebrating life.
This winter I went back to Mundaka and caught a couple of solid waves. Everything is back to normal, but with an experience like that, you learn a lot about the meaning of friendship and life.
Over the past five years, you have become a crowd favorite when it comes to freesurfing/adventure/travel/exploration. It seems like you enjoy traveling alone, and bring a lot of energy with you. Can you talk to us about your approach to travel and exploration?
The truth is, I spent many years doing the QS, but I felt really out of place. I travelled to all those places where I competed, and had the feeling that I did not know anything about these countries.
I was always on the same beach, and concentrating on those 20 minutes of my heat. Don’t misunderstand me, I love watching all these people competing—in fact, I was awake all last night, watching the Bells contest. It’s amazing. I just wasn’t feeling it for me. The contests were very hard because the level of surfing was so high. And I began to have the feeling that I had traveled a lot but still did not know anything about the places I’d been.
At that time, I was also influenced by authors like Thoreau and Jack London, and I began to think about a solo trip to remote places around the world
At that time, I was also influenced by authors like Thoreau and Jack London, and I began to think about a solo trip to remote places around the world. One day in May 2010, I took my backpack and board bag, and went to Africa by myself.
My idea was to find waves and recover the spirit of adventure and exploration that surfing has always had, but that somehow was getting lost. And at the same time, I was focused on the importance to the trip itself—people, culture, the challenge of traveling alone in inhospitable places. This all turned into a fascinating human experience.
On that trip, as there was no one to film me, so I started to film myself, solo in the desert. I edited some small videos, and people saw them and followed them. I discovered that sharing the experience became as important as living it.
I have not stopped now for eight years, and I have had the opportunity to travel and explore from Alaska to Antarctica—but especially in Africa.
What is it that you love about Africa?
For me, Africa is the most attractive place on earth. For one thing—and perhaps because of the political and social economic circumstances in many countries—there are a lot of places that people have not dared to travel to, at least not big groups of people.
There is still a lot to explore, and that gives a level of romanticism and uncertainty to the trip—not knowing if you will find a world-class wave. Africa also has an attraction for me because of the joy of its people—the dances, the colors. It's an incredible experience.
What region do you think is the future for surf exploration? Where is the next great wave going to be found?
I think Africa is the next frontier, for sure. There are many places where it is difficult to travel, and I think they harbor some incredible waves. It is fascinating to think about it.
In any case, technology is advancing, and whether we like it or not there are more sophisticated applications and tools becoming available to help people find out where there can be good waves. I come from the era of Google Earth, which is already a breakthrough—but I think there will more advances, and there will come a time when we will know exactly what is going on everywhere, without having to go there.
I may be wrong, but I think that right now we have the opportunity to be the last romantics and adventurers, who can go places without knowing what they will find.
I've seen video of you surfing everything from longboards to rippable points to barrels. Do you always travel with a pretty extensive quiver, or do you simplify things when you hit the road?
I like to surf all kinds of boards—twin fins, high-performance boards, guns, longboards—and it's not easy to choose. Normally I get an idea of the type of waves I'm going to find on a trip, and make decisions based on that.
In 2017, I had the accident, and it was a difficult experience, but I also discovered aspects of my spirit I had never known
But I like to travel light. I usually travel with three or four very versatile boards, so that if one breaks, the others may overlap and correspond to that type of wave—but also to others, in case I find something else. But in general, I do not like to carry a lot of equipment. I don’t like to carry more weight than I can drag with my own hands.
Do you have any big travel plans for the summer? Anywhere in particular that you want to explore?
I have just arrived home from Africa, from the Guinea area. I'm deeply in love with Africa, and yes, I'm thinking of going back there soon, probably this summer.
Your instagram account says that you were born in 1980, reborn in 2010, and reborn again in 2017. What's the story behind that?
2010 was the first time that I traveled alone through Africa, and I learned many things from these countries, and also about myself. For me, it was like being reborn, and learning everything again.
In 2017, I had the accident, and it was a difficult experience, but I also discovered aspects of my spirit I had never known. The important things in life are health, love, friendship, and being thankful every single day.
Well we are thankful that you are healed up, back on the road, and sharing your adventures with us. Travel safe!