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Top to Bottom: Making the Drop Through the Americas
The Surfer’s Journal Vol 15 number 2

My obsession with travel started in 9th grade when I met Scott Cherry, a 16-year-old with a driver’s license and a 69 VW Bug that had no headlights or front seats. Every weekend we’d pile in and search the Northern California coastline, fueled by Metallica or Run DMC ghetto blasting from the dash. When I heard Scott say, “Lets go!” in 1988, I had no idea how far those words would take us. Find a map and pinpoint Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, then trace a route all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. While running your finger south, visit Denali, stop in Vancouver Island, camp in Baja, check out Mayan ruins in Honduras. Imagine the different climates, the geographic phenomena of mountains, deserts, coastal nooks, bays and river flows. Imagine the massive winter swells that start in the Gulf of Alaska and within a short period are groomed summer waves in South America. Imagine the surf potential! But most importantly, imagine the people. That’s what we set out to do: See the Americas and connect with those who inhabit it.

The beauty of travel—regardless how far, or for how long you go—is that each time you leave the familiar, you open a whole new bag of emotions, which brings strength. Like surfing, travel is all about the freedom to draw different lines, connect with nature, disconnect with time. Going somewhere new makes you fully appreciate the places you’ve already been. Like paddling out at a new spot, there’s some anxiety until you make that first drop, but you’ll never know if you don’t go. So, Scott and I bought a Land Cruiser from Daniel for 1200 bucks even though the Jiffy Lube mechanic told us it wouldn’t make it to Seattle. We had a dream, and we went for it. Had we not gone for it we wouldn’t have hung out with Yvon Chouinard after stopping at Patagonia in Ventura to buy a board. We would have never met Doug Tompkins and gotten to visit his vast land trust in Chile if we hadn’t met Yvon. We wouldn’t have surfed that wedgy righthander in Washington if I hadn’t had to take a leak. We probably wouldn’t have scored some of the epic days of surf in Chile if we hadn’t hooked up with photographer Alfredo Escobar.

I try not to remember the shady border crossings, the crooked officials, or having to work out exchange rates in Spanish. Long gone is the broken U-joint on the Cassiar Highway in Canada, and the stolen surfboards in Costa Rica. Go back to tracing the route with your finger. There was the halibut fishing Kodiak, the biking in British Colombia, a hidden left in Nicaragua, and then some peaks we bagged in Ecuador. It’s easy! It doesn’t matter that the car heater doesn’t work, and that you are getting 11 miles to the gallon. (This is a journey of 20,786 miles.) Don’t worry about the Fedarales in Peru, or the 12-hour border nightmare between El Salvador and Honduras. Blank out the weeks of no surf, cramped in a dusty vehicle with no air conditioning, hating the only company you have which is your friend who you have been sitting next to for months on end. What I do try to remember is the freedom and intoxication of new experiences, the peacefulness of just staring out the window and watching life go by, and the rush of problem solving in a pinch. Looking back on it, it’s all so positive in the end, and the times that I want to forget are the times that taught me the most.

Sitting in a hostel in Puntarenas, Chile and sipping tea on a cold, rainy day after we’d sold the car and packed our stuff, there wasn’t much to do but reflect on the trip and think about what was waiting at home. Work? Girlfriend? Had I changed? I thought about the massive distance we’d covered—what we had seen, the people we met, the things we had done, and how fast 8 months went by—and had the realization that our road trip had actually started back in high school, and that it continues to this day, married with children and real responsibilities, trying to work out another excuse to just go. Hey Scott, got any ideas?
—Zack Hill