Prior to the 1950s, there was no surfing in the Basque country. Around that time, Hollywood actors started to visit the beautiful cities of the region, including Biarritz on the Atlantic coast, and bringing with them California surf culture. Blending its own rich culture with a new California style, the Basque region started to grow its own special atmosphere around surf.
But it took until the 1980s before many people in the region could afford to surf. When they could, Kepa Acero and his brothers bought a surfboard for the equivalent of $60 and became legends. After travelling to many incredible places as a professional surfer, Kepa left the professional surfing world to embark on his own adventures. When it was time, he bought a ticket around the world, packed a camera he barely knew how to use and set off for Africa–the first stop on a long journey to explore the world’s “uncrowded places.”
Here he talks with us about the spread of surf culture around the world, from the Basque region to the northern-most corners and down to the uncharted shores of the forgotten continent. He shares tips for getting good waves on the road and finding community in foreign lands. For Kepa, every trip is like a compressed life cycle and we’re glad he brings his camera along for the ride.
Describe Surfing in the Basque Coast, what is the culture like there?
The Basque Country has several conditions that give a very special taste and richness to our surfing culture.
On one side, the influence of the first surfers in Europe came from America (Hollywood actors) all the way to Biarritz in the 50s. From Biarritz it was extended to all Europe, but mostly, in the Basque area, they left us the surfing, and also the soul of what is now the old californian surf culture.
On the other side, the Basque Country has a very strong personality, with a rich culture and its own language, the “Euskera.” It’s the oldest language in Europe. No one knows exactly how old it is, and where it comes from. This personality has created on the Basque Country, a strong attitude, with many subcultural and contracultural movements during the years.
The mixture of this international influence and the Basque identity, becomes a very special atmosphere–lots of people with their own criteria. We are doing many things, film, art, events, music… There’s a big surfing industry, but also many subcultures doing all kinds of boards, glass, wood, classic lonboarding…cultural events like the Surfilmfestival in Donosti, California style surf cities like Zarautz or Biarritz…
And of course, the rocky coastline gives some world class waves like Mundaka, or longboarding waves like Getary…I feel like we have a interesting place to visit.
Talk about your professional surfing career, how did you take your surfing to that level?
Well, I started in the late 80’s when the surfing was “democratized.” Before, it was too expensive to get a surfboard, but suddenly, there was a boom, and there we were, my two old brothers and me. We bought a surfboard on 10.000 pesetas ($60), and my two brothers, in one year’s time, became the local heros. Eneko, the middle one, was winning every single contest…in Europe too. He nearly made the cut to the top 44 at the age of 16. He started surfing profesionally then. That´s when I thought “wow, this is fun…getting paid for surfing”…I was doing quite good too–I won the European junior championship and I started on the WQS profesionally.
Somehow, with many years of travelling, I started to be curious of the things I couldn’t focus on… the people and the cultures, the exploration….so one day I decided to make a U-turn on my career. I bought a world around ticket, and with a little knowlege on my cameras, I left by myself to Africa. I wanted to surf waves, but in this way I wanted connect with people and nature from the roots, and take the surfing experience to another dimension.
What waves groomed your abilities?
I suppose, this mixed culture that we have, my brothers, our waves, and that something that we all have inside. I try to put that unique flow in every art/creative acivity I do. Either in my films or surfing. I put my heart and passion on it. I think the richness is in each one point of view, the subject.
Talk about your brother, his impact on you and the Basque surfing community.
Eneko is an undisputed influence in the Basque comunity, but also in the spanish state and Europe too. He opened the eyes of the next generation to believe in making our dreams come true. And now there is many of us living the dream because of his step.
I have to cite my parents too, that they believed in us to make our dreams come true. That was an adventure for them to permit my brother to go that way when no one else did it before. They were open-minders, braves and adventurers. Real explorers. In this way, I am very thankfull to every person that participated on this human chain. From the first Californian surfers that came to Biarritz, to many of people on the way to the present. There has to be entrepreneur visionary minds . And it’s also great thinking that we are creating in the present to leave our values to the next generations.
Where have you traveled to in the world to score surf?
I travelled quiet a lot… when I was doing the QS, but mostly in this last period travelling by myself. I have been focused on exploring new coastline, uncrowded places like Angola, Alaska, Patagonia, India… I am pretty focused now on Africa, the great unknown continent. It´s has some dangerous places because of hard social-political situations, but when you go there, It really feels like you are the only one surfing there.
Next I am going in the Pakea Bizkaia sailboat exploring the Antartica, with my friend captain Unai Basurko.
What is your favorite country to surf in? What is your least favorite?
I would say Indonesia is my favorite. It´s very big and still many uncrowded places if you have time to explore. I love the people and the culture too.
My least favorite I would say India. India is one of those places that either you conect with the energy, or you can’t affort it. I didn’t get the vibe there from the very first moment and the cultural shock is so strong. I know people who had a fascinnating experience there…but not me. I think is the first trip that I change my ticket to leave before I was planned.
What are your 5 most important steps for getting good waves on the road?
I made a lot of mistakes on that way, so now I feel I should do a list:
1. Start doing a good investigation of the place. The map, the spots, the right season, swell direction, predominant wind…also, the access, check your backpack!!, sleeping tent…the more basic the better. Don´t think too much, just go.
2. Ask about the places and the culture in the place you are visiting. The attitudes you think are right in your culture, might not be in this new place, so, show respect. That’s the first step on the human relationships.
3. Once you are there, check the spots and the forecast, study the tides.
4. Be patient. You have to know that the ocean sometimes gives, and sometimes doesn’t, that’s the beauty. While you are waiting, you could have a good chance to meet some people, talk to fishermen…don’t waste time on your Facebook.
5. Score! Maybe you get a epic session, maybe you don’t, but if you follow the steps, I am sure you’re gonna get a fastinating and unforgettable human experience. You will feel that you scored anyway.
I heard one of the first things you do is make friends with the local fishermen. Why do you do this?
Well, some of the places where there are no surfers, you still find fishermen. They know the sea, the deepwaters, the tides…also the fishing technique…I love fishing… and somehow I think we have many things in common. I easily feel connected with them and it’s the fastest way to me to get involved in a new community.
We at Korduroy are big fans of your short films. How do you capture your adventures? What equipment do you use?
I am so glad to hear that, thanks. Actually, I was a big fan of Korduroy.tv before you guys posted me. I remember a couple of years ago, my friend Sancho from Surfilmfestival told me that I should contact you and tell my histories, and I was embarrassed at first, but I did it. I felt like a Korduroy groopie a bit. You guys posted me on your blog…that was great! I love what you do, keep it that way!
Well… that’s always a hard one… I have my GoPro, my automatic handycam and a Cannon 7D, pretty simple…
I always try to participate with local community, sometimes I go fishing with fishermen, after the locals film me…exchange economy…but most of the times I film myself, I let the tripod film myself on the shortbreak…many times I shoot myself with the GoPro and it takes the tipical twenty-year-old or Facebook-egocentric-teenager aesthetic ..I know tecnically is not brilliant, but at the same time, it’s real.
What are challenges of traveling and documenting by yourself? What are the advantages?
Travelling by miself is a lot about surfing, but more about finding protections. I mean, in a place like Alaska, you get there with your baggage and you need to communicate, meet people… I feel a bit like being born again. You find yourself talking to many people, and you get to know the place from the roots. Also, you have to make decisions by yourself–be strong–a trip like that is like a little reflection of a lifetime: you’re born, you love, and you leave. It;s beautiful but it’s hard to leave a family in every place you visit and say goodbye to people that you are probably not gonna see again.
Documenting by yourself is hard, but it’s real. It became a necessity to me. I realized that the personal experience is so important to, along with sharing this experience with others. There’s no better feeling than feeling that you are able influence to others.