An Iceland Itinerary for Hot Springs Enthusiasts

My husband Ben and I had the best time in Iceland this July. If you, too, enjoy hot springs, camping, and puffins, or you’ve been wanting to see for yourself what the hype is all about, feel free to use our itinerary.

Day 1

Fly to Iceland with WOW airlines. Stretch out in XXL seats. Don’t get caught sleeping with your mouth open unless you really trust your seatmate.

Lonely Planet FTW!

Stock up on beer and Brennivín in duty free.

Get a brand new rental car–a white Hyundai hatchback will do nicely, but make sure you remember which white Hyundai hatchback is yours each time you try to get in. Make sure it has a navigation system since you’re directionally challenged. Frowning at that National Geographic Adventure map every few minutes isn’t fooling anyone.

Pick up miscellaneous camping gear at Iceland Camping Rental, find a cafe in Reykjavík, get some caffeine in your bloodstream, text everyone that you’re alive and well, and get groceries at Bonus.

Leave for Þingvellir National Park and marvel at how quickly your surroundings turn lush and magical. Set up camp and make dinner while trying not to inhale too many gnats.

Take a late evening stroll to Öxarárfoss, a beautiful little waterfall actually created by the Vikings back in the day.

Day 2

Fortify yourself for snorkeling in 2 degrees Celsius water in Silfra, where you will snorkel between the North Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates. (Can you observe signs of tectonic activity from dry land? Sure. But you’ll never know what it’s like to drink glacier water and swim in it at the same time.)

Ben goes for the extra credit!

Tour Þingvellir (aka Thingvellir), where Viking chieftains from around the country assembled and held the first parliament. If you’re lucky, your Icelandic tour guide will be moved to sing a few verses of a patriotic song.

The Icelandic flag (far in the background) is near the site of the country’s founding.

Þingvallakirkja

Continue your tour of the Golden Circle, stopping at the Geysir Hot Springs area, featuring mud pots, steaming pools of water, and of course a geyser that erupts every several minutes.

Hot springs at Geysir

You’re only 15 minutes away from the next marvel, Gullfoss–a very impressive two-tiered waterfall.

Gullfoss

Day 3

Spend a leisurely morning at Gamla Laugin (Secret Lagoon) in Flúðir, a naturally heated swimming pool built over a hundred years ago. It accommodates multiple buses of tourists and has a modern cafe without sacrificing good vibes and rustic charm.

Secret Lagoon in Flúðir

Hike around Kerið, a volcanic crater lake, where the legendary Björk performed on a raft while the audience sat on the slope.

Kerið

Stock up on groceries again at Bonus in Selfoss (we probably should have joined a member rewards program) and follow the Ring Road in a counter-clockwise direction. Set up camp at the site of the iconic waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss. Both falls are unique in that they are impressive yet approachable–walk behind Seljalandsfoss, and work your way underneath and around the rock that obscures the bottom part of Gljúfrafoss (the “Hidden Waterfall”). Don’t worry about getting the perfect photo and enjoy the splendor.

Seljalandsfoss

Day 4

Visit the black sand beach called Reynisfjara near the seaside village Vík and check out Reynisdrangar, dramatic basalt columns that looks like The Devil’s Postpile in Mammoth, California. The crowd thins out as you continue walking down the shore, but beware of rogue waves if you choose to do any rock scrambling.

Reynisdrangar

Reynisfjara

On the way to Skaftafell, you’ll pass otherworldly lava fields covered in a uniform layer of dried lichens for as far as you can see. Don’t pass up a small but beautiful canyon called Fjaðrárgljúfur. It’s a short detour from Ring Road, and a trail takes you along the ledge of the canyon all the way to the waterfall at the end.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

 

Skaftafell

You might think you’ve seen all you can possibly see in one day but you’re just getting warmed up. This is summer in Iceland and the sun doesn’t go down for several hours.

Once you get to Skaftafell National Park, you have a plethora of hiking trails to choose from. A relatively ambitious activity that would take some advance planning is a guided glacier walk, or you could do what we did and hike a trail that takes you very close to a glacier, which is pretty neat.

End the day with a trip to Jökulsárlón, a peaceful lagoon filled with icebergs floating towards the sea. Some formations are Gatorade blue and others are streaked black with volcanic ash. Stay awhile and absorb the subtlety and the drama of the place. Keep an eye out for seals and for precariously stacked icebergs that are liable to crash down at any moment.

Day 5

Drive to Höfn, and you’re now in southeastern Iceland. The big ticket attractions are less concentrated once you’ve left the southern region, but the driving becomes even more scenic as the Ring Road follows the in-and-out curves of the fjords. In this small harbor village, fill up on some seafood and walk along the waterfront.

Enjoy the relatively long drive to Egilsstaðir, where you’ll find a popular campsite and hostel.

Day 6

If there’s one must-see town in the east, it’s Seyðisfjörður, situated on the water. With a rainbow colored path leading down the main “street” to an adorable sky blue church, it’s a highly photogenic locale. Burn off some road trip snacks with a steep hike above the town, passing a few waterfalls and checking out the interesting art installation Tvísöngur, which is essentially a cluster of echoing concrete domes. Pick out some hand knitted souvenirs in one of the craft shops before moving on.

The next destination is a fjord called Borgarfjörður eystri, which has one of the most laid-back and appealing campsites in Iceland. It’s also a five minute drive to a wonderful puffin colony called Hafnarhólmi. I suggest you visit at different times of day to experience the area in different lighting and because puffins might congregate in larger numbers at certain times. (We saw dozens in the evening and hundreds in the morning the next day.)

Day 7

After your second or third visit to the puffin colony, each visit more captivating than the last, get ready for another relatively long drive to Mývatn. Stop at the incredibly powerful Dettifoss, taking the route that leads to the protected side of the falls if tourists standing inches away from certain death makes you squeamish.

Dettifoss

Stop by a geothermal area called Hverir, where overpoweringly thick, sulfur-scented steam greets you at the parking lot. The bubbling mudpots and steaming fumaroles are delightful to see close up.

Hverir

 

The area’s major campsite, Bjarg, is situated on the shore of the volcanic lake Mývatn, boasting an idyllic background that admittedly is somewhat hard to enjoy in the rain. Fortunately, most campsites have indoor kitchen areas and this one is no exception.

After dinner, visit the Mývatn Nature Baths, known as the Blue Lagoon of the North, and in my humble opinion the best Blue Lagoon of them all. (Full disclosure: we skipped the most famous one, near Reykjavík). Relax in luxury, have a lifeguard bring you a beer, and gaze at the surrounding landscape until closing at midnight, when you’ll have the whole place almost to yourself for awhile.

The Mývatn Nature Baths at closing time

Day 8

The Nature Baths may be the ultimate highlight of Mývatn, depending on whether or not you’re a huge Game of Thrones fan, in which case another hot springs competes for #1. The water filled cave Grjótagjá used to be a popular bathing spot, but the hot spring itself is now off-limits to the public. Now, it is known for being the location of a steamy scene involving Jon Snow. (I’m not a GOT fan myself but it was pretty cool.) From there, hike on over to the humongous crater called Hverfjall, which measures over a kilometer across at the rim.

Hverfjall

Another sight worth seeing is Dimmuborgir, a lava field where jagged, towering rock formations and caves inspire stories about trolls.

A rare sighting of one of Dimmuborgir’s legendary Yule Lads emerging from his cave dwelling.

Continue one of the final legs of the Ring Road trip, stopping at Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri. There is plenty of shopping, dining and drinking to do in town, not to mention an interesting church and botanical gardens to explore. However, we spent most of our time at Hamrar, another awesome campsite featuring a ropes course and other remnants of a kids’ sleep-away camp.

Day 9

One more fantastic hot springs experience awaits you. Set the GPS to Hveragerði, not far from Reykjavík, completing your circumnavigation of the island. From a convenient parking lot near the campsite, a trails leads up and along the springs river, with green rollings hills and steam rising up everywhere you look. After passing several boiling pools, you’ll come to the part of the river, marked with partitions to change into your bathing suit, where the water is just right for a soak.

Hveragerði

Day 10

Spend the day in the capital doing whatever your heart desires. The National Museum has a fascinating collection of artifacts from the Settlement Era as well as religious art and contemporary objects. You can even try on traditional women’s riding garb (it’s very cumbersome).

While going out is expensive anywhere in Iceland, there are happy hours to be found all over Reykjavík, and we even chanced upon some free live music. Find the locals’ favorite hot dog cart for a relatively cheap snack.

For dinner, definitely go to The Sea Baron restaurant in Old Harbor for lobster soup and salmon skewers. There were probably ten ingredients total in our meal and it was perfect.

Old Harbor, Reykjavík

Day 11

Squeeze in one more activity, or just find a good breakfast spot, and begin your journey home.

Down a River in Utah

At certain points, the cliff walls that overhang the Green River seem to be on the verge of crumbling down at any moment, as if they’re carefully holding their breath and the dislodging of one particle of sand has the potential to send tons of boulders crashing down into the lethargic water below. I entertained this thought while paddling through Labyrinth Canyon in a canoe, even though the looser-looking chunks of sandstone above had been resting there for who knows how long, and would likely stay put for the duration of our journey, if not longer.

It wasn’t so much the fear of being squished by a rock that spurred my imagination but rather the wonder at how such a presently tame waterway could cut through the hard, compact earth in such a way as to create this:

canoeing

The stillness was suspenseful, until I got used to itUnless a flash flood happened while we were there, which would have been super inconvenient, I was unlikely to witness any change at all. I do wish someone could make a time-lapse video of a blind arch becoming (and becoming, and becoming, and becoming) an arch. I’ll check back in maybe five thousand years. 

I’m grateful, of course, that the Green River kept its cool while it transported us through the canyon for the forty-six miles from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom. We had a few more things going for us: we were the last group (six people, three canoes) launched by Tex’s Riverways for the year, so there was no one else with whom to compete for places to camp or to contradict the notion that we were intrepid explorers of a unique sort. Also, since it was late October, we avoided exposure to heat during the day (this is desert, after all) and the night chill only made the campfire more enjoyable.

I’ve seen many herons but rarely one of the blue persuasion.

The boys–Ben, Mike and Dane–had a couple advantages being at the back of the canoe. For one, they could trail their fishing lines behind them and cast frequently without snagging their canoe-mates, in theory. No fish were caught; the murky-water dwellers turned up their noses to the Powerbait. I’m not saying that there’s no enjoyment to be derived from even fruitless fishing, but at some point you have to put up the pole and paddle, dammit. The other advantage was that they could simply stand, turn 180 degrees and relieve themselves into the river without interrupting our progress. Since the only permissible place to piss was in the river, this advantage must not be underestimated.

As for the ladies–Liana, Alexis and myself–getting the front seat is the advantage itself.

cloudy skies

We did spend a lot of time on the river but we would pull up to the bank for a leisurely lunch and stop for exploration by foot through some empty river beds whose crust was damp but cracked. After the first docking experience during which we discovered one can easily sink up to the navel in silt, we became more selective about where to land. We (i.e., Alexis) referred to a detailed waterproof map to keep track of our progress and to decide on which bottom, strategically speaking, would work as a camp site.

We explored the riverbed where the temptation to slather oneself with nutrient-rich clay is just too much for some people.

We explored the riverbed where the temptation to slather oneself with nutrient-rich clay is just too much for some people.

Since conventional means of entertainment were absent on this trip, we entertained ourselves with roasting marshmallows, campfire stories and hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. We found that canned re-fried beans, when placed directly into the fire, behave like a jack-in-the-box. I won’t go into Ben’s display of “freestyle canoeing” here but suffice it to say it made quite a splash.

Here we saw the footprints of either a badger or large bird. Debate goes on.

Here we saw the footprints of either a badger or large bird. Debate goes on.

Within 24 hours of the last meal on the river, while Alexis and Mike went back to Colorado, the rest of us were checking into the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, with its anemic animal sanctuary and cigarette smoke, showering for the first time in five days and then dashing over to the Bellagio for buffet. I saw the big platters of shellfish and thought of Tom Hanks in Castaway, picking up a crab leg from a buffet table after being rescued. The lobby had a stunning fall-themed display with an Oz-like animatronic tree, giant pumpkins, and elaborate waterworks, but it had nothing on our riparian wonderland.

I think the author of The Wind in the Willows would agree:

`Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: `messing–about–in–boats; messing—-‘

`Look ahead, Rat!’ cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

`–about in boats–or WITH boats,’ the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. `In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?’

A river’s a great place for reflection.

A three hour tour from Ventura to Santa Cruz, the Island

Mysteriously, the Channel Islands–with the exception of Catalina–have remained an under-the-radar destination for outdoor adventurers, birders, naturalists, camping enthusiasts, snorkelers, spelunkers, divers, whale watchers, Island Fox chasers, cave explorers, anthropologists, dermatologists, street artists, baristas, barbers, accountants and Lady Gagas–as in, everyone who remains ignorant to the wonders that await them across the channel from the Central Coast. The “American Galapagos,” so called because of the concentration of endemic species, have something for all walks of life and levels of appreciation for stunning ocean views and the resilience of nature.

Supposedly, the Islands resemble what California looked like before it was settled.

So, instead of getting my mom another pair of turquoise earrings for Mother’s Day this year, I took her to Santa Cruz Island, the largest in the Channel Islands National Park. Granted, the trip was one of the perks of working at a PR agency and didn’t require a big investment, but it’s the thought that counts, as long as it’s accompanied by a huge balloon and mushy card.

This was actually taken on the way back, about two minutes from departure. You can almost see the other passengers shooting daggers from their eyes.

We drove an hour north to the Ventura Harbor for our noon departure with Island Packers, the go-to outfitters for channel crossings. The crew is chipper and friendly, the captain informative and full of jokes. We got on board the catamaran with a mixed crowd, including a group of guys with a few cases of beer, which for some people makes a great breakfast when camping. My mom and I joined my boss and the group of of writers we gathered together for a press trip showcasing Ventura’s many eco-friendly aspects, including tasting at an organic tequila ranch. We didn’t take part in the other activities, and if tequila wasn’t my enemy I would have been jealous.

The hour-long voyage usually comes with any number of marine life sightings, the holy grail being blue or gray whales, humpbacks, and even killer whales, depending on the season. If you get a kick out of frolicking pods of dolphins, sunning seals and sea lions, hunting killer whales, and the way pelicans dive in the water like badass ninjas to grab fish, you’ll probably enjoy the boat ride to the Channel Islands. Unless you’re susceptible to motion sickness because it can be a bumpy ride. The most action we saw though, aside from some sea lions chilling on a buoy, was a crew member retrieving a bunch of stray party balloons from the water, probably saving some leather backed sea turtles from an unnatural death.

Sea lions chilling on a buoy.

We arrived at Scorpion Bay harbor, and got ready for a mellow four-mile hike around the island led by Dave, a knowledgeable National Park Service employee. We stopped now and then to take pictures and to listen while our guide pointed out the various endemic and invasive species. While the terrain seems rather bare in places, Dave assured us that due to the gradual removal of all sheep, pigs and other critters brought over by ranchers in the latter half of the 19th century, native plants are making a comeback and the islands are becoming more and more lush. One plant in particular stands out as one that does not belong among the small shrubs and overall treeless geography: a huge eucalyptus tree dominating the campsite. Hard-core conservationists say it should be removed because historically it shouldn’t be there, but campers appreciate the shade it provides. I say, let it be so that any wayward koala bears that accidentally land on the island have a place to live. But I digress.

I had been to Santa Cruz Island before, also with a press trip, but we spent the day on a guided kayak trip along the cliff edge and through sea caves– like the one below–learning about kelp, sea urchins, geography of the islands and the like. Kayaking, when weather permits, is definitely the way to go if you want a more up-close and personal experience.

On a previous press trip, we had kayaked into this cave, where there is a hidden beach which seals use as a birthing ground.

We came to the end of the trail at Potato Harbor, named after the legendary Captain Albert “Potato” Dupé who had a thing for spuds. That’s one version. Dave said it’s because it just looks like a potato. Dubious.

Potato po-tah-to.

The Happiest Waves in America

This past Easter weekend, while most of my friends back in L.A. partook in the pastel-colored, sugar-laden pagan traditions of dying eggs and baking pastries, I got a taste of the SLO life in the Happiest Town in America. And a bit of cold seawater as well.

Ben and I decided to spend the long weekend in San Luis Obispo, whose acronym SLO suits the town pretty well. Past cozy Ventura and picturesque Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo is far enough to qualify as a road trip and a thousand miles away from the L.A. mentality. Recognized as the Happiest Town in America, SLO boasts wide sidewalks (apparently this is linked to a town’s happiness), stringent smoking laws, beautiful beaches, plenty of bike paths, and countless hiking trials. A utopia for anyone who’s not a sun-shunning goth, no?

Ah, happiness. Is it the fresh air? Hike-induced endorphins? Or just SLO's wide sidewalks?

SLO, being home to Cal Poly, is also the quintessential college town where Ben spent his undergrad glory days. He’s graduated and moved back to Long Beach, but some of his good friends are still in the area, and we stayed with the one and only Sir Avery Cromwell (whom I still owe $12 in refreshments–hope you’re reading this! And you have my hairbrush!) in Morro Bay, an easy 10 minutes north of Downtown SLO. Avery has this cool old two-story house a few blocks from the beach, with a guest room (no floor for us!), a crotchety old cat, a nice roommate and a well-stocked bar for entertaining. A good host he is.

After some jovial banter and reminiscing, we walked to join the rest of the Cromwell Clan for dinner at Hofbrau at the harbor, with lovely sunset views, for pitchers and German-style comfort food. Then we went to a bar nearby for pints of the ubiquitous Firestone DBA and games of pool and shuffleboard. Firestone, when combined with pure skill, makes me a fairly decent player of both.

We got up early enough on Saturday morning to go surfing at the Pit. The Pit is right next to the Rock. I don’t know why neither have better names but in any case, the Rock makes for an easily identifiable landmark and meet-up place as well as a great backdrop for surfing at the Pit. Which doesn’t look like a pit? What do I know.

What I do know now is what about 53 degree water feels like and I’m really glad I bought booties to keep my toes from going numb. After the initial iciness, I got used to it and warmed up pretty quickly. The waves seemed pretty small as we suited up, but there were frequent sets of growing waves and I decided against paddling through the breakwater to the line up. Ben started catching waves right away, as usual, and eventually Avery and his brother showed up, waded on past me with kind words of encouragement as I briefly stood up on some whitewater. Which was completely fine with me, even when Avery’s dad paddled on out to the real waves. Baby steps…

Ben and Avery, looking mighty pleased with themselves after their shred sesh.

After a while we took off for nearby Cayucos, where Ben’s friend Dane lives, and we had delicious smoked fish tacos and hung out in the backyard until we went surfing again. There’s a good spot about six seconds away from Dane’s place. This time the guys debated whether or not to bring longboards since we were expecting small surf, and they did. Once again, while the teasing baby waves sparked some optimism in me as I struggled to put on wet booties, they somehow grew to shoulder high by the time we paddled out past the break. This session for me turned out to be mostly a practice in turtle diving and paddling into shore. But the whitewash was too mushy to surf so I sat and watched. Needless to say, the others were more successful but still had to work to hold onto their longboards.

That night I had a glimpse into the nightlife in Downtown San Luis Obispo, through Peach & Frog Pub, Bubblegum Alley, and another bar with $2 cans of Tecate–score! There we met up with another surf buddy, Ross, whose mellow demeanor was at odds with the harrowing surf tales that he and Ben shared with me.

We started Easter Sunday morning by putting on cold wetsuits while it was drizzling, but I wasn’t complaining, in spite of the fact that my cold wet booties were putting up a staunch resistance to my feet. Maybe I whined a little. No one tells you that putting on the gear is half the battle.

Finally we paddled out into the “kiddie pool,” no big deal. The waves got a little bigger, but I was still assessing my options. A little bigger still, and it was back to turtle dive practice, which lead to a massive brain freeze and me trudging to the car, not entirely defeated but ready for a hot shower.

I kind of looked and felt like Ben's Wienerschnitzel antenna topper at one point.

Last on our itinerary was something more familiar: a hike at Bishop’s Peak, which is the highest in the chain of nine peaks between San Luis and Morro Bay. I’m pretty good at hiking. It’s like walking, but harder. The fog had lifted and it was no longer drizzling, so the hike afforded us a great view of SLO, the surrounding mountains, vineyards and fields, all the way out to the ocean. It was a great way to get some terra firma exercise, but Ben had to do something to make the activity a bit dangerous, namely the Leap of Death. It’s pretty self explanatory and I don’t want to give anyone ideas by going into detail.

I had to give Ben a piggy back ride half way up, but it was worth it.

And so, it was with fond memories and achy limbs we left the Happiest Town in America and its waves that happily taught me a lesson or two.

Shreddin’ the gnarl in California with a surf legend

Every day I eagerly anticipate the arrival of Concierge.com’s “Unpacked” e-newsletter, showcasing a single brilliant destination or product you absolutely must know about. A service that complements your Concierge.com experience, Unpacked entices you to “Travel smarter with our daily insider tips on hotels, hot spots, gear, and more,” and their methods are effective. I’ve added at least 30 things to my bucket list since I signed up for this, from riding the revitalized Orient Express, which appears to take you on a magical, champagne-drenched ride through Narnia, to driving cross country in my top-of-the-line Eddie Bauer Airstreamer and unloading my kayak at every opportunity.

Without doing any research, I’d say that at least half of Unpacked’s daily features are hotels and their various packages offered. As a PR professional specializing in hospitality and travel, I’ve even pitched Concierge a package or two. (They were respectfully declined, not being high-end enough I’m guessing.) Usually I quickly skim and delete these emails because my budget wouldn’t exactly cover a suite in Dubai. Plus, to be honest, they are boring.

But THIS.

This blew me out of the water, so to speak.


Subject: Shreddin’ the gnarl in California with a surf legend

UNPACKED
Here’s the Deal

Tuesday, April 19

Endless Summer Ultimate Surf Package, Laguna Beach, California

The Pacific Edge Hotel’s new Endless Summer Ultimate Surf Package channels the spirit of the seminal 1960s travel and surf documentary by pairing you up with one of its stars, Robert August (pictured back in the day, far right), for a one-on-one day of surfing, searching out perfect breaks along SoCal’s storied coast.

It don’t matter if you’re grom, random stander, or bona fide railer, you’ll also get a place to crash overlooking Laguna Beach in the 129-room, brightly painted boutique property. Also provided: Endless Summer swag, including a six-pack of lager and a DVD box set. Plus, after a day in the waves, you’re invited to chillax with August and his surfer son Sam over sundowners and appetizers on the beach. Righteous!

Endless Summer Ultimate Surf Package available April 19, 2011 through March 31, 2012; starts at $5,200 (must book 21 days in advance)”

And here’s the package described on the hotel’s website (Unpacked gives it to you much more eloquently and uses the appropriate lingo like “grom” and my fave “chillax”):

The “Endless Summer” Ultimate Surf Experience

Endless Summer Ultimate Surf Experience

The iconic surf documentary The Endless Summer® follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, giving birth to the “surf and travel” culture. Pacific Edge Hotel, Joie de Vivre’s official Endless Summer® hotel located in the heart of Laguna Beach, is celebrating the spirit of the film by creating something extra special for guests in search of the perfect wave… and the perfect travel experience. Starting Now through March 31, 2012, when guests purchase a comfortable and cool Beachfront Room they can truly live The Endless Summer® and embark on a one day, one-on-one surf adventure with Robert August, one of the stars of the film and a world-renowned surfer. After catching waves with August at Southern California’s most legendary breaks, the guest will have the opportunity to sit down and chat with him and his son, surfer Sam August, over cocktails and appetizers on the beach. The package also includes Bruce Brown’s “‘The Ultimate Summer’ DVD set” and a six-pack of Karl Strauss’ Endless Summer Lager. Guests also have the option to add on one of August’s custom made “What I Ride” surfboards (boards start at $870). Package cost starts at $5,200. Must book 21 days in advance.

Offer valid March 31, 2011 – March 31, 2012. Twenty One (21) days advance purchase required. Rates subject to space availability and minimum night stay requirements. Taxes and gratuities not included. Surf lesson included for Two (2) Persons, additional lessons can be added at an additional fee.


Obviously, what makes this the ultimate ($5K) travel experience isn’t the DVD set, Endless Summer Lager, staying in a luxe Beachfront Room or even surf lessons, but the opportunity to share the stoke with a true surf legend. To hang out with Robert August, who surfed previously unsurfed, pristine waves around the world in The Endless Summer, is probably as close the average guy with $5,200 burning a hole in his pocket can get to imitating the global surf experience. Especially because you’d have to go back to the 60’s to even come close.

Here’s what I’ve been trying to get to all along, though: $5,200 could have taken August and Michael Hynson on their epic tour thrice over. (Again, no research done here. I just wanted to say thrice.) Aside from their plane tickets, it didn’t appear that they spent much on food, lodging and transportation. They once spent a whopping $30 for a luxury hotel room in South Africa, and a few bucks on gas, but otherwise expenses didn’t figure prominently in the film. After all, surfers are known for having low-maintenance, frugal lifestyles.

So. Is it really “celebrating the spirit of the film” if you’re essentially buying time with someone who you’d otherwise never meet? Plus–I wince just imagining it–what if you were to drop in on his wave or smack him with your board after you wipe out? Paranoid hypotheticals aside, I just don’t really get it. On the surface it’s a really neat concept, and of course I would jump at this opportunity under a different context, but this package reads like a Make a Wish Foundation opportunity, one that costs you $5,200 plus applicable taxes and fees.

I think I’ll just get a six-pack of my choice, forgo the special edition box set to watch the film streaming on Netflix, and shred some gnarly whitewater. Maybe someday, when I’m a world-renowned surfer, Mr. August and I will chillax without money changing hands. If either of us are still alive by then.