KEPA ACERO MARTINEZ: Staunch Basqueman, natural born frother, adventurer. Whatever title you give this guy, there’s no avoiding being in complete awe of his expedition around the globe. After deciding to venture into the unknown, Kepa set about finding amazing waves in remote locations and documenting it along the way. Kepa epitomises the essence of pure stoke and through his online videos, he leaves a lasting impression on the viewer as he bursts with energy describing barrels, people and places and he encountered during his surf trips called 5 Waves 5 Continents and The Final Frontier.
What were you doing before you embarked on your ‘5 Waves 5 Continents’ journey?
I was just competing a lot. After being European junior champion, I started as a pro on the WQS and spent around 6 years on it. It was fun, hanging around with the boys, competing and getting to know new places all around the world. On the other hand, I also had the feeling of being all around the world, but not really knowing what was going on in each place. I love competing, but you have to be very focused on a beach and on those 20 minutes in your head. I really wanted to know about the places, the people, the cultures and exploring new waves and new frontiers.
What made you decide to venture out into the unknown?
I fell in love with “The Endless Summer” movie when I was a kid. Writers like Thoreau, Jack London and John Muir, and their way of viewing the world, nature and philosophy had also influenced me. After spending so much time focusing on the comp and not knowing anything about the world, and with these influences, I made a U-turn on my life and I went to the other extreme. I took my surfboards, backpack, my cameras, and I went on a solo adventure searching for waves, people and cultures along the way. I really wanted to live a life full of experiences and take the idea of surfing to another dimension.
How did you decide on the 5 waves 5 continents that you chose for your first surf expedition?
I just decided to go to unknown places, with just a little knowledge of the places. And that was what I was looking for. A real adventure. I just took my stuff, went to the airport and left, without thinking twice. I chose 5 really good waves around the world, but didn\’t know how to get there. That was the spirit.
What did you pack?
I had 5 boards (the biggest a 6”9’), a couple of wetsuits, a tent, a sleeping bag and a knife. You know, the basics.
Before you left, did you have any concerns for your trip?
I really didn’t know much and I wasn’t interested in knowing. I wanted to get to the places and ask around, find things out and get involved. Even if I could’ve had the information before I left, I wasn’t interested in that. For example, I knew there were lots of bears in Alaska, but I learnt more about them when I got there and asked the locals. Then I realised that you really need a gun or bear spray.
For your first trip, did you set any specific goals for yourself?
Well, I think for everything in life you need a goal. There is no meaning if there is nothing to focus on. I was looking for perfect waves and dreaming of solitary barrels, but on the way wanted to meet people and friends. Now when I see the photos from the trips, I really enjoy seeing photos of the people I met. That is the real experience and that’s what you carry back. It’s amazing to film it and share that with people on the internet. It makes me happy to influence and inspirit others, as I am very thankful to Jack London because of writing those books.
You did ‘5 Waves 5 continents’ in 2010 and then ‘The Last Frontier’ in 2011. How did your goals for The Last Frontier differ to those you achieved with your first trip?
Every experience is different. I have to say that in 5 Waves 5 Continents, that was the first time I travelled by myself, and that was all new to me. By myself in Africa, I was feeling alone and needed to meet people. Sometimes you need protection or feel bored, and then you find people, waves and life is good! I also broke up with my girlfriend so I was kind of more sensitive. The whole experience depends of your emotional state too. But the Last Frontier was great, exploring places where no surfers have ever been, surfing in the middle of wild spaces with the animals and nature. That was such a great trip.
Do you ever get homesick or lonely when you are away on these trips?
Yes, I come from a culture here in the Basque country where we have roots that are very united to our country, so I feel homesick sometimes, but it’s always worth it, to leave. On one side, you get to know other places, but you also get to know your own country and appreciate every little thing when you are back home. You learn to see your home culture from a more open-minded perspective.
What do you miss most when you are away from home?
I miss my girlfriend, friends, family and my dog mostly and also, the Basque culture. But there is a lot too see out there, home is always waiting if you want. That is why I love to get lost, search for waves and breathe life and enjoy every little thing, every single day like a gift.
What were some of the challenges you experienced along the way? Well, there were a lot of hard moments. Days before leaving to Alaska, I questioned myself, ‘Am I really gonna do this? Alone? Searching for waves?’ It´s already a physical challenge before you leave, but also psychological because you really have to face your fears and not think twice. Also being out there surfing in a place like One Palm point by myself. Those places that you really have to want to get barreled and pay the consequences if something happens. There are moments that you spend days or weeks alone and you don’t get any waves, don’t meet anyone. These times require a great deal of effort, but it’s worth it. You learn to face the bad times by yourself, which I think is essential in life.
Was there any time you had a dangerous encounter?
Yeah, I had a couple… When I was in Alaska, I met a good friend called Nico from Chile, and we were walking in the middle of wilderness, exploring the coast. We had our guns and bear spray because there are a lot of dangers around there. After walking for an hour, we felt like our feet were going deeper and deeper down the sand and we realised that we were in the middle of a huge bay and it was all quicksand. We didn’t know what to do. I was a bit lighter than my friend Nico, so my feet weren’t going as deep as his, and I could walk faster than him. He was behind me and every time I looked back, but he was getting further and further away. I could see his face and he was desperate. For a moment, I really thought he wasn’t gonna make it and there was nothing that I could do. If you get stuck there for a few seconds, then you’re done. I finally found some solid land and much later, I saw my friend Nico made it! That was a tough one. It’s so hard to see your friend nearly gone and there’s nothing you can do. It was one of those experiences that you get to know a lot each other in the middle of the wilderness. Maybe you get to know someone more in 15 days, than in a lifetime with a mate at home. Now Nico and I are really good friends.
“I was waiting for a swell to happen for two weeks. There was such rough weather with rain and strong winds. After all that, one day there was beautiful weather—sun and perfect wind. And it happened…perfect waves and barrels out there by myself, in the middle of nature, with nothing else but me. After patiently waiting for it, it definitely feels much better when you work hard and then you score! I was screaming from being so stoked. At that moment everything makes sense.”
What is one of the most memorable moments from your trip?
The best moment was probably in Patagonia. I was waiting for a swell to happen for two weeks. There was such rough weather with rain and strong winds. After all that, one day there was beautiful weather—sun and perfect wind. And it happened…perfect waves and barrels out there by myself, in the middle of nature, with nothing else but me. After patiently waiting for it, it definitely feels much better when you work hard and then you score! I was screaming from being so stoked. At that moment everything makes sense. But yeah, once you go back home and see the photos, the most memorable moments are with the people and family you meet. People that I shared so many good moments with, that I’ll probably never see again. They’re the experiences that you never forget.
How did you get around?
I did everything. Boat, ferries, airplanes, trains, walked, hitchhiked and sometimes rented a car. Whatever happens on the way, that’s the beauty.
You have a couple of clips that feature locals, some of which you stayed with. How did these experiences enrich your trip?
Traveling alone and by land you get to know lots of people and it’s easy to introduce yourself. In Africa, I had a relationship with a tribe, people who lived 500 years ago, they had an absolute different way of seeing life. In Alaska, I spent so much time by myself that I was starting to go crazy so I started knocking on house doors, just to meet people. Some of the people were very nice and hospitable, I had dinner and stayed with people that I didn’t know. In Chile, I found a man who was 116 years old and still planting tomatoes on the land. He said the reason he has lived so long is because he’s always been single. Hahahaha…probably true!
What was one of the greatest lessons you learnt from this trip?
You learn a lot, I don´t know, the experience is so complex, that it’s hard to say. I think you become to be a better person after this sort of experience. You find lots of people that help you, so the least you can do is learn to be the same with others. You also find yourself so alone sometimes that you learn to keep going and not give. You are stronger for life, I guess. You know your weaknesses and face them and also you see your place back home with an open-minded perspective. You see people, cultures and different ways of living and you become more humble too. I think you become another person after a trip like this.
Do you have any regrets?
You never regret of a personal experience like this, but sometimes I think that while you are exploring and sharing your stories on the internet, there is a danger of revealing these unknown places to the world and they become over-exposed because of you. I wouldn’t like that to happen because of me. I try to not expose places, just share an experience, not about the places, but about the feelings I have and try to transmit that without losing the magic of every place I visit. I want the next person who finds it to find it the same way and enjoy it like I did. I have to recognise this aspect of sharing these trips, as I think a lot about it.
Is there anything you would do differently in future?
Definitely not. I like the way I travel—very simply, with just a bit of money. I don’t have the money to do it any other way, anyway!
What part of the world sticks in your head now that you are home? Indonesia is where my heart lives. Obviously because of the waves, but also because of the people, the happiness, simple life, culture and weather. I have so many good friends over there, I just love it.
What does the ocean mean to you?
It means freedom. I feel free out there. It is my temple, where I can connect easily with nature.
Do you consider surfing a sport or art?
It’s a sport and also art. But for me, surf is where I reflect my philosophy on life. I love travelling and surfing and I put my life and passion into it. It is my way of living. For me, surfing it is a way to be in a close relationship with nature, but also a way to get into a close relationship with the cultures and the people and that is all the experience that you carry back home. So it’s not only about the waves, it goes up another dimension.
Where do you plan to go from here? What plans do you have for future ventures?
I am planning to do a new project soon called ‘5 Seas’ and I plan to explore different seas around the world. I will go to Antarctica on a sailboat in December. That is my future—keep exploring and enjoying life!