Last month we were invited down to the London Surf Film Festival by the guys at Reef, bringing together the UK Surf community to celebrate international surf culture and the best of British surf at some of the most iconic cinema venues across London.
On the closing night of the event we headed down to Regent Street cinema where there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. During the night we had the chance to sit down and sink a couple of cold ones with all round legend and world renowned surf explorer Kepa Acero, fresh off the plane from shredding the waters of Ireland. Check the full Kepa interview below…
Hi Kepa, I hear you just flew in from Ireland, how was it?
It was beautiful man, I saw the swell was coming so I flew there and we camped everyday for seven nights. It was cobblestone reefs which shaped the waves really well.
No not really, like 13, so I just had 4/3 and booties, it wasn’t too bad.
You’re renowned for surfing some of the most remote waves in the world, places like Antarctic and Angola. What is it you’re trying to achieve personally from doing these epic trips?
For me it’s about being curious about an unknown part of the world, and the discovery. I’ll be at home looking at my globe and think…hey, you know there must be waves there! And that makes me feel alive. Sometimes there are and sometimes there aren’t, but it’s the not knowing that is part of the buzz.
Have you ever re-visited a place, or is it more about the buzz of initial discovery?
Well sometimes you meet people in different places and become very close to them, so you want to go back and visit them. And some places just become very special through personal experience so I will always have the desire to go back and re-visit them.
Surfing different waves all over the world and such diverse climates means you are constantly switching up your boards and changing your wetsuits to adapt to the waves and the temperature. Does it ever feel hard to get into a bit of a rhythm?
For me whenever I find a world class wave, I completely forget about the temperature. And there is something very beautiful in that because you really do just forget about everything – not just the temperature or how I am surfing. For me, I’m just trying to find a beautiful wave and enjoy that experience. I have been focussing on travelling and surfing Africa because it is very difficult socially and politically, so I suppose the connection and the spirituality comes before my surfing ability as such.
Are there any experiences that stand out particularly on your travels?
Of course there are a lot, and most of these moments happen when you don’t have the camera on. When I was surfing in Angola, I was surfing by myself on a beautiful left-hander and there was no one around so I was feeling very introspective. All of a sudden a whale came and popped up about 20 meters in front of me, and this thing is absolutely huge. After being on your own for so long you feel a connection with that animal and its moments like that you know you will never forget.
Travelling solo has become your trademark so to speak. Do you feel travelling that way pushes you to interact with people more?
Yes, and strangely I think I really travel alone so I can meet more people if that makes sense. Even though i’m alone I still feel the need to document and share my experiences. I’m inspired by a lot of travel writers and I always think well, even they have shared their experience in there own way by releasing a book about their time.
Do you have a favourite travel writer?
Well when I was travelling Alaska I was reading a lot of Jack London. I also like Jack Kerouac and another guy called Paul Theroux.
Is there anyone that you have met on your travels that particularly stands out in your mind?
In the first trip I did by myself in Namibia I had a special experience with a family I stayed with for about 2 weeks. They were very poor but super happy, and thats kind of gives you a lesson you know? We live in a western culture and have a certain perception of progression, but I think maybe we should focus less on capitalism and more on happiness. Don’t get me wrong we have good things but I feel we should take on some of their values also.
There was also a moment in Alaska where I was by myself for a long time, and I felt I really needed to meet some people. I was knocking on houses to ask directions, even though I knew where I was, and one guy let me in. I stayed with him and his family for about a week, it was a great experience and you learn a lot interacting with other cultures.
Do you feel more wary of nature or humankind when travelling alone?
Well it is different in each place, but for example certain cities in Africa you need to be more careful of people because unfortunately they are very poor and they are looking for money.
One night in Rwanda, which is a very dangerous city, I had nowhere to stay and I had expensive camera equipment and money and things on me, so I put my belongings in a plastic bag and made myself look more of a vagabond by covering myself in dirt that way I felt less vulnerable sleeping on the street.
How much freedom do your sponsors allow you to have on these trips? Is it mainly your concepts and ideas or do they ever pitch in with things they’d like you to do?
Well when I first had the idea I went to the sponsors and I said I have this idea to travel the world for remote waves, and I want to do it solo. And they said well yeah that’s great but how are you going to film yourself surfing waves? We’re not going to pay for that… So then I said well, I’m going to do it anyway. And I did and it was successful in terms of working out methods of documenting myself, and the reception it got. So the next year they told me okay we’re going to support you on this. And truthfully I am very lucky to have my sponsors, but if I didn’t I would still be doing it anyway. And I do it all my way with my own identity and make the most of every experience and stay true to what I believe in.
I think that is what a lot of people really enjoy about you…
Yeah, and I was talking with a friend of mine who is 77 who was saying he feels like he was 35 like me yesterday, and it is real like that, time goes so fast and I know sometimes we don’t want to see that, but I want to get to that age and look back and say okay, I had a good run, I did great things.
I also have quite a close relationship with death because it is so close to me all the time, so I try to have a good understanding and a positive relationship with it. We live in a cultural society where people don’t like to talk about it, but for me it keeps everything in a good perspective. It’s going to happen anyway, and all we really have is the time right now in present moments… it makes you appreciate those moments a lot more.
You’re an ambassador for Reef, which has such a great team and is very diverse in that it has so many different personalities. Where do you feel your identity fits in to the team?
There’s many different personalities I guess that’s a marketing perspective, but there’s many types of surfers in the industry. I appreciate what the competitive guys are doing, they are pushing the boundaries technically in the sport, and then there are other guys like me who are doing other things in free surfing, I respect what everyone is doing in their own way.
Surfing itself has grown and is so diverse now with many different characters. Where do you feel you fit in the grander scheme of things within surfing right now?
I just try to be open minded. I think the internet is great, everyone does there own thing and can represent themselves differently in surfing, but I still don’t think you can really categorise everyone.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I actually take a lot of my inspiration from other sports, like climbing. I find a lot of similarities between surfers and climbers, and I like to look at other sports and people’s philosophies outside of surfing. In one of the movie’s they were showing tonight I thought it was great when Wayne Lynch said about finding similarities within the Aboriginals dancing and relating it to surfing, with finding a rhythm. I think Art in general is about that, and being able to express yourself, that’s what I feel I’m doing when I surf.
You’re lucky enough to call one of the best waves in Europe, and for a few hours on a low tide the world, your home. Do you feel Mundaka is perhaps more localised than other spots at times?
Well, I think this is the dark spot of surfing. We have something we really appreciate and love, and unfortunately mother nature only provides us with so many waves! Say in one period there are 100 waves, there’s 200 surfers so its human nature to compete and fight for what you love, no? But I think there needs to be a balance. Travellers need to try and be as respectful as they can, and locals need to be a little more open minded. When I surf other spots I try to get there and understand the place and how it works, and be respectful.
The trouble with Mundaka can be that it produces a world class wave, but only for a very short period of time. It’s like Cinderella! [Laughs]
A privilege of travelling far and wide for remote waves is that there are no crowds. Out of all the places you’ve surfed, have you ever seen anything particularly gnarly in terms of localism?
Yes, there are a few places I have seen some heavy shit. I’ve seen cars burning, sometimes people go out for surf and upset someone and when they come back out the water there car is on fire. That and you know, just a lot of heavy fights and drowning’s, but that stuff is very sad. Like I say – the dark side of surfing. It breaks up the energy in the water.
Have you ever surfed England?
Yeah man, Fistral Beach and all that area. That was when I was doing more competitive surfing, It’s a very beautiful place. Even the roads out there with the scenery is amazing. I went to Bude as well actually, the surf was pretty good I remember that time.
Do you ever have any regrets with the path you’ve chosen? I guess it makes it hard to lead a traditional life, with the wife and kids and stuff?
Well sometimes I go home and I see my friends with the wife and kids and everything and I think… Fuck, what am I doing with my life [Laughs], but I think that is just a natural feeling to have. And I am really focussed on what I’m doing, and I think every person’s path in life will always have a consequence.
Theres the legendary story of you surfing butt naked in Africa. I gotta ask, what was the rash situation down below with that, had to be heavy !?[Laughs] No, the problem is actually sunburn on my ass, I had to sun cream it up pretty good! It’s hot out there man! I don’t know, I was completely alone and the concept of wearing shorts just seemed to not make any sense, so I thought, why not..
Best surf movie?
I think it has to be Searching for Tom Curren
Would you rather hit the Reef or have a long pin down?
I think a hold down. Reef hurts! I hit my head and broke my board pretty bad in Indo not long ago. I think drowning would be pretty painless!
Strangest place you’ve signed an autograph?
I had to sign The Reef girls, you know… on the butts.
Wow how many of them?
15 or something…!
Wow that’s pretty epic, you get any digits?
No No [Laughs]
Last time you wore a tie?
Ahh man…. Weddings! And even then I bring my Reef shoes and just colour them black!
Bums or Boobs?
Boobs for me I think.
Would you rather surf a body board or a SUP for the rest of your life?
I realise that there is a different thing for each wave like an instrument for each piece of music… But I really hate SUPS sometimes [laughs]. Probably a bodyboard!
A huge thanks to Canoe and to Reef for their hospitality at the LSFF. Head over to www.reef.com for more
Words & Images: Mickey Thomas