On a wild road trip through the Americas, a pair of adventurous surfers cast their fate to the wind…and three wheels.
Words by Sam George | Photos by Luke Alcorn with Leo Hetzel
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Throughout my 40-plus years of international surf travel and exploration, I’ve encountered plenty of eccentric, “road less traveled” devotees on the barefoot pilgrim’s trail. But only very occasionally do you meet those who have taken their offbeat surfaris to such extreme lengths that even the most seasoned surf adventurers shake their heads.
Meet Luke Alcorn and Fumi Ishizaki, two surfers who completed an extraordinary road trip in May of 2020: driving from Mexico City to Patagonia in a tuk tuk. Yes, a tuk tuk: one of those tiny, motorized rickshaws found putt-putting through congested roundabouts in exotic cities like Bangkok, Colombo, or Mumbai, serving—so long as no steep hills are in sight—as single-passenger taxis or grocery-delivery carts. Three wheels. Small cabin. Handlebar controls. A single driver’s seat and passenger-storage space in the rear. As vehicles, they are almost ridiculous. The average golf cart is more formidable. Tuk tuks are in no way intended or suitable for a perilous, transcontinental road trip through Central and South America.
But in the summer of 2017, that was exactly what Alcorn and Ishizaki set out to accomplish, their tiny tuk tuk loaded down with two adults, a meager array of worldly goods, five surfboards, and no toilet. With Alcorn at the handlebars and Ishizaki perched on a makeshift seat behind, the pair made their way down the coast of Mainland Mexico through the mountains of Guatemala, nicking the corner of Honduras, and back to the sea in El Salvador while skirting Lake Nicaragua.
They spent the summer of 2019 broken down on Costa Rica’s fabled Osa Peninsula before rolling into Panama. From there, they flew the tuk tuk to Bogotá, Colombia (with less hassle than shipping their boards), loaded back up and proceeded down the coast, sailing through their umpteenth border crossing into Ecuador and along its coast, on to Peru and up into the Andes, then back to the coast and Chicama. Then to Lima and
Miraflores, before pushing their way into Chile, climbing east over the mountains into Argentina. They stayed along the coast before crossing back over the tip of the continent into Patagonia. There, they finally coasted to a halt, having successfully navigated all the miles and jungles and rivers and mountains, with challenges innumerable, across an entire continent.
At this point in the saga, let’s address the pair’s personal narratives, before the tuk tuk. Alcorn was hardly the first kid from Sydney’s grimy eastern suburbs who became enamored with his country’s surfing life, and who, on the day of receiving his first driver’s license, lit out north on the Pacific Highway to the Gold Coast. Or who, in the fine tradition of his “country soul” predecessors, eventually loaded everything up into a converted bus for a Down Under driveabout, eschewing rent checks for life on the road in a Rolling Home redux. Nor was Ishizaki the first young Japanese woman who, shrugging off so many of her native country’s social conventions, chose a life as foreign to her parents as could be imagined. Granted, even in her teens Ishizaki took her freedom of movement a bit further than most, bucking a conventional educational arc by traveling to the forests of Borneo, where she lived with an indigenous tribe while studying rainforest pharmaceuticals and hunting monkeys with blowguns. She might have stayed there forever under the canopy, marrying into the tribe and going fully feral, had she not, while on R&R in Sri Lanka and in her own words, “met surfing.” Not to mention a handsome, dark-eyed Aussie surfer named Luke. And her first tuk tuk.
These sorts of remarkable backstories can, in fact, be heard wherever surf sojourners gather in far-flung corners of the world—Padang’s old Batang Arau Hotel, the campground at Lafitenia, Restaurante Punta Roca in La Libertad. At these and many other stops on The Endless Summer’s devotional trail, one is bound to encounter plenty of hardcore travelers.
But I can say this: I have never met a simpler, more authentic, more pure pair of travelers. Judged not merely by the chosen mode of travel but by what this humble little tuk tuk represents: the how of their travels. No pretense. No expectations. Able to laugh at the absurdity of their intentions yet resolutely moving forward, albeit on the highway shoulder. Confronting myriad trials and joys with an equanimity fostered at the handlebars of an overloaded trike whose top speed rarely exceeds 20 mph. Smiling at the unfamiliar miles scrolling slowly under their three wheels, confident that these new worlds encountered will smile back for no other reason than because the sight of two surfers—one from Australia, the other from Japan—scaling mountains, fording rivers, and traversing continents in a tuk tuk is just about the craziest thing anyone’s ever seen.
So what did Alcorn and Ishizaki do when they reached their destination? They simply fired up the tuk tuk and in a pandemic-beating rush (at 20 mph, remember), crossed back across the Patagonian cordillera into Argentina, pointed north up the continent’s east coast with the prevailing southwest wind at their back, then went back into Santiago with borders snapping shut behind them the whole way. After finding a kind Chilean family who happily agreed to store the tuk tuk, they caught a flight out of Arturo Merino Benítez Airport and winged their way home to Sydney.
After two and a half years on the road in their kooky conveyance, with countless rainwater showers, shorebreak toilet trips, and camp-stove cookouts, Alcorn and Ishizaki found themselves guests of a five-star Sydney hotel with fresh towels, robes, room service, and a harbor view. While revelling, characteristically, in their prevailing good fortune, both were already champing at the bit to get back to Chile and their beloved tuk tuk.