In 1987, a young man named Adrian Kojin rode his motorcycle down the Pan American Highway with a camera, a surfboard, and a few bags slung around his rig like a Brazilian cross between Easy Rider and Mad Max. He spent the next eight months traveling some 15,000 miles through 14 countries: from California to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and finally Brazil. It had no credit cards, only a few thousand dollars in cash, and being in the 20th century, there were no cell phones, GPS, forecasting technology, or surf stations to speak of. Adrian camped or crashed anywhere. He surfed a lot alone. He spent weeks without speaking to anyone at home while wandering, solo, through a notoriously sketchy region where just about every country experienced some sort of sociopolitical conflict: civil wars, dictatorships, narco guerrillas.
Yes, Adrian saw some of this, encountered some of that, and photographed what he could. However, he mostly found friendship, perfection, and freedom in its rawest, most minimalist form.
Perhaps you have heard of him. Surfer Magazine had a feast with Kojin’s words and images the following year, and those articles catapulted him into a successful career in surf media, which included a decade as editorial director of Fluir magazineand later, the Brazilian edition of The Surfer’s Diary. Meanwhile, Adrian continued to explore the Americas. He even ran a hotel in the Caribbean of Costa Rica before the 1991 earthquake forced him to return to Maresias, on the northern coast of his native state of São Paulo, where he wrote a book, Alma Panamerican (Pan American Soul)based on the diary he kept during his epic journey, published in 1994.
“Nobody wanted me to go there,” he recalls. “All these countries were at war, and it was a really difficult time for the whole region. I had some problems, which I write about in the book. There were no photographers in these places and I had to travel with my gear at all times. So I was really worried about taking the camera out in a lot of places because people were rushing at me, like, ‘Hey, what are you doing!? You from the CIA!’ Most of the time, however, people were happy to see me. Many would welcome me. It’s amazing how nice people can be to a stranger. I didn’t know the impact it would have on my life at the time, but this trip transformed me. It also launched my career as a surf journalist.
Now 59, Adrian Kojin is starting over. From August 2022 to April 2023, it will retrace its classic route from California to Brazil. And this time, he won’t just have a few fine print relics to show off. He will have a movie.
“Five years ago was the 30th anniversary of the expedition, and from a journalist’s perspective, I thought it would be nice to get back on the road and make a documentary film of it. Because everything has changed so much in surfing, maybe more than in any other sport or lifestyle, especially in these places. But at the same time, the feeling is the same.
“We had everything planned,” he continues. “We had Triumph the motorcycle manufacturer behind us, we had a production company in Brazil. But then the pandemic came and everything was called off. At some point afterwards my kids told me about crowdfunding , which was totally new to me. They were like, ‘Dad, this is the way to go! You can involve a lot more people and make it a collaboration, enlisting photographers and filmmakers along the way. So , a new project was underway.
Knowing full well that supporters deserve to get something tangible out of the project, Adrian decided to use an old adventure to create new leverage for his Indiegogo campaign.
“For years people have asked me to translate my book, which is written in Portuguese, into English, so I hired an American publisher from The Surfer’s Diary to make a good review of it, and there will be three versions: a digital one, a printed one with text only, and a large table book with all the photos from the trip, and with that you automatically get the digital version. I will launch the book to promote crowdfunding and use crowdfunding to promote the book. My former colleague from flow did all the art direction and we created some really great t-shirts, prints and posters to give away as rewards along the way.
This time around, Kojin is driving a van, a Toyota Sienna 2000 – the white panels of which he will invite people to write messages or draw pictures like an inspirational mobile gallery – plus an electric bike in tow to access some of the most isolated breaks from the North Pacific to the South Atlantic. He already has five routes programmed for solo exploration on his Alpha Murf e-bike.
“It was something that came to mind after talking to my son, who said, ‘Electric is the future, dad! Getting around without polluting the planet so much. So, I’m going to park the van somewhere safe, grab my camping gear and two batteries, put it all on the e-bike and head out into the desert There’s a wave in Peru that looks like Desert Point, but I can’t get there access because of the sand dunes. In this case, the electric bike can be even better than the motorbike. There are places in the Atacama desert and southern Chile where this access by bike will be excellent! Even in Costa Rica, there are beachbreaks and reefbreaks that people don’t surf very often as the access is difficult.
That’s not the only postmodern technology Adrian will use. All of the digital conveniences available in our interconnected world – from cell phones to social media to online predictions – will be integral to this mission to contact sources, engage audiences and, most importantly, maximize clip yield. (and the number of waves). And while surfing and adventure is the main focus, Adrian will also report on relevant environmental and social issues. But it won’t necessarily be a first-person narrative.
“It was never going to be about my adventure, my surfing,” he insists. “I will be more of a documentary filmmaker. That crazy surfer is still inside of me, but I approach it with a more journalistic eye. From the beginning, I asked myself: ‘How can I make it simple?’ Well for one thing my crew is me [laughs], but after all my years as a publisher, I found this big network of great people, like Edwin Morales in Mexico for example. And since there are talented local photographers or videographers everywhere I go, why not work with them and show their point of view instead? They always have the best stories, so I want them to show me what’s going on, bring me into their communities, and introduce me to new kids coming in. I also want to dig into their archives to fill in the gaps needed to provide an overview. For example, if I meet Greg Long in Puerto, I will definitely interview him. But I’ll always need a surf shot [laughs].”
“I’ve been taking pictures and posting them forever,” he adds, “so I can do a lot of the photography myself, like the interviews. I love the GoPro because the quality is so good now, and you can get the clips right away, fix them, change the light… It also reduces the cost of having a crew, so we can split the profits between the local photographers and videographers. I already have a bunch to help me make the documentary, and I’m hoping the crowdfunding will work out so I can pay them accordingly.
Tell-tale interviews and cultural b-roll aside, Adrian understands that hot action is imperative for any surf production. And since getting skunk is out of the question, he’ll work closely with Surfline from start to finish. “Surfline is the only tool that really makes a difference for travelers these days,” he says. “They know better than anyone when and where to go, so I work with their forecasters to maximize wave counts and shoot days. On the initial trip, I was very skunky. I would be stuck in places for a week or more, wasting ten days without even seeing a wave. It won’t happen this time. I won’t go anywhere without checking the forecast. Then it’s just about finding the right people, seeing old friends again, making new friends, and putting my heart into it.
While satisfying his own wanderlust, Adrian will keep his eyes and ears open to all developments – the good, the bad and the ugly – and relay them via his Instagram, @panamericansoul2022. Ultimately, he hopes the final product will appeal to anyone who respects personal freedom, environmental protection and, above all, a love of nature, the ocean and humanity. .
“I’m really excited about it because there’s so much to show, so much change both positive and negative,” he says. “Some ruptures have been destroyed by overdevelopment, but others have been saved. Many of them are world surf reserves. Some places are overcrowded now, but look what surfing has done for those other poor countries, like Nicaragua, where surfing has brought in a lot of money and tourism. The same thing is currently happening in El Salvador. When I went they hadn’t seen anyone surfing in years because of the war. Now they want to be the surfing capital of Central America, and they market it as such. There are now five star accommodations in Chicama, surf/snow operations in Chile, surf schools everywhere and the whole region is a great talent pool!
“And then there’s the other side, the pure adventure side,” concludes Adrian. “There are still many places where people rarely, if ever, surf. I won’t give names or places, but I want to inspire people to stretch out. Because when you look at a map of the world, there’s so much space, but most of the time everyone goes to a surf camp now, and we kind of forgot the roots of surf travel. And I’m not a surf star, I’m just that local guy. Certainly, as a journalist, I have more contacts, but I just want to show that anyone can do it. Anyone can buy an old van, a truck or a motorcycle, hit the road, really exchange with other cultures…
And meet just enough people to see that we’re all the same.