Europe's 5 Best Summer Surf Trips
How to make sense of the summer madness without leaving European shores
Summer and surfing are obvious, natural bedfellows. Long hot days and balmy blue seas only add to the powerful lure of the surf ride, and a host of post-surf festivities, played out in beach car parks, campsites and boites de nuit, offer further appeal to surfers seeking intoxication, courtship, or perhaps merely self-expression through the medium of dance.
There's a catch, of course. Well, several. Summer can also mean flat, listless oceans, crazy crowds, devil onshore winds and perhaps worse of all, that creeping sensation that everyone else is at some awesome party that you haven't been invited to. Then come the conundrums: stay at home and make the most of the relative warmth at your local, or double down on fun and head to premium surf zones for peak season revelry. Escape the Atlantic doldrums altogether and head to Indo, Tahiti or Mexico, or take a chance and go north, forsaking sunbeams for the chance of scoring uncrowded high latitude gold.
We can't answer those questions for you. You'll have to search deep into your own heart and soul — and wallet. But what we can do is point you in the direction of 5 European summer surf trips that merit your attention (1-2 per summer for the next few years would be a sterling effort).
SW France in summer is basically just one big cliché, peopled almost exclusively by clichés: naked men parading their nakedness up and down the beach, very often shaven for the purpose, pendulous dongs swinging this way and that; young women with heavenly bare bosoms; older women with tits like football socks carrying €42.50 in change; clueless tourists thronging the lineup; angry Frenchmen shouting at the clueless tourists; Basques passing around their joints of hashish; white folk with dreadlocks and rodent-like faces living out of vans etc.
Then there’s the red wine, the rosé, the pastries, the hungover walks across the dunes, the search for a decent sandbank; the finally finding same, barrelling off its perfectly shaped bristols, only to watch the wind swing/the tide get too high/hundreds of other cunts turn up while you’re getting changed.
And the summer surf trip to SW France is the biggest cliché of all. Clichés, to quote Martin Amis, are instances of herd-thinking, and there will definitely be a fuck-off massive herd to contend with, or rather to join. But clichés are often unfairly maligned. They are warm, comforting and fun, and their more insidious tendencies can be staved off with the right combination of condescension, magnanimity and irony.
North Coast of Spain
North Spain feels somehow like a slightly more grown-up version of the SW France trip. The Basque Country is obviously debauched to its core if that’s the sort of thing you’re after, but as you head west a mellower pace prevails.
There’s more to see and do when it’s flat, and more to see and do when it’s not flat, for that matter, for what it lacks in world-class beach breaks it makes up for in variety of coastline and scenery. For similar reasons, the daily sea breeze isn’t nearly so devilish, and is unlikely to scupper your shred of an afternoon. Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, in ascending order of swell magnetism, all reward exploration in and out the water; make your way westward as required.
South swells aren’t actually a place, of course, but a happening, a meteorological phenomenon that occurs with increasing frequency in the European summer. While the northern hemisphere takes a break from swell-generating duties, the southern hemisphere rumbles and rages, but the same swells that fire up Skeleton Bay can also make it as far north as Europe.
Macaronesia is arguably the worst of all the “-esias”, with the possible exception of Rhodesia, but that’s no reason to write it off altogether. It comprises four archipelagos — the Azores, Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verde — each of which harbours various passable-to-epic south-swell set-ups.
People often omit the second “a” in Macaronesia, in mistaken opposition to Micronesia, but actually it comes from makárōn, Greek for blessed or fortunate. I have to say that doesn’t square with my experience of the place. Still, for a summer surf excursion with a difference, to find thumping long range groundswells, a timely swell chase to the southern coasts of the Atlantic Isles - or perhaps best yet a non-surf holiday to one of them pleasantly interrupted by a thumping southern hemi - could well be the summer surf trip of your life.
The Great British Seaside
The restorative effects of the Great British seaside have been axiomatic for centuries; a few lungfuls of coastal air are worth any amount of pills or fat-free yogurts, as any good apothecary knows. And while in terms of decent-quality surf it may not be the best place in the world, in terms of squalid charm it has few real rivals.
But where to? England or Wales? Cornwall or Devon? West coast or east? In many ways the question’s moot. Wherever you decide there’s unlikely to be much swell, even in the South West, where the wind is “fingered 99.9% of the time” anyway.
Speaking of which, fingering/getting fingered in the dunes/behind a timber groyne draped in seaweed is a rite of passage every Great British man/woman should undergo at some point. A friend of mine (Mark Lamming) claims he once saw a UFO whilst doing some fingering in his favourite dune (Hemsby), and though there’s no guarantee the same thing will happen to you, it’s maybe worth a try?
“The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.”
That’s from Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, considered by many to be the greatest short story in the language. It’s admittedly quite a wintery story and mentioning it in an article on summer surf trips is maybe pushing it, but I’m reaching the end of my tether here. Anyhow, it does make one want to go to Ireland, no?
Wherever you go in summertime there’s a decent chance of getting skunked, but if you get skunked on a surf trip to Ireland, well, at least you’ll be in Ireland, which is possibly the best place to get skunked ever. And if you don’t get skunked, if there’s swell in the water and the wind is behaving itself, circumstances which are not unheard of, it’s probably the best place not to get skunked too.