Ericeira: A Surf Tripper's Guide
The finest stretch of surfing real estate in Europe? Probably
An Ericeira surf trip may well be the best surf trip possible on European shores.
A number of factors combine to make this stretch of Portugal's central coast so desirable to the travelling surfer, foremost amongst them a higher concentration of quality waves than anywhere else on the continent, the wide diversity of surf breaks, and the close proximity of the more sheltered Peniche and Lisbon areas.
But you'll be needing some local knowledge to guide you on your travels -- where to stay, when to go, what to bring, where to surf, that sort of thing.
Enter lensman supremo Ricardo Bravo!
Pointbreaks, reefbreaks, beachbreaks, you name it. Most are righthanders.
When to go
October to March if you are after some adrenaline and deep barrels. The rest of the year is perfect for some fun waves and party time during the long summer nights of July and August.
What kind of wetsuit will I need?
A 4/3mm wetsuit for winter months, 3/2 for spring and summer. Boots will come in handy at spots like Coxos with sharp rocks and sea urchins all over the place.
Which surfboard will I need?
There’s a lot of different waves to surf, so do bring more than one surfboard. Your regular 6’0 or 6’1 will get you through most days, but it’s definitely a good idea to pack a 6’6 too for the big days at Coxos. A set coming from west (called "the motherfucker set" by the locals) can easily break a few surfboards in the lineup, so be prepared to buy yourself a new step-up surfboard from premier local shaper Semente…
With such variety of surf spots, you can surf any swell at Ericeira. A small north swell might keep you out of the water, but even then, there’s always another wave around corner to check… Just make sure there’s some east or southeast wind and go for the early morning surf check at Ribeira de Ilhas (from the top of the hill you can see the conditions at 4 different spots) and make your decision.
Best waves in Ericeira
Coxos is definitely the Queen with its heavy sectioning barrels and long walls. It's the perfect place to improve your tube riding abilities and speed control, and also to snap surfboards/leashes, test your swimming abilities against the powerful current that runs through the inside, and practice timing the period between sets as you from sharp rocks.
Pedra Branca, the only lefthander of the 4 best spots in Ericeira, has a super shallow (and tight, given the local bodyboarding crew) take-off zone, but if you make it you’ll be rewarded with a wide barrel. Reef can’t handle a big swell but does deliver amazing barrels from 3 to 6ft. And then there’s the super famous Ribeira de Ilhas -- a not so easy wave to read, but where all mistakes are forgiven.
[Plus the terrifyingly shallow slab known as the Cave, famously tackled by Slater in 2014, is within striking distance. Stay well clear if you value the present arrangement of your facial features.]
The Ericeira region
Ericeira lies about 50km northwest of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Since the beginning, Ericeira was a land of fisherman. In 1229, when the region of Ericeira as we know it today was founded, we can find the first written reference to those brave men hunting whales and other sea creatures. Until recently, many people believed the name Ericeira (from Ouriceira) had its origins in the sea urchins (ouriço in Portuguese), but a symbol of the village was recently discovered depicting a porcupine (also called ouriço in Portuguese), which is also the symbol of the Phoenician goddess Astarte. This consolidates the thesis that the origins of this village -- now surrounded by an excess of modern buildings, introduced with a frightening lack of urban planning -- date back to 1000 years BC and the time of the Phoenicians. Nowadays, you can still feel some of the history of the place in its narrow stone-paved streets, the ancient churches and the old yellow surfboard hanging on the port, right next to the freshly painted fishing boats and artefacts typical of the area.
Best surf in Portugal
Peniche surfers might tell you otherwise, but when some serious swell hits the coast and the east wind blows, Ericeira is definitely the place to be. If you like to walk around with your board, or if you can’t stretch your budget anymore, truth is you don’t even need a car. Find a place to stay close to Ribeira de Ilhas (halfway between Coxos and Pedra Branca) and start walking with your thumb up. Worst case scenario you’ll get to the beach with the warm up already done.
Accommodation in Ericeira
You can find something for any taste or budget. The camp site is quite good with wooden bungalows dedicated to surfers. Then there’s Ribeira de Ilhas surf camp right on the spot, the fancy Vila Galé hotel two steps from the ocean, the Beachtour apartments and some small bed and breakfasts in the centre. If you’re staying for a month or more during the Winter, you should consider renting a small house.
To get in the water without taking a good look at the conditions. A recent news item told of an amateur water photographer jumping into Coxos like it was a regular beachbreak. Ten minutes later and after a lot of hard swimming and pounding, he was desperately trying to stand up on the rocks on the other side of the bay just to find a way out.
A night out in Summer, starting at Largo do Campo da Bola, mixing it up with the families on vacation and the locals and listening to popular live music. From there, you can have a go at La Luna or any of the other bars at Navegantes for some beers. To finish you definitely need to go at Ouriço. This well know disco started to pump up Ericeira nights back in 1960 and its still on! That’s the place you’ll meet the locals you saw in the water during the day and probably (and hopefully) some tourist girls looking for some serious fun. If you’re the ultimate party boy, head to Lisbon and go straight to Lux where you can keep the party on until the morning surrounded by top model goddesses. More recently, surfers also tend to go out in BBC, in Lisbon, close to the river.
Watch out for
Sea urchins and sharp rocks. Both can be really painful. Also cops on the road…during day time they hide speed radars on roads that cross small villages where the speed limit is 50km/h. Nowadays a speed fine in Portugal can cost you up to 2500 euros. At night, mostly on Fridays and Saturdays on main roads accessing Lisbon or any town suffering from the night fever, the police will be looking for drunk drivers. The fines are basically the same but if you are really drunk (still standing up though) get ready for a night in jail…
Five things to do in Ericeira
- Portugal is a small country and the roads are getting better all the time, so flat days don’t mean a problem as you can drive everywhere quickly.
- Spend at least one day in Lisbon: the “City of the Seven Hills" is one of the most beautiful in the world. Amazing light, nice people, lots of stuff to see from the modern restaurants and discos to the ancient neighbourhoods.
- Even on a small day, you’ll probably find uncrowded waves somewhere between Ericeira and Peniche. If not, have lunch in Peniche (delicious fish) and take a visit to the village of Óbidos and its famous Castle.
- Go to Mafra (10 minutes drive) and visit Convento de Mafra, the main local attraction. Built in the XVIII century, it took 13 years and 45000 men to get this Conventual Palace ready. With 666 rooms and local myths referring to rats the size of dogs (Great Danes, not Chihuahuas) living in the basements, you’d better watch your back during the visit.
- Try local pastries: go to Casa Gama and ask for a Queque da Ericeira. Yuum!
- Take a long and slow walk through the old part of the village. Check the colours on the typical houses, enjoy all the details, get rid of the I-thing and listen to the sounds of the seagulls announcing a new swell. Close the day with a super fresh beer and a toast to life in one of the many esplanades.
Words by Ricardo Bravo
Have a read of our Portugal destination guide here.