Portugal: A Surf Tripper's Guide
Need a hit of swell & sunshine? Europe's bottom left beckons...
Portugal is probably your best bet for swell, sunshine, surf break quality and variety, winter water temperature and value of any surf destination in mainland Europe. Sound tempting?
With most of the main surfing regions all being below 40 degrees North, Portugal manages to duck under the Atlantic mid-latitude westerlies, frontal systems and associated inclement weather, but still benefit from the swell they generate.
Meanwhile, a rugged and varied coast delivers everything and anything you could possibly want as a wave-rider. From the giant, deathly A-frames at Nazaré, to sunny, accommodating rolls of beginner-friendly whitewater in the south, from beachbreak pits to rival anywhere at Supertubos to majestic right points, there really is a waveform to suit any level. For folk like G-Mac and Dorian, to your Nan, and everyone between, Portugal is holding.
What's more, the world's best surfers descend on the joint for several weeks every October, not only for the important business of contesting the penultimate stop on the WSL Samsung Galaxy World Tour, but also to generate some of the raddest free surf clips of the entire year. In 2014, Kolohe's 'best wave ever ridden', Kelly's 540 and the now infamous Cave sessions each had a jolly good go at breaking the internet. Thanks, Portugal.
Some folk say “the pub is always offshore", or the mini-ramp, possibly even McDonald’s.
The pub is sometimes shut, it might be raining if the mini-ramp is outdoors, and Maccas… well anyway.
Peniche, on the other hand is really always offshore. Seriously.
Once an island, now joined to the mainland with beachbreaks on either side of the sandy bridge, the Peniche/Baleal orientation means that whatever wind-a-blowin, somewhere is a-goin (off). Who doesn’t love that?
Honking Tubes to Mellow Walls to Perfect Peaks
Supertubos stands proud as the ‘Portuguese Pipe’ home to World Championship events since 2009, anyone who didn’t know just how good it gets, is now fully dialled in.
A genuine rival to Hossegor for sand bottomed pits in Europe, the wave will challenge even the most experienced surfers.
Further north up the beach towards town, waves get smaller and more sheltered, with the Molhe Este option against the wall on raging N storms.
Meanwhile, if your crew (or relationship) is of mixed levels of rad, aside from screaming tubes, there're also pleasant walls to cruise along. It’s all possible, making Peniche kinda ideal for couples or groups of mixed ability.
She rippers, you can drop your boyfriend off at Baleal for a fish/mal session while you take off under the lip at Supers!
On smaller, clean days, head up to Belgas or up by the Marriott. Heck, jump in the car and burn up to Nazaré and have a fucken tosta mista with G-Mac!
The Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal, held in October is a great way of extending your summer well into autumn, as well as watching your favourite pros. Why not hug the coolest town mayor in surfing, António José Correia, who might also be the only elected public official that dreams about Wilko in a bath of sardines.
It’s about an hour north of Lisbon on the highway.
If Europe had a ‘Margaret’s region’, Ericeira would be it.
And by that we mean a stretch of coast with a whole load of great spots kind of next to other, oft down dirt tracks, mainly reefy/rocky, all fun-ish to fun-as-fook. So basically just like it, except fewer sharks and track pants/flannel shirt/blunstones combos.
If you’re a reasonably experienced surfer, Ericeira absolutely demands your attention.
Ideally, you want east winds, and a medium groundswell, but even when it's small/massive somewhere will be offering up a serviceable wiggle. The jewel in the crown is surely Coxos, the classic right hand point that honed the tube and power work of one Tiago Pires in his formative years.
But there are numerous quality reef breaks, the Bells impersonator of Ribeira d’Ilhas, and a couple of fun beachies north and south of town.
As a major surf town, there are also board factories, repair, basically everything you’ll need for your trip.
Watch out for:
Rocks, lots of them, many sharp.
Urchins. The town is named after urchins. Tread carefully.
The surf here is more powerful than it looks. Coxos is not Rincon, it can hurt you.
Tucked away in the very bottom left corner of Continental Europe, you can’t go any further south and west on the mainland, herein lying the chief appeal of this coast: it’s the warmest and sunniest in Europe.
With waters not as cooled by the Canaries current that cools (and temperates) the water temperatures along Portugal’s west coast, the Algarve is essentially a stretch of beaches and points tucked away under steep cliffs and coves.
“The Algarve is a great place to take a trip for anyone from pros to beginners. With two coasts for swell and wind combos, warm weather, beautiful scenery, even a night scene for those who like to party, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather call home"
- Marlon Lipke
Get There: Fly to Lisbon and drive (two and half hours) south. Or you can fly into Faro direct from London/Manchester. Driving direct to the Algarve from Biarritz takes about ten and half hours…
Your option are the west and the south. West obviously gets more swell and is the go-to on smaller days, all manner of beaches and points, but your principal adversary being the wind, you’ll want to be on in the morning. The south coast gets less swell but is more sheltered from the wind, thus is kind of comes into its own in winter. The south also has favourable aspect, even in the dead of winter on sunny but windy days, that the beaches are sheltered from the wind and feel a lot warmer than it is (i.e. you can bronze your bare bum cheeks on New Year’s Day in the right spot). Meanwhile, when lows track south, south coast can really light up on west or south west swell hits directly without needing to wrap around.
You don’t really drive along the coast so much as one way one way roads to spots. So get a kind of ‘discovery’ feel every time you go past that last bend. You might find a hippy commune of those political ‘free’ campers (the ones that have dreads, dogs, juggle), nude eldery northern europeans tanning their leather, bustling scene of locals, toursists, surf schools, or deserted peaks. That’s the beauty of it.
Rubber: a good 3/2 should do you even in the depths of winter.