Photo: Timo

by Sean Doherty

Peniche is a sardine’s dick away from being the perfect little surf town. It's got the trophy wave of Supertubos, it’s got a big old headland with protection from whatever the North Atlantic throws at it, it’s got swell, it’s got Swedes, and you can live like a king in the back in the back of a van. The downside? Well, for that we have to go back to the early 800s when the original Portugeezers got here and figured it wasn’t a bad place to build a future surf town.

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While they were great fishermen and mariners, town planning wasn’t their strong suit, and in all their wisdom they plonked the local sardine factory smack bang in the middle of town. A thousand years or so later and the factory is still going strong, reeeeeaaaal strong. Driving past it is an experience not unlike finding yourself suddenly trapped inside a bottle of fish sauce with no escape.

Surf consistency: 8  Wave variety: 3  

Climate: 7  Radness: 5  Budget: 5

The local crew seem to be pretty much immune to it; they walk past the plant like walking through a field of frangipani, their nostrils long since cauterized by the unholy smell. The one redeeming feature of the plant however is that if you’re staying close by and get punched in the face by the smell of melting sardines in the morning, it’s telling you the wind’s offshore at Supertubes.

But, once you’re out of the fish cloud there are few better places to post up as a surfer in Europe. Supertubos (pronounced Supertoo-boysh) is an unexplained hundred-yard stretch of submarine peaks situated in the middle of a three-mile closeout. Don’t ask why it works, just go surfing. You’ve seen the pro tour contest run there in recent years and you know how good it gets, so we’re not wasting any words here trying to convince you. The wave however is heavy, spine-snappingly heavy, and it will fold you like laundry if you get it wrong.

On the flipside, Peniche is also the learner surfer capital of Europe, and you will be surfing with some of the very worst surfers in Europe, if not the world. The advantage of this however, is if you want to feel good about your largely tapioca surfing ability, just paddle out at any of the beaches along Baleal or Belgas and in your own mind you will suddenly have transformed into John John Florence.

You will be surfing with some of the very worst surfers in Europe, if not the world...

It’s like fat people hanging with even fatter people in order to look skinny. Many of these learners however know just enough to be dangerous and after two surf lessons are already talking Nazaré. They’ll often end up out at six foot Supertubes, the result generally being someone needing to come back at low tide and dig them out of the sandbank.

While it may be a little unfashionable with its sardines and cabbages, hanging out in Peniche can also be a hoot. The old town is full of old people, but also home to some of the best seafood restaurants in Europe. There are a million hole-in-the-wall bars to day-drink in, our favourite remains the Café Jovem where you walk through someone’s washing hanging over the door, get handed a beer by a man with a clubfoot, then proceed to get passive-smoked within an inch of your life by a steady procession of murderous fishermen and sea hags.

If drinking with 80-year-olds isn’t your thing, you can head down to the beach bars at Baleal, which teem most nights in summer with party crew from all over Europe who’ll keep going till dawn, grab their boards, and paddle straight out at Supertubos.