A winter escape par excellence
Words by lensman supremo Sergio Villalba
Arrecife is the capital and the only city on the island (making up 55% of the total population). It’s the place to hit up if you’ve got any business to take care of (banks, travel agencies, shopping etc.) But that’s about it. Other tourist resorts include Puerto del Carmen, Puerto Teguise or Playa Blanca, but none of these will be of much interest as they all face east/south east and as a result pick up little swell.
Apart from a few beach breaks, the waves on Lanzarote all break on volcanic reef. With nothing standing in its way, the north of the island picks up the full brunt of any North Atlantic swell. This, coupled with the right conditions, affords the island powerful surf potential.
When to go
In Lanzarote you can shred all year round, but for optimal conditions the best time to turn up is October to April (autumn/winter).
The drink is slightly nippier here than you might expect. Although you can get away with wearing a 3/2 fullsuit throughout the winter, at times the strong offshore winds will make you wish you’d brought something thicker.
If you come in autumn/winter you’re going to need a range of step-up boards. Lanzarote picks up the full force of the Atlantic and lacks any sheltered coves for big days, so you’d also do well to bring more than just one shooter.
Ideally you want a solid west swell (although certain spots work well on a north-west swell too). Ideal winds are from the south or southeast, generally accompanied by haziness (due to sand getting whipped up into the air off the Sahara desert).
La Izquierda and El Quemao are world-renowned. But the north coast of the island harbours a thousand and one options for powerful surf in all kinds of conditions. A half-hour away from Lanzarote by boat lies the island of La Graciosa, where, with a little luck, you might find yourself pulling into the best barrels of your life.
Lanzarote is the northernmost and easternmost island of the Canary Island archipelago. It has an area of 862km2, boasts 265km of coastline and lies just 120km off the coast of Africa. The land mass is of volcanic origin (with backdrops mainly consisting by volcanic craters and ash). Minimum air temps rarely drop below 12ºC in winter, and the average yearly temp oscillates between 22º and 25º. The first thing you’ll notice about the island is its extreme aridity, a result of the practically inexistent relief on the island. Lanzarote accommodates a population of around 132,000 inhabitants, a high percentage of which are familiar with the surfing that goes down along its shores. The locals fully appreciate the riches of the island and very keen to preserve it as it is.
The north of the island remains rural and inhospitable, but is also where you’ll find the best peaks. You’re best off finding accommodation in the town of La Santa or Famara, both of which are relatively close to the surf and provide your basic tourist services for visiting surfers.
Above all, try to avoid any trouble with the locals. Always try to surf on your own, and never, under any circumstance, paddle round anyone who is or looks like a local to get to the peak. If you can earn their trust, with time they’ll prove to you that they are in fact great people. Besides that, make sure you watch the waves carefully so as not to get caught out by a bomb set and into trouble. You can have the scare of your life out there if you’re not careful.
If you can earn their trust, with time they’ll prove to you that they are in fact great people.
In contrast to the surf, which is all on the north coast of the island, for any nightlife you’re going to have to head to the east or southeast side of the island. As well as the capital city, there are various other touristy centres where you can go out and have a very good time for your money. In the winter months there’re a lot of Northern European tourists who come in search of the sun and the beach. In the summer, the “guiris" (Spanish slang term for tourists) are lost among the local youth who fill all the pubs and nightclubs.
Watch out for
Without wanting to labour it, the locals. Try to be 100% respectful.
In Lanzarote the people are strongly bound to their roots, which makes the island a great place to go out and immerse yourself in local customs, culture and food.
Five things to do
- Pay a visit to the small island of La Graciosa. Boats leave from the port of Órzola, in the northeast of the island. Whether there’s waves or not, it’s an island that’s still worth checking out.
- It’s impossible to imagine Lanzarote as it is, were it not for César Manrique who was largely responsible for the architecture, sculptures, paintings, landscapes and gardens on the island. César died in a tragic car accident in 1992. A visit to the César Manrique Foundation is highly recommended, now found in what used to be his house in Tahíche.
- Timanfaya is Lanzarote’s National Park, and its main tourist attraction. Which is to say everything within it is a must. You’ll never see anything quite like it again.
- Cultivated on volcanic earth and sheltered from the wind by small stonewalls, the island’s vineyards produce a unique grape. So don’t forget to taste some of the local wines with a guarantee of origin.
- Mix it up with the local people in the towns, especially if you come from a large city. You’ll find people are very hospitable and friendly.