Surfing Portugal, everything you need to know
Portugal was is sometimes referred to as the “Third World of Western Europe” has a fast growing economy and even much faster growing tourism. If you haven’t been here in a while, a lot has changed. Even so, it combines a multitude of lovable characters in a little place.
It faces the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South, and the rest of it is encapsulated by Spain. Thanks to this Portugal receives more swell during the smaller summer months than the rest of mainland Europe and offers plenty of alternatives for the huge winter swells. This makes Portugal a fantastic year-round surf destination. Portugal has an international airport well centered in Lisbon, one located far down in Faro and with Porto another one in the North. It has cheap rental cars and relatively short distances to the ocean, as well as a good tourist infrastructure. All this makes it the perfect country for any European surfers on a short trip. On the other hand, it is still possible to rent or buy really affordable apartments or houses, which keeps many people here much longer than they intended. The cheap prices stand of course in a direct relation to Portugal’s economy, which is still weak and makes life for a lot of the local people more difficult than they make it look.
By looking at them if you don’t know them, you may think that they are not as friendly or as helpful as their neighbors on the other side of the border. They may not smile as much and may seem to not be as open at first, but with a little time and learning a couple of Portuguese words they change, and not only become friendly but your friends.
As I said, Portugal is a small country, and you can drive within a couple of hours from Lisbon to almost everywhere. If you have the chance to do it, you should. Different regions look and feel different, but what they all have in common is: How beautiful, rich and cheap they are at the same time. At least as soon as you’re out of the bigger cities and tourist towns.
The cities in general have all become much more expensive over the last few years, and if you haven’t been here in a while, you might be shocked on how difficult it can be to find an affordable hotel.
Surfing Portugal in General
Portugal gets more waves then everywhere else on mainland Europe, but at the same time, it’s affected by some currents. Usually there is a cold water current in the summer and a warm water current in the winter. Thanks to this phenomenon the water never really gets really warm or freezing cold. You’ll surf with a wetsuit pretty much all year long, but you never need booties or a hood. Well… at least if you go far enough South. Up North, it’s always cold, but it is uncrowded.
The beaches close to Lisbon get crowded, especially during holidays and weekends, and so does Ericeira, Peniche, Baleal and some of the famous beaches in the Algarve. But other than this, you’ll find waves with few other surfers in the water. Another incredible thing for people like me who like to surf alone is the fact that Portuguese people don’t like to wake up early! Of course, the best waves of the country on its days will be packed from dusk till dawn, but most of the places are rarely surfed before 9am, when the other tourists come, and one hour later the locals. And if you end up on a beach where some of the locals go for a pre-work surf, leave the waves to them, come back one hour later, or go looking for a beach nearby.
By now everyone knows how good the surf in Portugal really is, and it of course gets more attention and more tourists. This results in surf schools and camps shooting out of the ground like mushrooms, but then again all those people go surfing at the same spot, and if you drive fifteen minutes away, you’ll still find waves with no one on it.
Surfing Portugal, South to North
The Algarve is blessed with a mild climate year round and is only a few hours by plane from most European cities. Due to this, it became a holiday destination a long time ago. Most of the South coast is packed with huge and ugly hotels and caters to the needs of all-inclusive tourists. You can complain about this and argue about how they are responsible for turning such a beautiful stretch of coastline into a concrete jungle with sunburned lobsters and lazy whales, or you can embrace the simplicity of booking such an all-inclusive deal, get a rental car and enjoy one of your cheapest winter surf trips ever.
If you do decide to come to the Algarve and you can choose where to stay, make it the West coast or somewhere close to it. The West coast of the Algarve has countless beaches with waves for every level of surfing (so does the South coast, but only with huge W-NW swells or South swells, which usually occurs in wintertime). The West coast is pristine, and the majority of the coastline is a protected nature reserve with only a few houses built close to the shore.
Being in the Algarve, it is important to have a car or someone who drives you around (some of the surf camps offer day trips), as there are so many different beaches, and they change a lot with the seasons, as well as they do with winds and tides. Find a place you like as a base and go exploring from there. As I said, some of the beaches became somehow quite famous and get really crowded during summer. Places like Arrifana or some of the beaches in Sagres can be ridiculously packed, but there is always another beach right next to it, probably with fewer people in the water.
Go with someone who knows the area, or take your time to explore. Believe me, it’s worth it!
The waves in the Algarve might not be world class, but you’ll find that on almost every given day there are some decent waves to have fun. With Lagos and Sagres, you’ll also have more than enough options to go and Party. Of course, you could also hit Portimão and join a bunch of drunken Englishman… all up to you.
If you decide to stay in a surf camp, the decision might be quite difficult as there are so many by now. I’ve seen most of them, worked for a couple of them and recommend only very few. The longest running camp in the Area, The Surf Experience, was started by the parents of Professional Surfer Marlon Lipke, and is now run by an awesome Swiss/ German couple. It might be a few Euros more expensive than other camps around, but once you’ve been inside the camp, and have tried the delicious food they put on the table, you know it was well worth it. The other outstanding thing about The Surf Experience is the Surf teachers. You won’t find many camps in this region where the level of surfing from your teachers is as high as here. This shouldn’t bother you if you’re a beginner, but for those who already know a bit about surfing, it’s awesome to go surfing with guys who actually know what they do, and what they’re talking about.
Algarve To Lisbon
Once you drive North and pass the incredibly beautiful beach of Odeceixe (check it out, and spend enough time there to see the change with the tide), you won’t find a lot of people surfing. This doesn’t mean there are no waves, but it is a stretch of coastline for whatever reason that not a lot of people go to.
Should I talk much about it? No. I will only tell you that it is beautiful, with nature not too different to the hills and forests further south and that you’ll find waves. Waves as a reward for the ones who decide to go somewhere different than everyone else.
Lisbon is not only my favorite European city but one of my favorites worldwide. Why? To be honest, I don’t really know! I just like everything about it! It has an interesting mix of people, is good for shopping, and has incredible nigh-life. There is so much to do and to see in and around the city and you can almost feel the history that was written here. The architecture and the general vibe makes me feel relaxed and I could walk around or sit down and watch life go by for hours and days. It has delicious food for every budget and is only thirty minutes from the waves. If there is a big swell coming, there are even a few beaches along the Tejo rives which can be super fun.
If you fly to Lisbon make sure to have at least one day here. One day to walk around to explore the city and go to one of the countless fantastic restaurants for whatever kind of food you fancy. But make sure your stomach is not too full, as you shouldn’t go to sleep, before heading to Baixa Chiado and have a few drinks in one of the various bars. From here, you only have to decide if you keep it casual and stay in the neighborhood, or if you prefer a big and expensive night in the Docas, or in one of the great nightclubs, preferably Luxx. (Never heard of the Luxx? No problem, every Taxi driver knows it!)
If you don’t want to be inside the city, Cascais is a beach town on the end of the train line from Lisboa, and a nice alternative. There are nice beaches here in Cascais and sometimes good waves. They now even have an ASP Women’s World tour stop here in Guincho, but if you’re really looking for waves, drive up a bit more until you reach Ericeira.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in Lisbon, Ericeira or Peniche, you should take some time and have a look at what is around you. Belem is for sure a must go to and have breakfast in the “Pasteleria do Belem”, and don’t miss Sintra. Sintra is a UNESCO world heritage site, and definitely worth half a day of your trip.
Ericeira is the first and only World surfing reserve in Europe and has with 22 quality surf spots within 11Km definitely something to offer.
It is a fishing village turned surf-town, as so many others around the world, but it kept its charm. You can stay here and walk to some of the beaches, but again, it is much more convenient, if you have a car or someone who drives you.
Ericeira is also the best place in Portugal to buy a Surfboard as most the Portuguese shapers work somewhere here. Semente is for sure the best known of them, but my “not so secret” tip is Mica. He is a great guy, I like his boards and his designs, and on top of this, he is a former Pro Surfer. Here is the Video I made with him in 2013 about ordering a custom board.
But he’s not the only one in town, who knows how to surf. You’ll see not only a lot of talented kids, but also always a good number of Pro’s who choose Ericeira to be there home.
One of them is Joana Rocha, former Portuguese champion, and one of the owners of Chill Inn Ericeira, which is my personal favorite place to stay while I’m here. Check out their homepage to see with how much love their house is decorated, or book surf lessons with them, to be in the water with Joana or Miguel who is another top surfer. But then I have to say, the density of incredible good surf teachers in Ericeira is probably the highest I’ve ever come across with lots of others here which I haven’t mentioned and/or never met.
The possibilities where to stay in Ericeira are endless. Countless surf camps, Hostels, Hotels or apartments and houses… you’ll figure it out.
If you drive North from Ericeira, you’ll come across a lot of beach towns which get packed in summer but are empty throughout the rest of the year. Most of them have great waves on the right day, with a lot less people in the water than the better known surf cities. Take your time to drive down to the beach and have a look. Your chances to score some uncrowded perfect beach break here is higher than in most other places.
Peniche is another fishing village, but hasn’t changed so much into a tourist town just yet. It has a university which brings in a great crowd of young people and of course plenty of parties. Peniche found worldwide fame in the surfing world because of Supertubos. Supertubos is a heavy beach break that offers you some of the best barrels of your life. BUT it is pretty heavy, shallow, and most the time closing out. Even if you’re here on a good day, a lot of the waves are not makeable.
On the north end of the same beach is another surf spot called: Mole L’Este. It is a super fun wave, but take care with the locals here.
To the other side of Peniche is the Town of Baleal, what gives this destination a 270° swell window. Baleal has most of the time easy and mellow beginner waves and is packed with international surf-tourists who mainly stay in surf camps. So if you’re looking for easy, small and consistent waves, and want to meet plenty of other international surfers, then this is the place. The level of surfing in relatively low in Baleal, and the waves are ultra crowded with beginners.
Again, make sure you’ve got a car, and go exploring. There are countless of good quality waves close by and most of them are rarely surfed.
This area is thanks to the highway not a long drive away from the airport and for sure a great alternative to Ericeira. It might not be not as nice, or let’s just say its charm is better hidden, but it is more authentic and cheaper (if you find the right places).
Just north of Peniche is the town of Nazare which became famous during the last few winters because of the pictures of its huge waves. Those waves only happen during the biggest storms the Atlantic Ocean can produce, and most days of the year, it is just another quiet beach town with little waves. And just like this, there are countless more all the way up to the border to Galicia.
Probably the only other City with is better known for us as surfers is Foz da Figueras, as it has the longest righthander pointbreak in all of Europe! It needs a big swell to really work and to live up to its name, but it is a beautiful area either way. It has a lot of different waves around here. Some of them are of incredible quality, uncrowded and unheard of. This is the same with the waves around Aveiro. Close to Aveiro are a couple of Jetties which produce sometimes great waves and most of the time you’ll surf them alone.
The north of Portugal is even less densely populated than the rest of the country, has fewer surfers, but just as many waves. Again, come here and go looking for waves, and you will find. The water and the weather here in general is colder than further south, but the few surfers you might come across will be great guys once they warm up a bit. With so few surf tourists here, the people are mostly welcoming.
Portugal all in all is an incredible country with delicious food, fun parties and all kinds of waves. It’s cheaper than the rest of Europe’s surf countries, and less crowded as soon as you go away from the tourist hotspots. It has everything you need for a great surf trip, and if you’re from Europe it is pretty close and easy to find cheap flights, especially from autumn to spring, when the waves are at their best.
It’s still Europe, but if you go to some old little villages, it feels like you’re not only far away, but also in a long-gone time. Portugal is in many places still really traditional and years behind the rest of Europe, but this is exactly what gives it its charm.
If you haven’t been surfing in Portugal, it’s about time to go there. Otherwise, I know you want to go back anyway. But keep in mind that a lot of the local people still struggle with the bad economy and make way less money than you, who live only a few hours away. I’m not telling you to bring your oldest and most fucked up board and wetsuit, but don’t show off more than you have to. In the end, it would be embarrassing for YOU, as the locals will surf better than you, doesn’t matter what their equipment looks like!
What else to say?
Go to Portugal, and find your own Portugal