Everything you wanted to know about surfing the Azores
The Azores are a group of seven islands that lay almost half way between Europe and the US and are part of Portugal. Flights from mainland Portugal became surprisingly cheap a few years ago. But if you come from other countries in Europe or the USA, there are direct flight too.
I only went to Sao Miguel, the main island. The other islands have waves too. Especially Terceira, the next island to the west, looks promising. So all my experiences if it comes to surf the Azores are in fact only about Sao Miguel.
Surfing the Azores became definitely a bit more of a thing over the last few years, when the WSL held some talent-filled competitions there. It hasn’t been a secret tourist destination for nature lovers for many years, but the cheaper flights definitively helped that industry to grow. And if you love nature, you will love it here! Sure, the weather can change multiple times in a single day. The weather is relatively mild all year long, and the water gets rarely very cold. You will need a good wetsuit in winter, but no booties or anything too thick. Usually, a 3/2 or less is enough.
As they have volcanic soil, enough rain, and a lot of sun, the island is mainly green and has some beautiful black sand beaches. This grass land feeds countless cows, which results in good quality local meat and dairy products. But don’t worry if this is not your piece of cake. You’ll find good and cheap fruits and vegetables as well. Maybe not in the supermarkets, which came as a surprise to me! But for sure on the Mercado da grace (farmers marked) in Ponta Delgada.
Food was my highlight of the trip! I wanted to surf the Azores, but the food was much more impressive than the waves! Hands down! So many delicious and very affordable restaurants, plus healthy, and awesome quality ingredients, if you want to make your own food!
Where to stay?
The North and the South are connected by a good road and are closer than you think. If you stay somewhere fairly close to this road, going from one side to the other, takes you only 15 to 20 minutes.
Ponta Delgada in the South is by far the biggest city on Sao Miguel, and your best bet if you’re looking for some nightlife, cinemas, or shopping malls. There are a couple of nice beaches and surf spots here too. The south coast can certainly produce some great waves, and some of the setups are promising. But having a clean and good south swell is not as frequent as waves from the north or west.
If you want to be closer to the (more consistent) waves, Ribeira Grande could be a good choice to surf the Azores. Ribeira Grande is on the north coast and has two long beaches very close to each other. And they surfable waves on most days.
Not far to the east is Santa Iria. One of the friendlier pointbreaks on the island. Santa Iria is a long lefthander. It’s a bit of a mission to walk all the way down, and you have to time it with the tide. (Make sure to leave before the tide gets too high!) And the other downside is, the place where you park your car has a bit of a reputation for cars getting broken into! I also heard about the option of going there by boat? If you stay in a surf camp, they can probably organize it for you. (Or if someone has more info about it, please post it in the comments.)
Back to the beach
Monte Verde is the first beachbreak in Ribeira Grande. It has many different peaks to surf. All depending on the swell, the sand, and the season. For sure a beach with potential.
The other one is Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is the epicenter if it comes to surfing the Azores. Here were most of the competitions. Competition in the water, on a normal day, is here probably higher than in most other places around the island. It’s a reasonably consistent beach break with many peaks. And I’ve surfed it from really small to a decent size.
With a good beachfront restaurant and Bar, showers and toilets, and a big parking lot right next to the waves, this is not only one of the most consistent and best beaches to surf here, but also the most crowded. It is, in my opinion, an incredibly beautiful place,
BUT the waves didn’t impress me much! Even on the best day I’ve seen it!
When it was overhead and perfectly clean, it still didn’t! Honestly! Such a beautiful place, clear water, sparkling black sand, and a green backdrop! Everything as gorgeous as it gets. But the waves were just not that great. Even on the good days. I really enjoyed surfing here and had an awesome time. But compared to other beaches in Portugal or in many other places where I’ve been surfing before, Santa Barbara was just not that great! Don’t get me wrong. I love this place and had fun in the water. But in my opinion, if it comes to beachbreak waves, this is somewhere average at best. As it is often so peaky, there is usually not too much of an open face to surf after your first bottom turn. The wave flattens out or closes out.
And that can be said for my whole trip! Surfing the Azores was just not that great! I absolutely loved it and recommend to go. BUT don’t expect to surf perfect waves every day. Sure, no place can guarantee this (except the wave Bristol), but the waves here were worse than I expected them to be. I drove around the whole island a couple of times and surfed different places. The water was always beautiful and I always enjoyed it. But the waves were just not as good as I thought they would be!
You should drive around the island to see all its beauty. BUT if you just want to check the waves, better check the webcams on Spotazores.
If this was only bad luck? I don’t know! But everyone whom I personally know and went on a surf trip to the Azores said the same! Everyone loved it, but not one of them really scored! Maybe I’m spoiled if it comes to waves? Talking about winter getaways to places such as Lombok or Morocco definitely set the bar high, but…
What about beginners and early intermediate?
Choosing the Azores as a surftrip destination for beginners and for people who already made their first experiences but are not yet really advanced surfers, Sao Miguel could be great. Especially if you stay in a surf camp! There were always waves good enough to learn on. But not every day on the same beach. So it would be helpful to have someone who knows where to go and brings you there during the right time of the day. As there are not too many surf camps on the island, but some really good ones. You’ll find them online.
How every, if you’re happy to be in the water and to get some waves with fewer people than in most other places… If you don’t need perfect waves all the time and if you enjoy hot springs, hikes, and good food…If this is a part as essential as surfing to you, surfing the Azores could be your ideal winter surf trip?!
What I recommend
Stay in a surf camp if you don’t feel confident enough to explore and surf on your own. The options are limited but good and you’ll find them easily online. (As I just mentioned before.)
If you’ve done some surf trips already and feel experienced enough, get a rental car! It’s not the cheapest place to have one, but do it! The island is too beautiful to be stuck in one place. And as it is relatively small, you can easily surf in the morning and explore some mountains in the afternoon.
Go with low expectations about the waves and be happy to just be there. If the waves turn out to be good, great! If not, half as bad. Of course, this is a good approach everywhere. But here even a bit more! And surf whatever looks surfable. If the waves are pretty bad, but you paddle out nevertheless, you’ll get something. At least a workout. And that will make you feel good. This is what it is all about, right?
Look around the next corner. This too is something I recommend to always do everywhere! And even more so here. There are a lot of little waves just a bit off from where the other people surf. Look for them, and you will surf alone! If you like that is another question.
But how awesome is it, to still have the possibility of having a solo session every now and then. Even if the waves are less than perfect…
So let’s go and surf the Azores!