Last year I packed my bags and flew to Portugal for a self-imposed road trip sabbatical. The thought of spending two weeks in the land of good food, great people and the impending guarantee of the greatest waves around on 'Europe's pipeline' had me shook. I aimed at hitting three major spots in the time I had, starting at Peniche (obviously) then Ericeira and ending off in Algarve.
Roadtripping through Portugal for surfers
I say obviously because any surfer worth the sea salt in his ear will tell you that Peniche is Portugal's surf capital. And you don't simply shove "surf city" to the middle of a trip, now do you?
I rented a little hatchback after landing in Lisbon and headed out to Peniche around 100 km away, tingling from the thought of mounting my first Portugal beach break. Although I reckon I had packed light, my gut instinct told me that I had packed too much for a holiday in paradise, but hey a jacket among a dozen pairs of swim shorts and vests couldn't hurt right?
Peniche – The Paradise for the soul
I spend four days in Peniche, a day more than I should have. I spent days testing myself on a range of breaks even I couldn't have dreamed up and the nights laughing with new friends from all over the world. I met a guy from South Africa who quit his job in IT to travel the world. He started in Portugal a year ago and hasn't left. "You just end up staying, bru," he muttered over a peri peri calamari meal one night.
I love Peniche. It's got these sick little breaks that beginners lap up and massive walls that suck your ego right out. I tried Supertubos despite warning from mates about Boca do Dragao (Dragon's Mouth) and ended up getting dumped and locked out more than I got in. Worth it though!
I could talk about the food I suppose, but this is a surf trip, and there isn't enough time to get into the dreams I experienced in my mouth every day in that little fishing village. Suffice to say that if you ever get the opportunity to visit Danau Beach Bar, go. You will not regret it. Ask for the breakfast bowl as you get out the water. Reluctantly I left Peniche after my four days were up and headed for Ericeira.
Our favorites in Peniche:
Ericeira – The Surf Mecca
A few days into a surf trip like mine, you start to lose track of time, Thursdays become Fridays and Weekend's blend into the week. I'm sure it's got something to do with the rhythm of the waves. Nothing, however, will bring you back to reality better than getting that moment in life where you can surf a legend.
And that legend is named Coxos, but I will get to that in a moment. As I drove down the main route to Ericeira, I tried to take in what I was experiencing. Dotted homes spread along the coastline that seemingly never ends and laughter from every person you drive past as if you were part of this never-ending laugh line that only Portugal could offer.
I reached my surf camp at around midday and like I am sure is a rite of passage to any tourist, simply threw my kit onto my bed and headed to the water, drawn in like the very current controlled me.
I imagined the day I got to surf Ribeira d'Ilhas, Foz do Lizandro and Coxos many times over in my head, and I know you have done the same in your own world with your own iconic wave. I can tell you quite matter of fact-ly that it is nothing like your dream.
It's a million times more intense, and as a result, quite nerve-wracking. Up until you actually mount your monster, you worry that you may not be good enough, will the wave hold up, will you find your path? And then you do. And it's magic. And the sun is perfectly high enough in the sky to catch your shadow smiling back at you as you reach the peak of life right there amongst the greatest sets in the world.
Not much else matters when you are in Ericeira, so I recommend doing what I did, and book a surf camp and simplify your life so you can conquer the emotional magnitude of what matters, surf. You will meet like-minded individuals along the way, but they will all have a different painting in their heads, and that is golden.
Our favorites in Ericeira:
Algarve – the homeland
I decided to spend the majority of my Portugal road trip in Algarve, to experience the surf and culture of this magical place that chose me as its surf adventurer. Before I left, I imagined what I would need to remember. What things I would need to pack. What to see, what to do. All kinds of lists were written and re-written.
When I arrived just under 4 hours later in my little hatchback in Faro, the capital of the Algarve district, I was gobsmacked. I thought I had felt Portugal, had seen Portugal, but I was wrong. I trundled along the cobblestone streets which had seen so many feet before me and made it to the lodge as the late afternoon sun began to show off.
I cannot say why but all of a sudden, I felt drawn by the soul to Portugal more so than ever.
Our favorites in Algarve:
Portugal offers culture, food and surfing
I took that as a sign that this part of my surf trip would need to be an engulfing of culture and food too, and that surfing would have to ride shotgun for a moment. I toured village inns, visited the old town and took a moment in the old Cathedral, and even popped into the local museum which is incredibly housed inside a 500-year-old convent.
I know. It's a crazy world, man. Of course, though, I surfed. There are three areas in Algarve to explore by board, and I think I surfed myself silly trying my best not to miss a watery beat of Portugal surf.
Sagres is pretty chilled and is centered around surfing (and strangely navigation thanks to Henry the Navigator, apparently); the Costa Vicentina, a quiet place where you really need to have a car to get to and the Southern Coast which is really a beginner surfers paradise.
I left Portugal well fed. I believe that the surf matches the food and is only topped by the people of this remarkable coastal country. It is the land and ocean equivalent of soul soup, which is actually available in Portugal by the way. It's called Caldo Verde ( AMAZING after a long surf session)and is pretty much the most incredible soup you could ever want to share with someone over a cold beer watching the sun go down.
I left Portugal content, but I will be back. Até a próxima ( till next time) Portugal.
Top tips for a perfect Portugal surf trip :
- Take food tablets. The food is super tasty but also super rich, and you can find yourself getting a bit off if you don't sort out your stomach!
- Buy loads of beers for the surf camps. Nothing is better than sitting around a group of newly formed mates with a beer in hand discussing today's surf and tomorrow's dreams.
- Take two pairs of Sunglasses. Portugal's sun is sharp, and you will lose a pair.
- Adaptors for electronics. Or no one will see the spectacle on the Gram.
- Flip flops. There are rocks everywhere, so do your feet a favour and wrap some rubber around them to get around.
- A warm attitude. If you don't have one already, you will surely find one the end of your Portugal road trip.