Beyond the festivals, concerts and cultural activities in Portugal, lies a community of people who ride on boards like chariots upon the sea. I’m proud to be part of this clan, addicted at a young age by the peaceful feeling of being immersed in the sea.
Over the years, I have visited Portugal several times, typically with a close Portuguese friend of mine who kindly brings me on tour to some of the best surf spots in Portugal. This past March, we started our coastal adventure surfing on a cozy, little beach-break island on the southern tip of Portugal, called Tavira. From there, we drove up the coast of the Algarve in search of waves. Hours later, we discovered that the wind switched on a dime and the waves turned into a “choppy” mess – not the ideal situation, I assure you. Determined, we quickly reversed gear and cruised over to the nearest break, arriving, just in time, for a beautiful sunset session. It was one of those moments that never leaves you. Soaring over the waves blanketed in pastel hues was magical, only highlighted by a warm Portuguese meal cooked with love. This is Portugal.
Having spent countless hours of driving, observing, videotaping and surfing up and down the coast, I’ve compiled my top 5 pontos de surf (surf spots) to visit in Portugal for you to explore on your next visit. However, if you have any additional ones you’d like to add below, I’d love to hear about it!
1) Praia do Zavial (Algarve)
One of my favorite beaches in Portugal, Praia do Zavial (map) is located on the Western part of the Algarve region. An unspoiled secret spot slightly hidden behind the rocky incline, you can discover this beach by following what appears to be a never-ending naturally paved road. If you arrive early enough, don’t be surprised to find perfect, little, glassy rights and lefts barreling in the crystal clear water just waiting to be shredded. If you’re in for a laid-back experience, take a hike to your left, down to the end of the beach. Once there you can hunt the water’s edges for treasures of golden seashells or take a quick salty dip in the sea. When the waves are big and over-head, my favorite thing to do is to watch fellow surfers from the little café/restaurant on the corner – nothing beats sipping on a tasty refreshing Panache (beer with sparkling soda), while listening to a good old fashion jazz or blues and watching a glimpse of the sunset light dance upon the water.
2) Praia dos Aivados (Sines)
Coming up from the south, heading towards the town of Sines and situated just south of Porto Covo, you can find Praia dos Aivados (map), a long sandy fun beach break that works year round. There are fairly uncrowded waves coming from both left and right, usually working best after low tide. This is a perfect area to get lost and have a picnic in the local Portuguese villages that offer picturesque views of the region of Alentejo’s nature and beauty. For your Portuguese picnic supplies, you can head off to one of the mini markets and grab some artisanal Queijo de Cabra (goat cheese), figos (figs) and a bottle of crisp Vinho Verde!
3) Coxos, (Ericeira)
One of the best surf breaks in all of Europe is the exposed reef break at Coxos (map). Located in the town of Ericeira, this spot is often crowded by the most experienced surfers due to its powerful right-handed wave. It takes skill to be able to land a takeoff, and let me say that it is certainly not forgiving – you will possibly be pounded on by set after set, on top of a rock bottom ocean. Although, if you do make the take off, you will be heading into a speedy time zone of pure wave heaven with huge fierce walls and consistent long lines doubling behind them. When checking the sets rolling in, or even just mentioning this wave to a Portuguese surfer, you may hear many of them quote “estou com pica toda,” or in English, I am frothing and fully amped! If you’re adventurous, you can bring your Assador de Barro to quickly cook up some Portuguese chourico by the water while enjoying a Port and Tonic!
4) Supertubos, (Peniche)
Located in a traditional coastal fisherman town, known as the sardine capital of the world, there is a place called, Peniche (map). Here you can find Supertubos – what I like to call the pipeline of Portugal, without the reef. The shape of its sand banks is what creates an awesome setup for Altas Ondas (tubular, epic waves), so solid that the Rip Curl Pro saved a spot here for the World Tour. Peniche itself is a peninsula with north and south-facing coastlines, resulting in offshore wind swells always working somewhere. However, this particular break doesn’t hold up well in massive swells and stormy weather. It is typically a hit or miss spot but luckily it’s been a huge hit for the past couple of years in the World Tour of surfing. If you are staying for a couple of nights, I recommend passing by the Surfer’s Lodge Peniche. They have 5 star surfer accommodation, authentic local Portuguese cuisine, and yoga classes. During the World Tour, you may just be lucky enough catch a glimpse of surfing legends, Kelly Slater or Mick Fanning, chilling out in a Jacuzzi during a sunset terrace party.
5) Praia Da Norte (Nazare)
Welcome to the community of Faja, the northern part of Portugal. Praia da Norte, located in Nazare, is one of the most westerly parts of Europe, a world-class spot known for its huge swells of energia e ferocidade (power and ferocity). Right off its coastline is the biggest underwater ravine in all of Europe, Nazare Canyon. Now, you mix that with huge gusts of winds streaming across the Atlantic, and a rising swell – you will have some of the most monstrous waves leading up to nearly 100 feet tall. This wave offers a heart pumping, blood rushing sensation and is meant only for those that have a true respect for Mother Nature.
With tons of lodging and surf camps in almost every city, and hundreds of beaches with waves for every level and person, Portugal is definitely on the top of my list of the best destinations to learn the art of surfing. Muito bom altas ondas (amazing epic waves), secluded unspoiled spots, old cities, fisherman villages, rocky edged cliffs and blue skies, there is always an awesome spot you can find. At any time and during any season, people come here for a sunny vacation and many of them leave nearly transformed: waiting, wishing and frothing for more waves.
Keep your eye peeled on Catavino for the Best Surfing Schools in Portugal!
Rachel Leah Burt