Editor’s Note: Although summer has come and gone, there’s no reason why you can’t be planning next year’s goal to become a surfing pro! Avid beach lover, Leah Burt, has provided us great suggestions on what to look out for when choosing your perfect Portuguese or Spanish surf camp!
Over the past decade, Portugal and Spain have evolved to be some of the best surf destinations in the world, with surf schools popping up along the entire coastline. For a diehard surfer, or even a newbie curious to coast the waves, this is incredible news! But knowing which one is perfectly suited for your needs can be a little daunting.
All schools provide instruction, but some go above and beyond, offering all-inclusive packages with fun activities such as: guided surf tours, yoga classes, night-time tours, accommodation, and meals. Hence, the most important question is, which one will cater to your specific needs?
When booking your next surf trip in Portugal or Spain, here are a few essential tips to ensure your experience is sublime:
1. Experienced Staff
Look for surf instructors with both surfing experience AND global teaching experience. Just because someone can rip in the water, doesn’t mean they know how to “teach” or provide a comprehensive lesson.
Many surf schools cater to people of all ages, all backgrounds and all skill levels. However, you can also find a school that specializes in a certain area of expertise, such as: children, juniors, adults, woman, men, beginner levels, intermediate levels, large groups, family camps and private lessons – it all depends on what you are looking for. For instance, if you want to have a fun week of meeting and mingling with new people, then a co-ed group-teaching model is perfect. However, if you want to learn the essential fundamentals and etiquette of the sport with the intent to gain real skill, then I would recommend one-on-one teaching or a gender specific school. It will be a bit more expensive, but the possible pay-off is worth it.
A business that’s been around awhile has generally learned how to keep its customers happy and safe. If you’re going to spend the money on a surf school, your best bet is to choose one that has a long and successful reputation. It’s also ideal to choose a school that is recognized locally, nationally and internationally – dedicated to providing high quality surfing lessons and surfing-related services to both residents and vacationers. Often, a local camp will be affiliated with a local surf shop, hostel or other establishment, which will provide them with better equipment and staff.
It is imperative to choose a surf school with instructors who are CPR and life-saving certified. Even on calm days, the ocean can be dangerous with riptides creeping up and unpredicted swells rising. Some of the most overlooked and important concepts of learning to surf are those concerned with safety. How to respond to rip currents or hold downs, how to treat a cut from a fin or a sting from a jellyfish, how to avoid hitting another surfer (surfing etiquette), are all concerns that need to be addressed before even paddling out for the first time. Therefore, safety is a top priority.
Soft boards are essential for learning how to surf, especially in group lessons, as there’s a high probability of surfboards flying about and bashing you in the head. Also, depending on the location, rash-guards and wetsuits are vital and should be included in the package.
Be sure to check if your surf school is linked with the International Surfing Association’s (ISA) international standards of “best practice” and excellence. The ISA is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and offers both classes and accreditation for instructors and schools. International surf schools registered with the ISA show evidence of their commitment to the program.
Surf schools are not just for beginners. Even advanced surfers choose to stay at surf camps because they are guaranteed to surf the best waves, to eat tasty prepared meals, and to meet like-minded people. When researching a surf school, check out their social media accounts so you can get a feel for their vibes. Sometimes, it is all about the environment, which can make or break your experience.
Many camps hire native instructors, aiming to provide a cultural experience to their cliental. However, if you do not speak Spanish or Portuguese proficiently, it’s certainly in your best interest to research schools that have bi-lingual instructors. If their instructors do have experience teaching internationally, you’re typically in safe hands. That said, I would highly suggest contacting them to learn more. There’s no point heading to a camp to find yourself “lost in translation”.
Portugal is an excellent destination for learning because of its enormous coastline offering waves for every level. It’s fairly cheap, has great food and boasts of some of the nicest people in Europe. That said, the water is cold! Fantastic for surfing, but the Atlantic is not for the faint-hearted. For those of you who need warm, temperate waters, head to the southern coast of Spain, where you can chill among the dolphins, while ripping the waves.
Most importantly, if you are not concerned with success or failure of the outcome, you will be happy with any result. What many people tend to forget is that you have to crawl before you can walk. Learning how to read the tides and winds and how to paddle and position your-self on a board is only the foundation of surfing. You may not leave after one week as an advanced surfer making fancy maneuvers, but you will certainly learn the right technique to eventually do so.
Are there suggestions we didn’t consider? Don’t hesitate to share your comments on choosing the best surfing destination in Iberia!