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Surf Travel to Portugal: A Personal Experience of a Summer Chasing Swells

You may remember my surf vlog from the MEO Rip Curl Pro in Peniche, Portugal. A lot has happened since then, but I’m still sitting on a lot of cool footage and funny stories. So, here’s a personal recap of my completely unorganised surf trip to Supertubos and beyond.

As with most of my recent surf adventures, this one began in Bordeaux. The 14-hour, 1200km drive across 3 countries initially seemed a tedious task. Thankfully, the French carpooling app, BlaBlaCar, was there to once again offer an exciting twist to the journey.

Surf Route

The idea sounded a lot better before I drew it on a map

Shortly after proposing the above route, I received a message from Dutch photographer Jochem (check out his portfolio here) who was finishing a photo shoot in Mundaka. He asked if I’d make the 2-hour diversion to collect him from the famous Spanish surf village and take him to Portugal. Obviously I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to visit the ‘best river-mouth wave in the world’ while earning a little extra petrol money. 4 hours later I pulled up to glorious sunshine, turquoise water, and an empty left-hander peeling in front of the surrounding mountains.

However, there was a problem. We had been messaging on the BlaBlaCar app, but due to the diversion from my original route, I could not officially ‘accept’ him as a passenger. The company don’t allow phone numbers or personal details to be shared unless the ride is confirmed through the app. We’d tried to be sneaky using subtle codes and split messages, but the technology had grown wise and blocked both of us. As the French say, “quand ça veut pas, ça veut pas” (literally “when it does not, it does not”, but figuratively meaning “when things aren’t going your way, they continue to go wrong” – an ode to French pessimism at its finest), which became particularly true when Spotify depleted my mobile internet allowance just as I arrived at the village.

Surf mundaka jump

I wasn’t going to let a minor inconvenience spoil my fun

The only information I could remember was that my passenger had been staying at a surf hostel in the centre. Thankfully, Mundaka isn’t a thriving metropolis, so it was easy to find two lodges fitting the criteria. I entered the first, and managed to connect to free Wi-Fi in the lobby. From here, I used a combination of poor French, and Google Translate to explain my predicament to the Spanish receptionist. She miraculously found his record on her system, only to tell me he’d checked out and left about 40 minutes ago and there was no phone number or address with the booking. She did have his surname, however, so a desperate search on Facebook ensued, to no avail.

Finally my luck changed; I was about to leave for a final tour of the harbour while nervously making a little too much eye contact with anyone who looked remotely like Jochem’s grainy profile image on BlaBlaCar. But as I approached the door, he arrived at the hotel for one more check before giving up and taking the bus!

There was no time to waste. Peniche was still 10 hours away, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to surf Mundaka. We grabbed a quick lunch and finished our introductions in the lineup.

Surf mundaka

Mundaka is a truly breathtaking surf spot

It turned out the next part of the journey would actually take 14 hours (and involved some weird electronic tolls that I drove through without paying, so I’m still awaiting an angry letter from the Portuguese government). We finally arrived at 4am, so I dropped Jochem at his hostel and found a space in a beach car park to sleep in the car.

I woke to blazing sunshine, but realised the ‘car park’ I’d found was actually more of a sand pit. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my car’s natural habitat, so extreme measures were required to free myself…

Surf tractor rescue

The great escape

Nonetheless, the rest of the day went well. I found a great campsite (costing me €1 per night for the car, €1 for the tent, and €1 for myself) less than 5 minutes walk from Supertubos. This was a blessing, especially seeing the fight for parking on surf contest days!

The surf heats were super exciting (see my edit HERE). The initial days presented some thick and stupidly heavy barrels, while the latter portion of the window presented some more ripable air sections. This played to Italo Ferreira’s strengths, who took out the event!

The epic thing about surfing is that everyone is there to have a great time – even the pros. No other sport lets you shake hands with the world’s best athletes moments before they compete. Joining them in the very arena you’ve just been drooling over for the past few hours is a special experience! I paddled out as soon as the contest was called off each day and surfed countless sessions with the likes of Strider Wasilewski, Kanoa Igarashi, and Owen Wright. It was super cool hearing your idols whoop and cheer as we traded waves! (Well, I say trading waves… it was more me looking over the edge, seeing the final inches of water sucking off the sand bar 2 meters below and giving the nod to Wilko, who’d proceed to get spat out to cheers from the beach.)

I also sneaked in a surf session 5 minutes before the start of finals day. Surfing in front of 10,000 people was intimidating, but a little cover-up on the inside got the adrenaline pumping!

A little edit of my surf session, entertaining the crowd while the pros were finishing their pre-heat routines

After the event, I headed to Ericeira with Jochem and a couple of crazy Australians we’d met along the way. We stayed in a luxury beachfront villa and spent the time between surfs with a seemingly endless supply of food, wine, and cocktails (the latter two made for some interesting surf sessions). It also solved my problem of cooking on a temperamental gas stove, which had left me with the Portuguese delicacy of raw broccoli and a kiwi for dinner on my second night. (I poured sugar instead of salt on my chicken, and the gas ran out half-way through cooking.)

We had countless magical surfs on crystal clear waves over the rocky reef in front of the house. On the final day, a pod of about 50 dolphins came to say goodbye before we headed back to civilisation.

Surf sunset Ericeira

The sketchy drive and 20-minute hike through the woods paid off with this view. (Photo taken  between sets, but there was a little right-hander peeling off the reef in the corner)

I met a friend in San Sebastián, who told me to meet him at a house party upon arrival. Coincidentally, a Brazilian surfer and his girlfriend were also planning to head north. We reunited and drove in convoy the next morning, scoring Hossegor en route.

hossegor surf

A solid day at La Gravière with new friends concluded a great trip

I finished the journey as I began – with a questionable BlaBlaCar experience. Trying to maximise my profit, I’d agreed to take 3 passengers in my already packed up MINI. However, I didn’t anticipate each of them turning up with full-sized suitcases; a failed attempt to tie them on the roof resulted in a 6-hour journey with suitcases on each other’s laps. Somehow I still got positive reviews, despite an additional 3-hour delay thanks to the Gilets Jaunes; protestors who were rioting on every major road, leaving burnt tyres and riot police in their wake. Maybe the reviews were thanks to my initiative of driving down the hard-shoulder for 10 miles to bypass the gridlock?

 

Why not check out Urban Surfer’s winter sale and grab some gear for your next trip?

 

Stay tuned for a vlog of this experience coming very soon!

~ Will (@willdavies11)

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