A European Winter surf tour – Northern Spain.
Tom Keyes: Oct 2017
In our last post we looked at how you could lock into untapped French surf perfection, and it turned out be to be easier than you might expect. We now continue our journey south and explore the surfing potential that lurks behind the ruggedly beautiful Northern Spanish coast.
There are many ways to reach the Basque country. It’s easily accessible by road, sea and air, yet culturally, it feels a much greater distance than the land miles you have in reality travelled. However you do choose to arrive in this northern most tip of Spain, you may find
yourself wondering if you have in fact landed in the right country. Far removed from the stereotypical perception of Spain as all sangria and sunny beaches, the undulating mountains, often to be found shrouded in grey murky cloud, bear more in common with the Scottish Highlands than the bucket and spade postcards of the perennial British expat. The landscape is undulating and imposing, the people appear on the surface to be as harsh as their accent and you can expect almost as much rain as you might normally find during a midwinter day in the UK. But don’t be perturbed. The scenery is breath-taking, the locals simply wary, and whilst it may be damp, the temperature never enters anything we may consider cold.
And there are waves. Waves that take their cues from the rolling hilltops in terms of size, colour and menace. It’s not a question of if there’s surf. It’s simply, how big do you want to go? Northern Spain has long been the mettle testing proving ground of Europe’s (and the world’s) very best surfers. To pinpoint individual spots is difficult. The 600 miles of coastline offer almost infinite variety and opportunity. There are numerous slabs, peaks and points that it would be impossible to pass by, even if it’s just to say you’ve witnessed Northern Spain’s surf firing in all its glory.
In the spirit of easing in gently to the Spanish offerings, San Vicente de la Barquera makes the perfect base for those looking to adjust to the culture and surfing conditions of the area. A bright picturesque harbour-side village offering seafood to rival the beauty of this fisherman’s refuge, accommodation to suit every budget is plentiful. And if you’re in a camper, there are ample opportunities to simply ‘get lost’ amongst it all. The backdrop of the mountains offering a view to wake up to that will never get boring. The surrounding waves are pretty good too. Quality beach breaks ensure a variety of options, with Gerra and Playa de Meron providing the best waves in the area.
Once suitably acclimatised, it’s time to march on to more serious matters. The sleepy settlement of Mundaka has seen a surfing invasion in recent years, owing to the quality of the left hand barrels that hurl themselves into the river mouth. It’s not the most consistent wave in the area and you need a large NW swell to really get things going, but a good session here is well worth the wait. It also helps if there’s been a decent dump of rain into the river as this improves the shape of the channel and sandbar, creating even longer barrelling sections along the face. When all the conditions align it’s not unusual to experience 200 metre tube rides, as long as you can stay ahead of the foam-ball. The takeoff can be sketchy and the steep walling wave will try its best to outrun you, but swallow some brave pills, set your rail, and lock in for potentially the best wave of your life. Or get completely smoked trying.
You could lazily drive along the Northern Coastline happily stumbling on break after break. A brief look at any of the surf guides indicate ample opportunities for scoring great winter waves. Playa de Rodiles is akin to Mundaka-lite, but in the very best way. Zarautz is the
epicentre of the Spanish surf scene. And Sopelana offers everything the travelling surfer could ever need. But for real adventure and proper exploration, load up the van and head for the Galician coast. This North-West region of Spain juts out into the Atlantic sweeping up
all the swell that dares to pass on by. It’s real party piece though, is the variety of coves, reefs and beaches that face in a whole variety of directions. Whatever path the wind is tracking, you’ll always be able to find a quality peak waiting to be ridden. Pantin is the area’s showpiece, contests and crowds dominate the line-up when the breaks are on. Porto de Rinlo offers a powerful reef break that really comes to life in the winter. But this is a tiny slice of what Galicia really has to offer. Take some time to venture off the beaten track and immerse yourself in old school surf exploration. And because finding the very best waves in Galicia takes a small dose of perseverance and just enough familiarity with charts and maps to deter the unadventurous, you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t be sharing many rides. The opportunity for discovery awaits.