I first stepped on a surfboard in 1987, back then taking some surf lessons definitely wasn’t an option. Surfing was a subculture 30 years ago, long haired, pot smoking dropouts, hanging out on the beach listening to The Doors or Jimi Hendrix. In West Cornwall where I am from, the surfing population could be counted in two digits. Surfboards were a scarce commodity and were often shared amongst family members and friends. Wetsuits are a necessity in the Uk all year round and back in the late 80s, certainly weren’t cheap. If you wanted to learn to surf, firstly you needed to know someone who already did and secondly it required a fair amount of expense and commitment.
Times have certainly changed, surfing is now very much a mainstream sport. In fact the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will have surfing as a both an individual and team sport. With mainstream status comes corporate involvement. Surfing fashion started to become desirable in the late 80s and through the 90s. So much so, that iconic brands such as Hurley and Converse are now actually owned by Nike. Surfing and the cool sub culture associated with it, are big business.
Since the turn of the the millenium the number of people participating in the sport has grown exponentially, particularly in Europe. Northern and eastern European countries in particular have seen a huge rise in surfing’s popularity. This has led to a massive increase in surf tourism.
A consequence of this huge increase in demand has been the development of so called “surf cities” to cater for the tens of thousands desperate to ride their first wave. However not many places have the right combination of circumstances to make it as a “Surf City”. Firstly you need waves, hopefully throughout the year, secondly they need to be the right kind of waves, beaches being a much safer learning environment than rocky or reef locations. A nice climate is another important factor. The west coast of Ireland has year round waves, but is an unlikely holiday destination in the middle of February.
Five destinations standout for the European surf tourist wanting to have surf lessons. Newquay in Cornwall from May to September. The SW corner of France. The Algarve in Portugal, though the surf can be inconsistent. The Taghazout area of Morocco. However by far the best option in my opinion is Peniche in Portugal.
My first trip to Peniche in Portugal came in the early 90s, back then it was a rather run down fishing town. Tourism was a very small part of the local economy, mostly a motley crew of hardcore surfers travelling in tatty VW campers. Ready to test themselves in the heaving barrels of Supertubos. What travelling surfers didn’t realise at the time, is that Peniche has dozens of other surf spots, many of which are surfable all year round. In fact, there are rideable waves in Peniche on more than 300 days a year. This is very rare, anywhere in the world.
Furthermore, not only is Peniche blessed with a consistent supply of Atlantic swell. Its unique geography means there is almost always somewhere to surf with favorable wind conditions. A particular benefit if you are going to be giving people surf lessons. Peniche’s unique combination of location and geography has resulted in its rapid expansion and development into Europe’s premier surf city. Combined with the year round mild climate, amazing local cuisine(world class seafood), great wines and the special local culture. It is easy to understand why northern Europeans arrive by the planeload, throughout the year.
Now that you know where to go! It’s now time decide how you want to learn surfing. At the start of this post, I explained that when my friends and I started surfing, surf lessons were not an option. these days you have a multitude of choices. What choice you make now may also effect the type or style of holiday that you decide to take.
If you are a competent, fairly strong swimmer and are at ease in the ocean. I personally suggest that you hire a surfboard and a wetsuit and literally take the plunge. Being relatively fit will certainly speed up your progress. I truly believe that the joy and benefits of surfing, result from the confidence and self discovery attained from learning by yourself or with friends.
Find yourself some nice accommodation in Peniche or Baleal. Almost certainly your hosts will be able to help you with surf equipment or will point you in the right direction. Surf Atlantic in Baleal is a great place to start your search, I cannot recommend the hosts highly enough. If the hustle and bustle of Baleal is not for you. Silvercoast Apartments offers great facilities and fantastic value for money.
Prefer group based, supervised tuition? Then surf lessons are certainly the path to take. Why not sign up for a week at one of Peniche or Baleal’s numerous surf camps of hostels. There are choices in this segment to suit every taste and budget. Many host all inclusive packages, some are just B&B. If you want to socialise, make new friends and let your hair down, a surf camp is a great choice.
If you fancy trying another activity as well as surfing? Why not get in touch with the good folks at Surf and Climb Portugal. These guys not only provide high quality surf lessons in small groups, they also host climbing and coasteering courses, something different but certainly good fun. Surfing and Yoga is another great combination of activities that is very popular right now. Epic Zen Peniche offer Yoga and Surf retreats with the added bonus of fantastic, healthy, locally sourced meals.
Another choice worth considering, is to book accommodation separately and once you arrive, to check out the many local surf schools. This way you can get a feel for the area, maybe chat to 1 or 2 like minded travellers and make a more educated choice about which surf school feels right for you.
Remember to enjoy yourself, you are on holiday after all. Learning to surf is not a competition, everybody develops at their own pace. A good surf school or surf camp, will have small classes of 5 or 6 students per instructor. The person taking the class should be interested in your progression. Not, in having a paid surf of their own. Lessons, including equipment should be in the 25-30 Euro range. If you don’t feel you are receiving the attention or value for money that you should. Tell the people concerned or get your surf lessons somewhere else. There is plenty of choice.
Good luck, have fun and stay safe!