Photo: Greg Martin/The Surf Experience
A country with year round decent weather, a mind-boggling array of surf options from beginner-friendly beaches to the biggest rideable waves in the world and a warm, gentle culture served with a side of awesome food is always going to be a winner. Come see what the Iberian peninsula’s left side has to offer…
With over a thousand miles of coast stretching from the border with Galicia in the north right down to Andalucia in the south there are more surfing options in Portugal than in strictly fair. Team that with a near perfect climate, incredible fresh local produce, wonderful seafood, relaxed vibes, plenty of culture and friendly folks it’s a dream trip. And for us Brits it’s an easy flight or a doable mission on the ferry. It’s hard to pick a best bit. Stick a pin in the Portuguese coast and you’ll not be far from a decent break and a beachside cafe just asking for a post-session cold beer and toste miste.
Starting in the north Porto is the forgotten end of surfing in Portugal. Sure Porto is well known as the home of port and the francesinha, otherwise known as possibly the greatest open sandwich ever. The name means ‘Little Frenchie’ and its basically a bit of bread with ham, sausage, steak and egg on top. Drowned in tomato/beer sauce served in a bowl with French Fries. It’s a heart attack on a plate but a total taste sensation. Porto is a wonderful place to explore, especially if you like port tours. There’s plenty of empty beachbreaks to whet your appetite in the region as well.
Moving south, the next main surf region is between Espinho down to Nazare with Figueira da Foz kind of in the middle. Miles of beaches broken by jetties and the odd point like the leg burning Buarcos. Explore away from the main towns and you’ll have waves to yourself.
Nazare is the sleeping giant, under the radar for years as a beachy to hit when everywhere else in Portugal was flat it’s potential for the biggest rideable surf on the planet is now well known. For us mortals it is actually fun when it’s four foot and the area is beautiful. Forty five minutes further south you enter the Portuguese surfing heartlands. Peniche and surrounds have more options for wind than the northern chunk of the country and more defined surf culture.
Peniche is home to the legendary Supertubos, and the annual WSL world tour event in October which turns the quiet town into a summer level party for two weeks at the end of the season. After that it gets real quiet and there are so many good waves in the area that a bit of a drive and explore and you’ll be surfing world class sandbars. It’s also a brilliant place to learn, Baleal is ideal with different options to ensure somewhere beginner to intermediate friendly. The cafes and bars here get real fun also…
A short hop south and it’s the equally legendary Ericeira. It’s a nice town to hang out in and make a base. Plenty of accommodation options and great seafood and a whole bunch of class reefs and beaches.
From here on south it’s the Lisbon region, and even though the capital is an hour’s drive from some good waves it’s not too busy. Like Peniche it’s got plenty of options for the wind and its a good base in the winter when the sheltered spots open up. Plenty of culture in Sintra town and Lisbon itself and like the rest of Portugal the landscape is a joy. Jumping the river there’s a few spots on the Costa do Sol like Caparica.
From there we’re into the Algarve, the northern section isn’t a patch on the wonderful south. Loads of wonderful coves, reefs, and secluded beachbreaks and a notch better weather the Algarve is rightly considered an epic place for a surf trip. Like Lisbon you get the options of west or south coast and if the Atlantic isn’t playing ball you can even get south swells or easterly wind swells on the south coast. Stunning seafood, wall to wall sunshine, great parties and a great range of surf spots. The Algarve, like the rest of Portugal won’t let you down.
Check out some of the good folks below that can help you make the most of your Portuguese mission.
// Click Through to 10 Of The Best Portugal Travel Options Below //
WHEN TO GO: All-year round really, but autumn to spring is peak swell season.
AIRPORT: Porto (OPO) for the north, Lisbon (LIS) for the middle, Faro (FAO) for the Algarve
ACCOMMODATION: Plenty of surf camps as detailed here and van rental options.
LANGUAGE: Portuguese of course. Try and learn a bit even though the pronunciation is well tricky.
WATCH OUT FOR: Sharp rocks, tricky jump offs and getting out of your league. Know your limits.
BOARDS: Standard shortboards for most days. Carbon tow boards for Nazaré.
RUBBER: It’s colder in Portugal than France due to lack of Gulf Stream action so it’s always a bit chilly.
5mm in winter. 3mm in summer.
AFTER DARK: The Portuguese love a party. Things can get very fun/messy.
The real star is the food. Portuguese seafood is incredible.
ALTERNATIVE EXCITEMENT: Soak up the culture and relax.
ESSENTIALS: Sun cream, wetsuit boots for the reef areas, a good attitude.
// The Algarve, what’s on offer? //
Warm Mediterranean climate and beautiful scenery aside, the Algarve has wave options for all. Secluded beachbreaks, a wide swell window and a great range of surf spots. Arrifana, Sagres, Zavial, Cordoama, the list goes on. Carve spoke to Surfers Lab to find out more about this wave rich region.
What gear do you need for a Portugal surf trip?
We recommend two types of boards – one for smaller days and another for heavier days. You can have a bit of everything in the same day if you want.
If visitors are not bringing their own, what are the rental options?
At Surfers Lab, we have all the equipment: surfboards for all skills – soft boards from 6’0’’ to 8’0’’; epoxy boards (Malibu style) from 6’0’’ to 9’0’’; high performance boards (Slater Designs, and Firewire); leashes, fins, wetsuits, soft racks … plus what we don’t have, we will find for you!
What boards do you recommend for beginners?
It depends on “how beginner” the client is, but usually we recommend the soft ones. Ocean & Earth ones are rigid on the inside and soft on the outer layer to guarantee safety and fun for everyone. We carry the best school boards in the market.
What boards do you recommend for intermediate surfers taking on the Algarve?
We carry a wide variety of boards, for all levels and all kinds of waves. I would say if you come in summer, definitely a wider board like the Go Fish from Firewire or the CI Weirdo Ripper, but if you come in winter you will find more challenging waves that require more performance boards such as the Lost V3 r the CI OG Flyer. Check the forecast before you come and adapt your quiver to the swell you will find in those dates.
Do you do ding repairs?
Yes we do. Depending on the ding it can take from 24h to 72h.
What is the best time of year to visit the Algarve?
It depends on the goal. To surf and to improve your skills September – January you will find the best waves and the weather is still warm compared to the rest of Europe.
If you want to have a relaxing time with your family and still surf, then April to July is quite nice, prices are more affordable and it’s not overly busy.
Are there a variety of surf conditions for all levels?
For sure. Depending on the time of the year you can find completely different conditions. The south-coast breaks usually need bigger NW or W swells and they usually break during the winter time. If you come in the summer, the surf tends to be on the west coast only. You can always find a nice spot for beginners on both coasts. I would say this part of the country is perfect to come anytime of the year because you will always find some surf. Just have to search for it!
Which part of the Algarve has the best surf offering?
All the coastline from Lagos to Aljezur. That small triangle offers a huge variety of spots for all levels.
Are the waves consistent?
Yes. We get swells from SE to N, so if you know the area well enough, I would say there are only 10 flat days all year long!
How would you describe the Algarve in three words?
I would need at least 10 to do it justice, but if I have to go with three: sunny, friendly and safe.
What’s a Portuguese must have food/drink?
A cold Superbock Beer or a nice glass of Portuguese red wine. To eat I would say fresh fish and sea food – honestly I think no one does it better in all of Europe!
What wetsuit do you need for Algarve sessions?
If you come in winter you will need a 4/3mm, but in the summer boardies to a 3/2 is OK. Depends if are surfing on the west coast or on the south coast.