Everyone remembers their first surf trip abroad. It’s usually been dreamt of for years. For those of you reading this who grew up surfing in warm conditions, you probably haven’t had the same kind of dreams. In fact, you don’t know how lucky you’ve had it! The thought of being able to surf in shorts or just a rash vest brings a mixture of emotions to me–joy from having experienced it and deep sadness from not having experienced it enough. Ten years ago, I left the cold shores of Ireland to get my first experience of surfing in warm conditions, via a road trip down through Portugal, and I couldn’t get over how different an experience it was.

Nicky and Brian post-surf in Ireland. Photo courtesy of Nicky Kelly

Nicky and Brian post-surf in Ireland. Photo: Nicky Kelly

Now don’t get me wrong, I will be out surfing in Ireland tomorrow and will love it. It will be 2 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit) and the water will be about 10C (50F). The cold weather will mean there will be a lot fewer people in the water, and the conditions are looking perfect. I will have a smile on my face as wide as The Joker’s, but instead of red face paint, it will be frosted stubble. I will still come out of the water and say, “wouldn’t it be nice not to have to get out of this 6mm wetsuit with hail stones beating down on me.”

Back in 2004, I didn’t know any different. I’d been surfing in Ireland for years but never made it abroad. We always talked about it and Portugal was first on our wish list. We had a copy of the Stormrider’s Surf Guide and its intro to Ericeira in Portugal went something like this: “You will feel like a kid in a candy store with the staggering variety of waves.” It wasn’t a hard sell. And what made it even more enticing was the fact that the European Football Championships were in Portugal that year, and despite Ireland not qualifying for the tournament (again!) we realized we could tie a surf holiday in with a few football games.

European Football Championships. Photo: Joao Castro

European Football Championships. Photo: Joao Castro



Back then, I remembered hearing that Lisbon was quite an exclusive tourist destination. It was very expensive to fly into and airlines only flew there a few times a week. The Portuguese tourist board had always concentrated on selling Algarve down south (golf, family resorts and sun).

Lisbon. Photo: Nicky Kelly

Welcome to Lisbon. Photo: Nicky Kelly

That has all changed now and Lisbon is incredibly easy to get to and is an amazing, interesting city. It’s hard to describe, and I may be wrong in saying this, but it’s the lack of polish that makes it so interesting. Part of the city was destroyed by an earthquake back in the 1700/1800s.

Back in the 1500s, the city was one of Europe’s most spectacular with magnificent wealth on display in its buildings, avenues and squares. The city was rebuilt and, while it still gives off a sense of wealth and history similar to Madrid or Paris, it has none of the exclusivity or elitism of those cities. It is much more rundown, but in a good way–interesting derelict buildings have been turned into cafés, bars, shops and galleries. In the old Barrio Alto and Chiado districts, you can get lost in the cobblestone back streets instead of big, wide avenues.

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