Portugal is fast becoming Europe’s favorite surf destination. It is not an exaggeration to say it just about has it all – every kind of wave imaginable, epic scenery, baking hot sun for a good part of the year, uncrowded breaks (at times) and best of all an endless supply of custard tarts. I have been coming to Portugal since 1996 and often spend half of my year there. While the below is not a definitive list it is a glimpse at what Portugal has to offer.
1. North Canyon, Nazaré
This sleepy fishing village along the centre of Portugal’s coastline has become home to the country’s most famous wave.
Nazaré has always had a difficult relationship with the ocean, many of the locals are fisherman and a lot of families have all lost friends and relatives at sea due to the heavy waves and storms. Come winter time the ‘North Canyon’ starts to break against the cliffs. Locals started tow-surfing it around 2005 but it wasn’t until 2011 that it caught people’s attention when Hawaii’s Garret McNamara towed into the wave and made the Guinness Book of World Records by riding the biggest wave in history.
Portuguese surfer Antonio Silva and England’s Andrew Cotton amongst others have also surfed it when it has been at its biggest, and Brazilian female charger Maya Gabeira was knocked out cold and nearly died there. Many people visit the spot just to watch some of the world’s best big waves surfers, but not to be forgotten, away from the giant wave, it has some of Portugal’s most consistent surf.
2. Supertubos, Peniche
Previous to Nazaré, Supertubos was Portugal’s best known surf spot. A completely different set up to Nazaré, it is an open unprotected beach break that can still work at up to 20 feet. Supertubos is part of the Peniche peninsula which has waves wrapping around it, facing almost every direction, meaning no matter what the wind and swell there is surf almost every day of the year.
Peniche has become Portugal’s most visited surf destination. While it doesn’t have a beautiful old traditional town like some of Portugal’s others spots it makes up for it with surf for every standard and a consistency that cannot be found elsewhere. Every October Supertubos hosts the world’s best surfers in the Rip Curl Pro. The contest is usually one of the last of the world tour so it is always very competitive and incredible to watch from the beach. Supertubos is a very fast barrel that breaks on a shallow sandbank. It is definitely for experienced surfers only. It has a great café for a bit of aprés surf and easy access with a large car park.
3. Coxos, Ericeira
Considered by many to be the best wave in Portugal, Coxos (pronounced Ko-shus) is just north of the traditional Portuguese town of Ericeira. It is a right hand barrel that breaks over flat rocks. Works best on low tide and when it works it really works. Coxos is relatively easy to access, but there is a big walk with a lot of sharp rocks and a good few Sea Urchins so tread carefully. Ericeira has recently gained status as a World Surf Reserve. What this essentially means is that it is recognized as one of the world’s best surf areas and that any land development that could impact the surf has to be voted on by a local committee of surfers.
Ericeira is a delight to wander around, turn down a few old cobblestones streets and you could be taken back 100 years. That is until you stumble around a corner and see someone surfing below the towns cliffs. There are at least another 3 or 4 waves that could have made it into a top 5 from Ericeira alone, including Cave, one of the heaviest in Portugal.
4. Carcavelos, Lisbon/Cascais
Often referred to as the birthplace of Portuguese surf, Carcavelos is 20 minutes from Lisbon center. The beach is over 1.5 kms long, and it has a few different peaks spread across that allow beginners to learn and advanced to get world class barrels. It is a fast beach break that holds its size very well, and the water is very clean which is strange for what is essentially a city surf break. There is always a great buzz around the beach in summer time. Half of Lisbon can be found sunbathing on the beach or lounging in the beach cafés. There are good facilities including showers and parking. The beach usually holds a few surf events & festivals each year ranging from National Championships to Worldwide competitions. Carcavelos is on the boarder of Lisbon and Cascais. Head further west along the coast and you will find many different surf break, a few great long board and SUP set ups and a few sheltered spots great for winter surf.
5. Buarcos, Figueira da Foz
Doing a top 5 always divides opinions and of course it is not a definitive top 5. The above waves would feature in most people’s top 5 for Portugal but this last choice may surprise a few. Buarcos is a small fishing town located along the central coastline, close to Figueira da Foz. It is probably Portugal’s longest wave, with rides of more than 200 metres possible at high tide. It might not often barrel but it produces world class carving waves that can last forever. The downside is the paddle is always going to be long, the upside is this can keep the crowds away. This surf area in Central Portugal remains one of the undiscovered secrets, most people tend to surf closer to the more populated areas meaning there are a lot less crowds in the water here.