The images of American surfer Gareth McNamara dropping in that 100 ft. wave were seen across the whole world, and Portugal became linked to surfing more than ever before. For people who have been writing about surfing for years, it’s no secret that the Portuguese 500+ mile coast boasts a good number of world-class surfing spots, with more than 200 breaks for all surfing levels.
Now, surfcamps, mobile apps, tailored trips, creative transportation come together to provide the surfing trip of a lifetime.
And this year might be just perfect for Americans to try out Portugal’s surf spots, as the US dollar is near a recent high against the euro. So, when the summer fades around early September, and Portuguese beachgoers go back to work and school, most surfing spots are left wide open, which we know is exactly what any surfer craves for.
And here’s a fun fact: while most of Europe is starting to prepare for winter, in Portugal, September (and most of October) is actually an extended summer season, without the crowds. Temperatures between 65F and 85F, lower post-summer prices on accommodation and car rentals, and waves pumping in after the calm summer tides.
So why not take a week off when it starts cooling off in North America and follow the sun from the northern beaches of the Porto region, all the way down to what was once called the end of the world, the southernmost point of Portugal, Sagres. Or get on an airplane and explore the raw beauty of the Azorean beaches or the warm Atlantic swells on the Island of Madeira.
And you can do it in style! You get on your typical car rental, or you can put on your summer mode back on and drive down Portugal’s coastal roads on stylish camper vans.
Now, you can live the dream on your own or you can have your trip planned by professionals. There are companies that organize regular “surfaris” all over Portugal, and there are dozens of surfschools and surfcamps all over the coast, from north to south, to the Atlantic Islands.
Most visitors enjoy Portugal due to its authenticity, hospitability and a never ending offer of culture and history. Topping these attributes with a warm fall, very accessible prices and good waves, make Portugal the ultimate surf trip!
Here are some of the best surfing spots, but there are many more:
Porto & the Norte region
Moledo do Minho
Located in the north of Portugal, near the border with Spain. The River Minho, which marks the line between Portugal and Spain, forms a sandbank that boasts some quality waves. The beach break offers both left and right hand waves, which are best around high tide. This is a clean, calm beach, with a pleasant landscape, and is rarely crowded. There are occasional rips near the mouth of the river that can be dangerous.
A lovely town, 15 miles from Porto and home of the Espinho Casino, hence the name of its most popular wave: the casino right-hander is one of the mythical waves of northern Portugal. This spot is famous for the right-hander barrel with several sections, which can end on the rocks right on the beach. In the south end, the beach has less people, and there are more waves near the fishermen’s houses.
Peniche – “Supertubos”
Supertubos is the most famous wave in Portugal and one of the best in Europe. Known internationally as the venue for the World Surf League “Rip Curl Pro” event, that takes place in October. This is every surfer’s dream: a fast barrel that can grow considerably and breaks on a fairly shallow sandbank. When the swell is big, it works with all waves, but if small, it works better at low tide. A wave for experienced surfers who like to surf big tubes.
This spot got worldwide recognition after Mcnamara rode what is now called “The Canyon” for the first time. Praia do Norte can indeed boost waves as tall as 100 ft., and that is certainly something to watch. But say one does not have a death wish and would simply like to surf in a calmly fashion; Praia do Sul, on the south side, has a gentler wave for you and is actually a good place to learn how to surf. Other than surfing, this village is quite the charm with a very strong fishing tradition and amazing food.
Ericeira – Ribeira D’Ilhas
Ericeira has been named by many experts as the best surfing spot in Europe, and one of the best in the world. Ribeira D’Ilhas is its most famous break, but this fishing village with whitewashed houses has a lot more to offer. Foz do Lisandro and Praia do Pescador are among the local’s favorite waves. Ribeira is a very long wave that is more accessible than other nearby breaks despite the long paddle out. This is a very consistent wave, which works all year round with small swell. It is the spot of the 6-star World Qualifying Series Ericeira Pro, and when the championship is on, the beach is as packed as a football (American or European) stadium!
Carcavelos is the beach of Lisbon. Although it is in the outskirts of Portugal’s capital, it is easily accessible by car or train (only 14 miles). Too crowded and flat in the summer, this spot works best between mid September and May, and hosts regular surfing competitions. It has a world-class wave and is definitely the most crowded place in the Lisbon region, especially in the weekends. One can learn to surf on this beach and on some days it is possible to ride one of the best barrels in Europe. Some of Portugal’s most famous surfers in the last years have made a name for themselves at this spot.
Between the port of Sines and the picturesque village of Porto Covo, this beach has a long stretch of sand, and the best-known peak is next to the jetty. It can provide good waves, always with excellent water temperatures. Many tourists find the parking spots along the beach the perfect place to camp. During the summer months and beginning of fall there will be an improvised “community” or RVs and camper vans! There are a couple of really good fish restaurants along this road.
Vila Nova de Mil Fontes – Praia do Malhão
The beach gets a little busy between July and August, but goes back to its quiet vibe in September. There are several peaks and despite being a beach break, there are some rocks. It is suitable for all surf levels. The beach can be reached by a dirt track and there are no modern facilities.
Surrounded by cliffs right off of a small fishing village and a harbor, Arrifana beach is a popular destination among surfers and bodyboarders. This is probably the best-known wave of Aljezur. It gets a big swell and is sheltered from all winds except the west wind. When the sea is big, the “Arrifana right-hander” is a classic, suited for experienced surfers. At high tide the wave is softer and at low tide, drier and faster. After surfing, visitors can enjoy a long walk through the Costa Vicentina’s National Park and its beautiful seaside hiking trails.
Praia do Amado
One the best surfing spots in Portugal with strong currents and steep waves, Amado beach has hosted national and international competitions and is very easy to access. There is plenty of parking, which makes it easier to park a camper and stay for the night. With beautiful clear water, Praia do Amado’s wave quality varies considerably according to the deposition of sand and the quality of the sea bottom. It is generally very consistent with right and lefthander waves. To reach the beach, take the dirt road along the sea from the Bordeira beach.
Autumn and winter are the best times of year for waves at Machico. This spot boasts two distinct waves: a left-hander up against the west side of the beach that works with average swells, and a right-hander on the opposite side of the beach that only works with big swells. This beach is often used for teaching surf but is never really crowded even when in classic swell days. A 25-minute drive from the island capital, Funchal.
Paúl do Mar
Some say this is one of the best rights in Europe and most have never even heard of it. Paúl do Mar is an exposed reef break that has quite reliable surf. Just like Machico, autumn and winter are the best times of year for waves. Not likely to be crowded. About 25 miles west of Funchal, this town is one of the island’s most important fishing centers. Only accessible by boat until the 1960’s, the new road has not ended the romantic vibe of this little paradise, surrounded by mountains and washed by the Atlantic.
Praia de Santa Bárbara
Santa Bárbara beach is better known as “Areais”. It is the classic surf spot of São Miguel Island and the Azores. This is a beach with black sand and various left and right-handed peaks. There may be some strong rips when it is big. This is the site of the Azores Surfers and Bodyboarders Union and the venue for the Azores Pro World Qualifying Series. It has one of the longest stretches of sand in the region and excellent beach facilities. The Santa Barbara Eco Beach Resort has just opened in June, and is the perfect example of how the Azorean charm can compliment with modern accommodation and services.
Located on Terceira Island, this is a fairly exposed reef break that has fairly consistent surf. Autumn and winter are the best times of year for waves. The best wind direction is from the southwest. Groundswells and wind swells are equally likely and the best swell direction is from the north. Although this is one of the waves in the whole archipelago, it is never crowded. It can get hollow and epic big, and surfers should beware of rocks and rips.
As always, we are more than happy to provide you additional information.
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Jayme H. Simoes
Louis Karno & Company Communications, LLC