Loco SUP Surfing South West Portugal
It must have been almost 20 years since I last visited Portugal and with a none paddle surfing better half I’d agreed to book somewhere in the South Algarve on a largely ‘holiday basis’ with the caveat that I could take my board (just in case). The last time I was in Portugal I’d stayed in Lagos and had enjoyed some half decent windsurfing in October so I hoped that I’d at least score something local to Albufeira this time.
Since my last visit, the Algarve had certainly been developed to the n’th degree; embodying everything I hate about commercial tourism, basically Blackpool but with sunshine. I’ve never been one to sit round a pool drinking endless beers while purposefully burning my skin so it didn’t take long for me to grow restless in the hotel. Sadly to get any surf where we were requires a storm in the Med or a decent size Atlantic swell that tends to wrap around Sagres lighting up spots like Zavial and Lagos. Needless to say my ever-hopeful missions to some of the local breaks ended in recurring sad face.
Thankfully we’d opted for a car so we could at least get around and see a bit more of the local area. After some ‘careful negotiation’ and the usual sexual favours it was agreed in principle that we’d head over to the west coast for at least one night to see if I could find a half decent wave to get my swell fix. After speaking to a really helpful local we were fully ‘tooled up’ up with location intel so a plan was hatched. I was also already in touch with a Facebook friend Tina Tavares who said she might pop down from the North and join me for a session.
So the day arrived when the forecast looked best so we were up with the larks, stick on roof, SatNav programmed and hurtling along the motorway hoping to meet Tina in Arrifana for the pushing tide. After a random Police stop we ended up there a bit later than planned, but my word what a beautiful location. A small protected bay with picture postcard views and a cheeky chest to head high peeler predictably rolling in. No sign of Tina so assumed she must already be in so it was wetsuit on and straight in. The water was much warmer than expected for the time of year so I could have opted for shorts and a rashie really but there were waves to catch so there was zero chance of me getting out to regulate my temperature. Bring on the dehydration!!
I’d opted to take the largest Loco Aztec in the range to see how it fared in punchier Atlantic conditions. For a board 25L larger than I usually ride it certainly feels much smaller and didn’t disappoint in these near perfect SUP surfing conditions. After a couple of waves I’d got my eye in but was conscious to let the proners have some waves especially being a none local. That said the vibe was super friendly with a host of beginner/intermediate surf camps catching the foam on the inside and a few better riders out back keeping me on my toes. Sharing waves and stoke whatever you’re riding just as it should be. Two hours soon passed and the high tide had become prohibitive and with the possibility of actually melting in my 3/2 or collapsing from dehydration I released Haley from the torment of photographing me and we went for a delicious lunch at the beach-side cafe. Just as I was getting out Tina and her friend David arrived so we said a brief hello then left them to it while we refuelled.
Sadly the tide wasn’t playing ball so once our friends had eaten we decided to have a drive further North to assess what Monte Clarijo had to say. There was definite potential but the sun was going down and the tide wasn’t quite right so we opted for cold one and thought it prudent to find some digs before dark. Thankfully we didn’t have to travel too far to find a great little B&B run by an English couple in Arrifana. A snip at 25 euros for the night and located just up the road from a fabulous Gastro-style pub boasting fillet steaks for 16 euros and fishbowls full of gin and tonic for just 6 euros. We certainly feasted liked Romans that evening!
Keen to make the most of the 6′ swell and offshore wind I was up at the crack of dawn, breakfast inhaled and back to Monte Clarijo for a semi-sketchy jump off the cliffs to access the rip out back. Sadly the action was happening miles away from Haley’s vantage point highlighting the need for a 600mm lens (once again). That said what an incredible session, empty barrelling waves with just the perfect amount of offshore wind and only two others in. It doesn’t get much better than that! Frustratingly the wind became prohibitive making it nigh impossible to scratch into anything further so I headed back to the beach, obligatory cockroach on the way in as you do!
I presumed the high cliffs at Arrifana would provide some shelter so after we’d had a little break we headed back South only to find everyone in Portugal had had the same idea and as we assessed the surf from the cliff top it was evident that the wind had ramped up even further meaning that even the best proners were struggling to catch anything. I was seething but at least I’d scored two killer sessions so the prospect of heading back to Albufeira wasn’t that bad really. I dare say if I’d been given the green light there may have been some spots closer to Sagres less wind-affected but it was back to holiday mode.
Without wanting to spoil ‘the search’ for those heading out this part of Portugal I won’t give out an exhaustive list of killer spots here on the internet but all I will say is that this part of the Algarve is much nicer than the over-commercialised South, food and drink is cheaper, you’ve got more chance of getting some surf and you don’t need to be Laird Hamilton to surf these waves unlike some of the more publicised spots up near Lisbon. If you like road tripping I’d suggest taking a camper van over and working your way down the coast over 2-3 weeks. If you’re less motivated I’d probably look to stay somewhere around Arrifana so you have the option to travel 30-60 minutes to catch the best of what’s going off. Those with less confidence should err towards the summer / early autumn for manageable waves whereas those looking to test themselves should be looking at mid September onwards. We were really lucky with the weather for November so I’d definitely take a wetsuit and a warm jacket for the evenings.
For those interested in progressing their SUP surfing Joe intends to run some foreign trips and UK-based clinics in 2017 so if you like the ideal for learning quickly in a safe environment or indeed sunshine and epic waves with like-minded individuals in some exotic location drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll keep you in the paddle surfing loop.