Portugal is considered by many people to be one of the best, if not the best, surfing destinations in Europe. With its immaculate beaches, moderate crowds, and sunny weather, Portugal is a must-visit for surfing and other coastal activities.
Although sporting a relatively small coastline at 1 100 miles, Portugal is a unique surfing destination given its Mediterranean climate while bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal boasts a variety of surf conditions that appeal to beginner, intermediate, and experienced surfers.
While Portugal is a popular tourist destination, its popularity is generally lower than similar European destinations such as Spain and France. It is worth taking time to find out what makes surfing in Portugal unique before visiting.
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What Do I Need To Know About Surfing In Portugal?
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, Portugal is both accommodating and easy to navigate for international tourists; however, there are a few things to bear in mind if you decide to visit Portugal for a surfing trip.
1. When Is The Best Time To Surf In Portugal?
Portugal is considered an all-around holiday and surfing destination as a result of its mild climate.
However, different seasons can significantly alter the ocean swell meaning that the different ocean temperaments and conditions will appeal to surfers of varying experiences throughout the year.
During the summer in June and August, the swells average three to five feet in height across the coastline (with some notable exceptions such as Praia do Norte, which is renowned for playing host to big wave surfing records).
Meanwhile, the winter and spring months between September and April produce more powerful and consistent waves averaging six feet to ten feet while also producing waves as large as fifteen feet!
In this regard, Portugal would be seen to mirror other European countries such as France and Spain that identify summer as having calmer waves that are easier for beginner surfers to ride, while winter and spring produce larger waves for experienced surfers.
Consequently, each season needs to be seen with regard to the area where you want to surf, as this will determine the water conditions and temperatures that require different preparation:
- Spring: During spring from March till May, the mild temperature and consistent swell make it an ideal time for surfing, especially in Northern Portugal. Just bear in mind late spring usually brings large crowds to the beaches. A light wetsuit, such as 3/2, is recommended during spring.
- Summer: During summer, from June to August is when crowds peak at popular tourist coastal destinations, making surfing difficult. Furthermore, winds from the north can negatively affect surfing spots in the west. It is advisable to seek out smaller secluded surf spots.
During summer, the central and northern coastlines reach water temperatures averaging 65F to 71F, which means that a 2mm or a 2/3mm wetsuit is recommended.
The southern coast has warmer waters averaging 70F to 73F. While you may be able to surf just in a bathing suit and rash vest, a 2mm short wetsuit is recommended.
- Autumn: During autumn from September to November, the weather is still mild, and crowds have dispersed at most beaches. This is considered a perfect time for consistent surfing, with the water at its warmest and the swells picking up.
Just bear in mind that even during the autumn months, some surfing sports can produce very large waves. Therefore, autumn is recommended for intermediate surfers rather than beginner surfers.
- Winter: During winter from December to February is when the swells in Portugal really pick up and show their reputation as producing some of the biggest and most fierce waves in Europe.
Storms are common, meaning that surfing in winter is reserved for advanced and experienced surfers looking for a challenge. Even with a lot of experience, surfers should opt for secluded south-facing surf spots.
During winter, the central and northern coast coastlines plummet to water temperatures between 55F and 60F. This means a minimum 4/3mm or 5/4mm wetsuit with a hood, booties, and gloves is recommended.
The southern coast has slightly warmer waters between 59F and 63F, meaning that a 3/2mm wetsuit should be sufficient.
In conclusion, you should plan your surfing trip according to your experience level and your preferred climate/surfing conditions. Bearing in mind that the Atlantic Ocean is fairly cold all year-round, meaning a wetsuit is necessary.
Take note that summer may result in busier beaches and higher costs, while winter can prove a cheaper but more advanced option more akin to serious surfers than casual hobbyists.
2. Is There A Surfing Culture In Portugal?
Although Portugal has been hosting professional surfing competitions since the 1970s, with a national surfing federation being established in the 1980s, it was only until the 1990s that surfing rose in popularity.
However, this rise was meteoric, as Portugal soon became aware that its year-round surf conditions, stunning beaches, warm climate, and ferocious swells could make Portugal a world-class surfing destination.
As a result of this popularity, most beaches upgraded their facilities to accommodate both local and international surfers. While surf schools, surf shops, surf camps, and even surfboard factories became the norm across Portugal’s coastline.
In the last decade, Portugal’s status as one of the World’s best-surfing destinations was recognized with an official World Surf League event in Peniche, the setting of numerous big wave world records, and the recognition of Ericeira as Europe’s only World Surfing Reserve.
Consequently, surfing has become extremely important to the tourism industry and the wider economy while also embedding itself in Portuguese culture as one of the most popular sports in the country.
Despite the popularity of surfing in Portugal, reports from international tourists claim that negative aspects of surfing culture such as localism have not taken hold of Portugal’s surf scene, with surfers more than happy to accommodate first-time surfers at Portugal’s numerous surf spots.
Just remember to always remain polite and friendly while respecting the spaces of other surfers when visiting Portugal, and it is more than likely that many a local will treat you to a secluded surfing spot or popular hangout! (Brushing up on some basic Portuguese before visiting is also recommended and appreciated!)
3. Are There Surf Camps In Portugal?
Surfing camps are a fantastic option for new surfers looking to integrate themselves into a new surfing environment while also having the ease of lessons, guidance, accommodation, and equipment rental all in one place.
They are also a great way to meet like-minded people, both locally and internationally, with which to spend time at the camp, out on the surf, or traveling around Portugal!
Depending on the time of year, the facilities, location, and rooms available, surf camps can go for as a little as 25 euros a day and upward of 50 euros ($28 and $56 a day, respectfully.)
Just bear in mind the nature and vibe of each surf camp before booking your stay, as some are centered around children and teenagers, while others are more (or strictly) adult orientated.
Furthermore, surf camps usually organize their booking slots relative to bulk days rather than individual days. You should therefore reach out to the surf camps in advance to make sure you can book days that fit into your itinerary.
In conclusion, surf camps are a fun, safe, and affordable method for the whole family to centralize their surfing trip while not having to worry about accommodation, where to find surf spots, where to get surf lessons, or where to rent equipment.
Which Are The Best Surf Spots In Portugal?
Stretching over 1 100 miles, Portugal’s coastline is host to hundreds of surf spots that cater to beginner, intermediate, and professional surfers.
While it isn’t possible to list them all, especially since the locals keep many of the best surf spots a secret, let’s look at five of the best and most well-known surf spots across Portugal:
As mentioned above, Peniche has been instrumental in bringing international recognition to Portugal as a world-class surfing destination and is considered by some to be the European capital of surfing.
As the westernmost city in mainland Europe, Peniche sports upwards of thirty surf spots to cater to surfers of various skill levels. In the north, you’ll find calm swells at Gigi, Prainha, and Cantinho da Baia, all of which break onto soft, sandy beaches.
Meanwhile, advanced surfers can ride some of Europe’s biggest waves at Papua or test their grit at the world-famous Supertubos beach (a.k.a the European Pipeline.)
Supertubos beach is an open, unprotected beach break meaning that swells can reach upwards of twenty feet while still being ridden by expert surfers. This unique formation is a result of the Peniche peninsula that sticks out from the mainland.
Consequently, regardless of the swell or wind patterns, every day is almost guaranteed to produce consistent surf for surfers to enjoy.
Shifting our focus from golden sand beaches and friendly swells that appeal to surfers of all skill levels, we have the world-famous Nazaré, which is even known to non-surfers thanks to the views from Sitio da Nazaré and Miradouro do Subiaco.
Nazaré is home to Praia do Norte, which in turn borders the Nazaré Canyon. The Nazaré Canyon has been identified as the largest underwater canyon in Europe, turning this sleepy fishing village into a prime location for monstrous waves when the right conditions emerge.
Home to the Guinness World Recorded for the largest waves ever surfed in both the male and female categories, with the overall world record standing at a staggering 100 feet, Nazaré and in particular Praia do Norte are for professional surfers only.
That being said, there are some calmer surfing spots that can be attempted by intermediate and experienced surfers, preferably with the assistance of local surfers. However, the real highlight is seeing the professional big wave surfers in action!
As mentioned above, Portugal is home to Europe’s only World Surfing Reserve, that being Ericeira’s inclusion by the Save the Waves Coalition in 2011 and for a good reason:
Ericeira is believed to be home to over 1 000 different marine species, as well as excellent, consistent waves suitable for surfers of all experience levels from the calmer waters of Foz do Lizandro and São Julião to the rougher northern waters of São Lourenço and Coxos.
Furthermore, the town itself is less than an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital, sporting a historical and culinary heritage that is bound to appeal to all worldly travelers.
Speaking of the capital, Carcavelos is a vast white-sand beach situated mere minutes away from Lisbon’s city center and has been identified as the home of Portugal’s vibrant surfing culture.
The summer months can get very busy, adding to an exciting party atmosphere in and around Lisbon and its coastal regions. While also serving up calmer waters, perfect for beginners.
For more intermediate and advanced surfers, the winter months provide breach breaks that hold their shape well, producing some world-class barrels, all the while doing so in pristine water (which is a rarity at most city breaks.)
The facilities of the beach itself are also well-maintained and equipped to handle the large crowds that gather for international, professional tournaments such as the National Championships or the World Surfing League Cascais Pro.
Last but not least, and situated near the better-known surfing town of Figueira da Foz, Buarcos is a small fishing town in Portugal’s lesser-known central coast between Lisbon and Porto.
Although Buarcos may not be as well as well-known as other popular surfing destinations in Portugal, it is believed to have one of the longest waves in Portugal, making it a must-visit for any intermediate surfer.
Although barrels are in short supply and a long paddle is needed to access these swells, they offer ample opportunities for carving for lengthy periods of time throughout the year without having to worry about large crowds of bathers.
With its varied coastlines and seasonal swell conditions, Portugal deserves its position as one of Europe’s best surfing destinations and is a must-visit for beginner, intermediate, and advanced surfers alike!