– Supertubos may be the most famous Portuguese wave, but here in Sagres you can surf practically every day, all year round – says Rui, a local surfing instructor.
It’s the beginning of November. Portugal welcomes us with sunshine, warm air and a well-organized, though not free of charge, highway system. Entering the Algarve, we left Spain behind us, which let us down in terms of surfing but we still love this country, now even stronger because of Seville. Along the way the sun bathed Atlantic Ocean appears announcing that it won’t fail us. After less than two hours of driving we see the finish line. A wide chunk of asphalt, running through the middle of nowhere, at the end of which nothing seems to wait. And yet something is waiting… It’s Sagres.
We pass a supermarket that we met 7 years ago and we reach the roundabout (probably the hundredth on that day) with a large, old wooden anchor. This is where we’ll spend the next three days trying to get to know the variety of local spots, looking for culinary experiences and bearing the violent drops of temperature after sunset with dignity and flip flops on our feet.
Surfing under an eye of Prince Henry the Navigator
– Which spot would you recommend for someone who hasn’t surfed here yet? – I ask the young man from the reception of the small hotel called Mareta Beach – Boutique Bed & Breakfast, where we have stayed. He gives me a small map of the area, shows on Praia do Tonel and describes the spot with fluent English. – It’s a few minutes on foot from here. In the middle of the beach is a large, several meter high rock. Most often you surf to the left of it, but you can also try to catch some waves from the other side. You must then be careful not to land on this rock, you know – he says. I play cool but in the inside I just can’t wait to see it all up close before sunset.
When we reach the place 2 hours later it turns out that we know it perfectly. Moreover, we get to see it every day passing by the wall with pictures from our trips. One of my favorite photos in this collection is Tonel photographed from a cliff with a maritime academy founded by Prince Henry the Navigator. We took it during our first trip to Portugal in 2010. Back then we had no idea that it was Tonel beach.
Tonel is already turbulent. The onshore wind, short period and powerful, irregular waves say that it won’t be easy here. With this in mind, we retreat to a safe haven for a well-deserved meal. A visit to Three Little Birds became a blissful end to the first day. Thanks to delicious burgers (classic and cod) as well as a billiard table in a room full of surfboards and international company (interestingly with lots of children), we felt relaxed and ready for the next day.
I return to Tonel beach the next day. This time with Rui, a surfing instructor from the International Surf School. A 2-hour lesson with Shrek, as his colleagues call him, is an expense of 150 euros, two times more than in Galicia and three times more than in Conil de la Frontera. But this is Sagres – the capital of surfing in the Algarve. It won’t be cheaper, and at this time of the year a private session with an instructor is a rarity looking at the numerous groups that have been occupying the beach since the morning, trying to make the most of the mellow conditions before the tide does its job.
In the early afternoon Tonel turns into a battlefield. Only experienced surfers equipped with shortboards are able to tame unregular waves and strong current. It’s only before sunset that Tonel gets friendly again. Latecomers pull their boards from cars and run from the still-crowded parking lot to catch the last wave of the day.
Queen of the southern swell
The next day Rui is gone. There are two old hands, whose task for this morning is to help a small, multicultural group of kooks catch some (not much) waves. The old Volskwagen Transporter bravely takes several large beginner boards to the roof and moves towards Tonel. – No way, the waves are too big – says one of the instructors standing on the cliff and looking at the beautiful, regular, but indeed powerful waves. The caravan of three cars moves in the opposite direction. We leave the town. After a dozen or so minutes we reach Praia do Zavial in Raposeira, southeast of Sagres. – You see! It was here that this surf school bus was going yesterday – I say to Edyta.
It’s only before 10 AM and already not easy to find a empty place in a well-kept parking lot. The sun shines strongly and the wind blows from the beach. It seems to be a good day. And although at first glance, the ocean is calm, almost flat, the instructors decide to stay. It turns out that we don’t have too much time. The rising tide gives us only 2-3 hours window for surfing in this place. The waves are starting to grow.
The say that there’s strong localism at Praia do Zavial. We don’t care that much, because the rational part of my brain tells me to stay away from the most terrifying zone situated by the cliff, to the right side of the beach. At this point of my surfing „career” it’s much safer (for everyone) to leave it to the pros and take some pictures instead.
For beginners and intermediate surfers, there are the remaining several hundred meters of beach – practically all middle and left sections. Numerous closeouts make it difficult for long rides, but those who wait will be rewarded. A phenomenon of retreating waves (so-called undertow) spices up the session. The feeling of sucking in and spitting out, preceded by the cap from the breaking wave is an intriguing experience. Thanks to it the respect for this spot can be even greater.
After two hours in the water and a short picnic, during which I jealously watched the locals fighting with a fast and strong wave at the cliff, we packed our clothes and returned to the full packed parking lot. The second day of surfing in Sagres is coming to an end.
What’s left is just a visit to Lagos. A delicious tuna, seafood and home-made sweet potato chips at Mar d’Estorias and an autumn surf trip will be a history. We head home in the early morning leaving behind another good surfing day in Sagres.
Thanks for reading. Now go surf!