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The ultimate guide to surfing Portugal

Not including its islands, Portugal boasts 943 kilometres (586 miles) of coastline, which is dotted with countless incredible surf spots.

Portugal’s most famous breaks are located in 3 main places: Ericeira, Peniche and the Lisbon coast. However, we shouldn’t ignore the Algarve, Alentejo and Porto, which are also home to some serious waves, as are the Azores islands and the Madeira archipelago. The entire continental coast of Portugal is well respected for its year-round consistency and will not disappoint even the most discerning and jaded of surfers.

Portugal’s surf history

Portugal’s first national surfing competition was held at Ribeira d’Ilhas in Ericeira in 1977. While that might sound very recent, consider that we are talking about European surfing and specifically a country that was under a somewhat isolated dictatorship until 1974.

But Portugal really began to put itself firmly on the international surfing map during the 1990s when the sport exploded in the country.

surfing portugal

Ericeira surfers. Pic: Roman Königshofer (Flickr CC)

When to surf Portugal

You’ll see people surfing Portugal year round, even during the more crowded summer months when it seems like entire country, along with many foreign visitors, comes to fill the its many beautiful beaches. However, the waves are better outside of summer even if the weather can get a bit too cool for casual swimmers and sunbathers.

The best time of year for surfing Portugal is late winter to early spring. During these months, waves tend to measure around 2– 4.5 meters (6 – 15 feet). Summer waves, by comparison, average around 1 – 1.5 meters (3 – 5 feet) with notable exceptions like Nazaré’s Praia do Norte, site of many big wave surfing world records.

Where to surf in Portugal

The Portuguese coast can be divided into 7 surfing regions. These are (from north to south): 1) Porto and the Costa Verde, 2) the Costa da Prata, 3) Ericeira, 4) the Lisbon and west coasts, 5) Alentejo, 6) the Algarve and 7) the islands: Azores and Madeira.

Costa Verde or “Green Coast”

This is Portugal’s northern coast, associated with the country’s second largest city, Porto (Oporto). It is immediately north of the Costa de Prata and reaches all the way to the Spanish region of Galicia. Surfing around Porto may take place in colder waters, but it is not lacking good waves. Notable spots include Aguçadoura, Cabeldo Beach near Viana do Castelo, Azurara near Vila do Conde, Espinho, and Matosinhos (accessible via Porto’s metro system).

The Costa de Prata or “Silver Coast”

This extensive stretch of coastline begins north of Ericeira and continues all the way up to the south of Porto at Esmoriz. Notable surf spots in this central coastal region of Portugal include big wave capital Praia do Norte in Nazaré; the legendary Supertubos in Peniche (home of the Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal); Cortegaça, with its consistent surf and night surfing festival; and the numerous spots around Figueira do Foz and Aveiro.

Ericeira

Simply put, surfing Portugal = surfing Ericeira.

Ericeira local. Pic: Roman Königshofer (Flickr CC)

Ericeira local. Pic: Roman Königshofer (Flickr CC)

At 8 kilometres (5 miles), the smallest surfing region in Portugal is Ericeira, but it is also the one with the highest number of world-class surf spots. Ericeira boasts 9 spots that are famous throughout the global surfing community plus several other notable breaks.

Besides being Europe’s only dedicated World Surfing Reserve, Ericeira also hosts the ASP World Tour Surf Championship at the legendary Ribeira d’Ilhas beach, known for its near perfect barrels. Experienced, expert and pro-level surfers will also fall in love with Coxos, Cave and São Lourenço, while beginners and the less experienced can learn to surf and sharpen their skills at Foz do Lizandro, São Julião and Praia do Sul.

This is Portugal’s — and arguably Europe’s — surfing capital, so anyone on a surf holiday in the country would be crazy to skip Ericeira!

Lisbon Coast

Only around 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Ericeira’s incredible surf spots is the Portuguese capital, one of Europe’s thriving cultural centres. Lisbon itself is not to miss, while the Lisbon coast is well worth a visit for its excellent surfing, especially if you’re already in Ericeira. The Lisbon area offers excellent surf all year long. Highlights include great breaks at Estoril, Carcavelos, Praia do Guincho, Praia Grande in Sintra and Praia das Maçás. For smaller crowds and nice beach breaks, head over the Tagus River to the district of Setúbal to surf the Lisbon area’s west coast, particularly the Costa da Caparica.

surfing portugal

Tough competition at Guincho, Lisbon Coast. Pic: Gustavo Veríssimo (Flickr CC)

Alentejo Coast

Much of Portugal’s coastline is reminiscent of the California coast, but none more so than the Alentejo region, which can resemble the quieter spots of the SoCal surf scene. South of the Lisbon region and north of the Algarve tourism hub, Alentejo is well known for its excellent wines, delicious cuisine and idyllic natural features. There are many great spots along the Vicentine Coast Natural Park, which is located in both Alentejo and the Algarve. Highlights in the Alentejo section include Odeceixe, Zambujeira do Mar, São Torpes, Arrifana and Vila Nova de Milfontes.

Algarve Coast

surfing portugal

Surfing the Algarve. Pic: Tiago J. G. Fernandes (Flickr CC)

Famous as a tourist paradise for Northern Europeans as well as Portuguese nationals, the southernmost region of the Algarve may not be as famous for surfing as, for example, Ericeira. However, there is some very good surfing to be had! If you like your sun brighter and your water a bit warmer, Algarve is worth a shot, especially on the west coast, which gets north-westerly swells. The south coast can also get nice waves in the winter, which is the best time to avoid the huge summer crowds anyway. Choose from over 50 surf spots in this unique and beautiful holiday Mecca. For beach breaks and medium southerly swells, try Sagres, which is also home to the most south-westerly point in continental Europe; and Lagos, a nice-sized city with plenty to do besides surf. The Algarve’s west coast waves include nice beach towns such as Arifana, Tavira, Monte Clergio and Carrapateira.

The Islands: Azores and Madeira

Though both figuratively and literally off the beaten path, the Azores islands and Madeira archipelago offer unique experiences as both travel destinations and places to surf.

Around 1,360 kilometres (850 miles) west of continental Portugal, the Autonomous Region of the Azores is made up of 9 islands, each with its own character. The island of Terceira boasts a cluster of surf spots on its east and northeast coasts, while São Miguel features what are the archipelago’s most well-known breaks: powerful and consistent Ribeira Grande and Rabo de Peixe, both on the island’s north coast. Crowds are small and the surfing can get big and dangerous, especially in the winter, so take care!

Situated in the North Atlantic Ocean some 950 kilometres (600 miles) from mainland Portugal, Madeira Autonomous Region contains two populated islands: the main island of Madeira and Porto Santo. Most surfing takes place on the main island, with the most famous spot being the barrelling Paul do Mar, which has played host to the ISA World Championships and big wave surfing competitions. Other spots include the expert-level Jardim do Mar, Lugar de Baixo and Ponta Pequena. For beginners and intermediates there is the calmer São Vicente, located on the north coast.

surfing portugal

Madeira. Pic: Stefanie Kurtz (Flickr CC)

Surfing Portugal Facts

Population: 10.5 million

Currency: Euro €

Capital: Lisbon

Geography: Most southwest country in continental Europe, mountainous in the north and central regions, flat in the south.

Climate: Mild Mediterranean, cooler and wetter in the north, warmer and drier in the south.

Communicate: Official language is Portuguese. English widely spoken among the country’s youth, professional classes and tourist industry. Many people speak or at least understand Spanish, Italian and French.

Getting around: The country is well connected with regional rail and bus lines. Greater Lisbon and Porto have modern and efficient systems of trains, buses and metro lines. Though many surfers manage to make their way around via coaches and trains, a car will really open up the more remote and “secret” surf spots. Because the high surfing season coincides with the low tourist season, good deals can be had through most car rental firms.

If you’re interested in surfing Portugal, there are some great surfcamps to stay in, offering accommodation, surf lessons, guided surfing and much more. Ericeira is highly recommend as it not only offers the best surf spots, but also close to Lisbon and many other exciting points of interest.

About graham.land

Graham Land is a writer who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, earning an MA in History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham writes on a variety of topics including the environment, politics and history.
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