October is a good time to be a surfer in the northern hemisphere. With the seasonal transition complete and the days getting shorter, there are swells a’plenty and great conditions on just about every coast sitting above the Tropic of Cancer.
But perhaps no zone enjoys fall as much as the European mainland. Between ideal conditions, a wide variety of setups, and any number of extracurricular distractions, October in the Old World is about as obvious as, well, Octoberfest in the Old World.
Swell for Europe typically comes out of the north Atlantic, either from extra-tropical hurricanes or low pressure systems that originate up by Greenland and Iceland. These storms can sometimes run straight into Europe, which means weather as well as waves. But more often than not they stay far enough off the coast to pump out perfection to the various countries fortunate enough to have beachfront property.
Sure, it’s a bit colder now than it was a couple months ago, when the beaches around Hossegor were covered in bikinis and banana hammocks. But that chill in the air means swell in the water and sand on the banks—and these are some of the best banks in the world. La Graviere, La Nord, Les Cul Nuls—if you want to pull into dredging barrels over hard-packed sand, this is the best place in Europe to do so.
For a bit of variety, you have nearby Biarritz and Lacanau, as well as numerous other surf zones where you can do anything from longboard knee-high peelers to charge gigantic offshore reefs with daunting names like Belharra.
Half of the surfing world will be here this time of year, but there’s typically enough sand and swell to go around Half of the surfing world will be here this time of year, but there’s typically enough sand and swell to go around, even with locals like Jeremy Flores and Joan Duru dominating when the barrels get beefy.
Everyone knows about Mundaka, the fickle but symmetrical river mouth that lights up the Basque country and used to have a spot on tour. But what most don’t realize is that Spain has hundreds of other setups, the majority of which see far less crowds than the country’s crown jewel.
So while Natxo Gonzalez, Aritz Aranburu, and a hundred of their closest neighbours are logging obscene amounts of tube-time at Mundaka, you can surf alone on just about any type of wave you prefer.
From the XXL walls at Punta Galea to the slabs of Galicia, from the volcanic reef barrels of the Canary Islands to any number of forgiving beach breaks scattered throughout the country, Spain has it all. And there’s always the Wavegarden for the flat days.
While 99 per cent of the hype surrounding Portugal’s surf scene is dominated by Nazare and Supertubos, the reality is that the country has so much surf on offer it’s almost overwhelming.
There’s a huge beginner surf scene in and around Peniche, with thousands of European backpackers packing themselves into camper vans and surf schools in pursuit of the life aquatic.
But once you sneak away from the Peniche/Caiscais bubble, you start to realise that the country is literally littered with quality beach breaks and points facing virtually every direction, picking up tons of swell and bending it into convenient little corners that protect from even the most obnoxious of winds.
A few years ago, the Portuguese tourist bureau offered a promotion whereby any visiting surfer who got skunked received a free return redemption trip—that’s how confident they are in the consistency of their surf.
As one would expect from a country so incredibly wave rich, surfing is the unofficial national sport in Portugal, with guys like world tour surfer Frederico Morais and Nazare kingpin Garrett McNamara enjoying celebrity status.
But you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the popularity of beach lifestyle. Everyone in Portugal might not surf, but just about everyone there loves surfers. Who wouldn’t want to visit a place like that?
Surf in Italy, you might ask? Definitely. Although it doesn’t enjoy the fetch and fury of the Atlantic storms, the Mediterranean definitely has waves—and sometimes even good ones. Most of the spots are kept pretty quiet, but with a little initiative and a healthy understanding of weather maps, you might just find yourself trading barrels with world tour surfer Leonardo Fioravanti, who cut his teeth in the Med.
The best part about surfing in Europe is that surfing isn’t the only thing to do there. While there are tons of breaks and endless swell, there are also a million things to do when you aren’t in the water.
A few of the highlights involve wine, food, culture, history, art, cities, parties, romance, world tour events, and a big wave contest. And if that’s not enough to convince you, there’s always skiing in the Alps.
Cover shot: Supertubos lights up, by Mandorley