Surfing in Ericeira, Portugal
Yvonne Gordon tries out a surfing course in Ericeira to find out why it is one of four 'World Surf Reserves'
Thud! I landed on the sand like a pile of wet laundry fired from the open door of a washing machine on spin cycle. I had just been ejected from a wave I was trying to surf on, and deposited straight onto the beach.
I was surfing in Portugal, where the waves are fast, hard and break near the shore. There wasn’t a lot of time between dropping into a wave and hitting the beach to get standing up on the board.
However, things weren’t all bad. Ericeira, 22 miles north of Lisbon, has such a selection of beaches and different types of surf breaks, it’s one of the best surfing spots in the world. The temperature was around 25°C, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the water was warm, and just yards from the shore was a boardwalk full of funky café bars for post-surf refreshments. For a surfer used to northwest Ireland, it makes a change from changing in a freezing car park and clinging to a bowl of chowder afterwards to warm up. And that's just in summer...
I was taking an intermediate surf lesson with the local NaOnda surf school and João, the instructor, talked me through my pop-up, telling me to make sure to get my back foot up first. "I’m going to be a pain in the ass,” he told me at the beginning of the lesson, and at first he was, watching my every move and calling me over for feedback, telling me how to tweak things to get up onto waves quicker. The waves were tough, and sometimes I felt I was spending more time under them than on them.
However it soon got easier and more fun. My popups got faster and I was spending more time above the board than underneath it, and surfing for longer. As I got the hang of things and started turning through the waves, I noticed how perfect the conditions really were – sun, blue sky and warm water.
After a couple of hours of exhilarating surfing, I was ready to fall into the hammock outside our wooden chalet at Helios Beach Houses in Foz do Lizandro, where we were staying. Just steps from the beach, it looks out over a tranquil valley and from my perch in the sun, I could hear dogs barking and the laughs of kids playing in the distance, with the roar of the sea and breaking waves in the background.
Much revived, in the early evening, we explored Ericeria, a small fishing village with long, thin streets of pretty white houses with red roofs. Doorways and shutters boxes are painted sea blue and many of the houses have traditional tiles on their facades.
At the seafront, there’s a long wall with a view down over Fisherman’s Beach and some elderly locals had gathered on the benches for an evening chat in the sun. We walked along the pedestrianised streets in the old town towards the main square, where the air was noisy with the chatter of sparrows in the trees. There are small shops around the square and lots of restaurants in the adjacent streets.
Surfing is a big theme here – Ericeira is one of only four World Surf Reserves – so there are plenty of surf shops. The appropriately named Dog House surf shop’s doorway was guarded by a grumpy looking bulldog who a passing local told me was called Boris – and was friendlier than he looked.
We popped into a bakery for a Pastéis de Belém – one of the famous custard tarts which had been recommended. I was tempted to skip dinner and just fill up on these. But after a while exploring, we chose to eat at Tik Tak restaurant, at an outside table in the quiet street. Pedro, the owner, brought out a few pieces of fish, the catch of the day, for us to choose from – we choose seabass and grouper and it arrived with perfectly sautéed potatoes and vegetables.
The next morning I awoke to hear a cock crowing across the valley and birds of all types singing in a lively dawn chorus. In the distance a horse whinnied and ducks quacked in return, as if laughing. The air warmed as the sun came up. We had scheduled a morning yoga class at our accommodation and the instructor, Mofalda, worked us through a special programme of yoga positions which eased sore surfing muscles and loosened up joins.
After lunch, I braved another surf lesson. The tide was further out, the waves were easier and a group of expert surfers further out on the waves provided inspiration for improvement. I surf regularly but this was my first time surfing outside Ireland and as well as enjoying some exciting surf conditions – Ericeira caters for surfers of all levels – it was great to be able to relax in the sun after surfing, eat delicious seafood and explore an old Portuguese fishing village. I’ll definitely be popping up on the waves here again…
A week at Helios Beach Houses Ericeira and five surf lessons starts from £168 per person (up to May) and £305pp in high season (July/August). For information and to book, call 0208 144 9950 or see www.surfholidays.com.
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This article was written by Yvonne Gordon