My first solo trip abroad 20 years ago was five weeks in Europe, during which I backpacked around on my own, no real agenda in mind, going wherever the wind took me. I went canyoning in Switzerland, I climbed a mountain in Northern Italy, I jumped out of plane in Spain. More recent years have found me planning a surfing trip to Barbados or learning how to dive in the Bahamas
I guess you could say I’ve always been drawn to active vacations; while I like to wander around town on a self-guided photo tour, I’m most in my element when out and about doing something.
Now that I’ve overcome my fear of the ocean, many of my adventures abroad include water sports: diving, SUP yoga and even surfing. I first tried my hand at surfing when I was in Barbados many years ago and subsequent attempts in Hawaii and the Caribbean gave me the bug—and now, after meeting Simon and checking out some of the options out his way, participating in a full-on surf retreat is on my immediate to-do list.
Being a California boy, SVV has surfed since he could walk. Our first big vacation together was 10 days in Portugal, which is still our favorite shared travel experience to date, and I watched him paddle out into the blue crush and ride wave after wave in. I was jealous of that ability to just hop up on a board and become One with the sea. And, I’ll be honest, my competitive spirit makes me want to get better so I can go nose to nose with his board.
That said, surfing is one of those sports that, unless you’re an athletic savant, doesn’t come easy. Learning the basics like paddling, laying on the board, bouncing up, wave timing and essential safety when handling a large piece of fiberglass in an unpredictable and fluid environment is critical to you not only picking up on it fast, but also whether you’ll actually do it again—and get better.
And the truth is, I’m never going to get better just taking out a board once every year or two on vacation. So I’m thinking that SVV and I will just have to return to our favorite spot, exactly 10 years later after that initial visit, so I can become a pro on a board just like him—don’t you agree?
Here are some prime spots to learn how to surf:
Portugal. On our trip, SVV and I were flitting about the southwestern coast on the Algarve staying in pensão run by cute, little retired women, but we’ve had our eyes on a Portugal surf camp located just north of Lisbon—one of my favorite European cities, I might add—is also in an amazing spot, and literally footprints away from the surf. If you don’t know this already, then you can thank me later but coastal Portugal is one of the last places on earth to find an authentic travel experience free from the clutter of typical destinations’ tourist eyesores.
Most of the locals speak some English if you’re hesitant to tackle the language barrier, the transportation system has benefited from European integration in an immense way and OMG the food and sangria is absolutely sinful—and cheap. (Still dreaming of those couple carafes we shared while still getting to know each other. We haven’t been able to replicate them yet either!)
Bali. Neither of us has been to Indonesia, but some of the most epic surfing (and beaches) on the planet exists there. You know that picture perfect wave you’ve seen on the interwebs, extreme television or gracing the wall of your therapist’s office? Ninety-nine percent chance it was taken out on the sandy stretches of an Indonesian coastline.
Having been to that part of the world, however, makes me appreciate the thought of this little enclave of surf culture amid the more well-known vacation spots that typically lure in the tourists. They call it “the true Bali experience,” and after watching videos on YouTube, it’s tough for me to argue with that.
After thinking about this a little harder, I feel the only real way to get better at surfing is to try out both of these. Obviously. Care to join me?
Have you ever been on a surfing retreat? What would be your dream surf destination if you could go anywhere?