Surfing Portugal: For Intermediate Surfers, Adventurers, and Campers
Pipeline. Tea’hapoo. Cloudbreak. These are just a few world class breaks that I will never be able to surf. But just because I’m not a world-class surfer, doesn’t mean I can’t roam the globe looking for really good waves in very beautiful locations. I love my home breaks in San Diego, but the sense of adventure that comes with chasing waves and paddling into unknown seas is one of our favorite addictions. Surfing Portugal fulfilled all my expectations and brought a few surprises too.
There are waves to be found on every mile of the Portuguese Coast if you’re brave enough to paddle out. Coming from the crowded breaks of Southern France and Northern Spain, we were stoked to find some off-the-beaten-path locations that were wave rich and crowd free.
The only problem with empty breaks is getting up the nerve to paddle out all alone. I distinctly remember the same feeling when I first paddle out in front of our rental home in Nicaragua and thinking to myself, “If it’s my time, it’s my time.” Yeah, I know, who even thinks like that? The break in front of that house was so good, but there was no one in the water and when I paddled out, the water was so dark and murky from the sugar cane being burned nearby, that you couldn’t help but hear the theme song from Jaws in the back of your mind.
I’ll admit, there were a few spots on the Portugal coast that were a bit too rocky and empty for me to brave, but there were a lot great surfing spots in Portugal that were absolutely perfect for us “intermediate” surfers. If you, too, are a “regular surfer” who’s just looking for a decent wave to surf in a country you’ve never been, Portugal might be the perfect place for you too. Even though it’s one of the poorer European countries, it is still very safe, wave-rich, and great for campers. I will warn you that many of these breaks, especially if they are close to Lisbon or Peniche, are going to be quite crowded. These are five spots we recommend checking out on your surf trip to Portugal. They were good quality waves with moderate crowds.
- Sagres AKA The Edge of the World.
I’ll admit, it was their beer that made me drive the extra 300 kilometers past Lisbon. I first tasted their beer while in Switzerland, after hiking Oeschinensee in eighty-degree weather that a cold anything would’ve hit the spot. But I became obsessed with their beer, so much that when Portugal came on the radar, Sagres was our first stop. We love vagabonding while traveling and being in southern Portugal to surf in the offseason made it easy to pull up to the beach and free camp with the dozens of other vans and motorhomes also doing it. Sages is a hippie sort of surf town with plenty of food/supplies. I was actually quite surprised with how many restaurants and bars there were here. Parking in the dirt lot on the cliffs puts you within walking distance of all the food and the waves. The nice thing about this surf spot in Portugal is that a small peninsula that juts into the ocean, causing it pick up swells from both directions and with varying size. There are three breaks. Sagres, which is the cove furthest Southeast; Tonel, just a short walk west of Sagres South; and Beliche, which is most eastern and about a mile from the center of Sagres. They are all beach breaks with rights and lefts and can suit any surfer’s needs.
- Praia do Amado
What we really loved the most about surfing Portugal was Praia do Amado. This beach is surfing vagabond’s paradise! At the end of a long dirt road sits a large parking lot on the edge of a cliff overlooking a large bay that picks up a lot of swell off the Atlantic Ocean. Although it can get crowded, especially with all the surf schools, we found this beach break to be quite fun. Camping here is free and easy. There are toilet facilities open from sunrise to sunset. There are a few restaurants on the beach and the nearest town with restaurants is only a thirty-minute walk. Besides the predominant surf vibe, our son enjoyed being able to run the dirt road that ran parallel to the coastline for many miles.
Of all the surfing locations in Portugal, this one is the most off-the-beaten-path surf spot on this list. Getting to this secluded break requires driving down another dirt road. If you camp on the north side of the river, there are no facilities here so make sure you are prepared and know that you have to wade across the river to get to the ocean. There are very few others surfers at this lefthand beach break, which means having the beautiful Algarve Coast practically to yourself. If the surf isn’t firing or if you want some land-based adventure, hike the Rota Vicentina, which is a backpacking trial that starts at Europe’s most westerly point, Cape St Vincent near Sagres, and ends in Santiago do Cacém. The fisherman’s trail is very popular among backpackers and I highly recommend hiking some of it if the surf is down. We chose to hike from Odeceixe to Zambujeira do Mar, supposedly the most beautiful section. Zambujeira do Mar is a little larger town with a little sheltered surf break, but needs swell to work. Camping on the beach is not allowed here, although there is a campground nearby (15-minute walk from the beach). The town can be lively in high season but deserted in low season.
This is supposedly a cool surf town. Unfortunately, because we wanted to catch the WSL Pro Tour in Peniche, we didn’t actually see the town. It’s much larger than the previous three towns and will have ample supplies of food, stores, and restaurants along with a multitude of breaks to choose from. The breaks include, São Julião, and average beach break good for beginners; Foz do Lizandro, another average beachbreak; Ericeira, convenient location as it is straight out in front of the town; Ribeira d’Illhass, our favorite break, Coxos, a barreling reef (experienced surfers only); and São Lorenço, a nice sand bar with rights and lefts. Ribeira d’Illhass is the place to be. We really enjoyed camping at Ribeira d’Illhass, which is a really great right-hand reef that can get a bit fast and heavy depending on the swell. This is also a great vagabonding spot with oceanfront restaurant/bar. The vibe is great and you won’t want to leave.
There’s a reason the WSL stops here. It is definitely the surfing hotspot. It’s a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and attracts both north or south swells. There are lots of places to vagabond: Supertubos, the famous break that can be reminiscent of Pipeline at times (can’t be camped at when WSL is there), Lagide, a super fun point break reef, and all beachfront parking lots leading up to Lagide. Staying in Peniche to surf is very easy because there are tons of amenities, bars, restaurants, surf shops, and breaks. Check out Magic Seaweed to see all the great spots. There are a bunch of other breaks slightly north of Peniche that are also great spots to camp. If you choose to vagabond in the parking lot near Lagide (which was where we camped because we this was our preferred surf spot) bring earplugs. The Portuguese know how to party and the bars in the parking lot rock the music until the early morning! Take note that all breaks in Peniche will be crowded, however, I’m not kidding when I tell you that lineups will be empty if you get up early.
I highly recommend checking out these blogs, they helped us a lot with finding the details on free camping spots and how to get to them:
*Note: It is not technically legal to camp in Portugal at any time of the year and in the Algarve it is offically banned. We did not have any issues, however, it is probably not the best thing to do in the high season when you might get in trouble for it.