Go There: Central Portugal

Damian Wills points it for the rocks.

Exploring Lisbon, Ericeira, and Peniche.

Words and photos by: Carl Steindler

Where: Portugal is on the southwesternmost corner of Europe and is bordered by the mighty Atlantic Ocean on the west and south, with Spain laying directly to the north and east.

What: Portugal is perhaps the most surf-saturated country in Europe, and the cities of Peniche, Ericeira, and Lisbon (the capital) boast the highest concentration of surfers with extremely consistent and various wave setups offering everything ranging from beginner to expert. There are super gnarly ledges, long points, barreling beachbreak and mushy rollers all within a 90-mile stretch, which make this area a wave-riding mecca. As well, the 16th-century architecture will transport you back to the Age of Exploration with the likes of Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, while at night you can come back to the 21st century and go clubbing until dawn. The topper, though, is that you can get tubed daily.

When: October through March is the best time to visit for maximum size potential as the north and northwest swells push through consistently to combine with northeast (Peniche) and southeast (Ericeira) winds, which create strong offshore flow lighting up many breaks. However, during this time you may experience wet and cold weather. So if you’re looking for less juice and warmer climates, then consider visiting between May through August when the waves are mellow and the “touristas” are on the beach in full effect.

Trippy evening air from Trip Patterson.

Why: The exchange rate of the euro compared to the dollar has skyrocketed, but Portugal is still very affordable. The vast 1,114-mile coastline is exposed to tons of different swell and wind combinations, making it possible to hunt down surf in a variety of weather conditions.

How: Most U.S. carriers offer daily flights to Lisbon (LIS), but prices range drastically, $800–1,500 from Los Angeles, and $450–1,100 in New York (JFK), so be sure to shop around. Of course, traveling with a non-U.S. carrier is always a bonus as the service is commonly better and alcohol typically complimentary. Check out Germany’s Lufthansa Airways (lufthansa.com) for the cheapest deals as many flights to Lisbon lay over in Frankfurt or Munich. Once in Lisbon, rent a car, buy a map, and drive 30 minutes out of the city to the coast and rinse off the airline grime. Now, decide where you want to begin your expedition (somewhere in Ericeira is highly recommended).

Places to stay: In Peniche, try Residencial Maciel (residencial-maciel.com) in the heart of the small fishing village with double rooms ranging from 20–30 euros. In Ericeira, Hospedaria Bernardo (hospedariabernardo@iol.pt) is the spot and is centrally located near the square with easy access to the cyber cafe, restaurants, and bars. The rooms come with small kitchenettes and start at 25 euros. In Lisbon, you can find anything from on to five-star hotels, although you’ll be at least 30 minutes from a surf check in town, so it’s better just to drive in from Ericeira or Peniche to visit, sightsee, or party.

Places to eat: The seafood in Portugal is amazing, especially in Peniche. You can’t go wrong ordering the daily fish and soup special, or the pork. For the more emboldened, fresh rabbit dishes are available. Mystic Café, also in Peniche, is a great place to grab some lunch and midday coffee while enjoying the free high-speed wi-fi setup. In Lisbon near Se de Lisboa Basilica, check out SushiMoto (sushimoto.pt) for one very hip dining experience—eat tempura roles in a posh setting with a DJ busting out beats from the corner. Also, in Ericeira right in the parking lot at Ribeira is a cozy little snack bar with great sandwiches and a mellow beachfront vibe.

Big, perfect peaks rumble in from the North Atlantic.

Dudes and babes: You’re in Europe, which automatically means loads of attractive people. Be sure to remember, “going out” is an all night affair with a common peak time of 4:00 a.m., so pacing yourself is recommended. Should you choose to go on the prowl for a European beauty, the streets and bars of Lisbon are a must. There you will find droves of women (or men) raging in the streets with “to go” cups full of booze in hand—either looking to just have a quick drink or whisk you away to one of the many after-hours clubs (check out Lux, luxfragil.com). There you will be grooving so hard that you’ll be lucky if you make it out in time for the morning dawn patrol sesh, as it can go ’til 9:00 a.m.

Crowd factor: Surfing is popular in Portugal, especially within Ericeira, where the high quality of reef and pointbreaks are abundant and have bred the likes of WCT warrior Tiago Pires and many other talented locals. The long, right pointbreak Ribeira is also home to an annual six-star WQS contest. So don’t expect to surf alone, unless you’re willing to paddle out at The Cave or go way down south to Sagres or Faro. Don’t be discouraged though, when a swell does arrive waves are consistent and long, with enough booty for everybody.

Portugal offers plenty of ways to shred.

Stuff to bring: A 3/2mm wetsuit and booties are a necessity year round, and in the winter months the water can dip all the way down to 51 degrees with a nasty windchill. For that time of year, be sure to pack a 4mm suit and thicker booties along with a hood. Regarding boards, grab your two best shortboards and a solid step-up or mini gun for when the waves are pumping and the offshores are blowing hard. You’ll be surfing over mostly rocky reef, so don’t forget the ding-repair kit, especially since surf stuff can be expensive.

If the surf is flat: Go to Lisbon and visit Castle Sao Jorge or Basilica Santa Maria Maior and walk around thousand year old architecture and fortifications. Maior is Lisbon’s oldest church and was built in 1147, while Sao Jorge was a strategic foothold perched atop a hill erected by the Moors themselves. Just outside of Ericeira is also the Mafra National Palace, which is basically a mind-blowing mansion from the 18th century built by King John V. It boasts 1,200 rooms and covers 406,000 square feet of royalty. If you have the time and commitment, head down south to Sagres or Faro and the Algarve. There you will find miles of barren coastline with a camping vibe rumored to be reminiscent of Baja in the 70s.

Lisbon local David Luis, slots one at The Cave, Ericeira’s answer to The Box.

More information: Check out Low Pressure’s The World Storm Rider Guides, Volumes One and Two and the Europe editions. Not all of the restaurants and hotels in and around Peniche and Ericeira take major credit/debit cards, so having cash is sometimes a must, though in Lisbon major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. The international telephone country code for calling to and within Portugal is (+351). Expect higher room rates if traveling during the summer months.