In our never ending quest to try new things both at home and in every country we visit, we headed to Praia Grande near Lisbon, Portugal to try a spot of surfing. As we discovered amidst the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean, surfing in Portugal is easy in theory, but tricky to master in practice.
Thankfully, the experienced team behind Sintra Surf were on hand to provide excellent advice and to keep us safe. With their help and despite some initial apprehension, we quickly discovered that with a touch of determination and patience, it is possible to actually surf, albeit it for a few metres, on Portugal’s world famous breakers.
Advertisement feature: This post was written as part of a collaboration with Sintra Surf. Our editorial independence and integrity were not influenced by this partnership.
Surfing in Portugal: We Take to the Waves near Sintra
To the uninitiated, there’s something quite intimidating about the sea. It’s a swirling, untempered, often ferocious beast that’ll betray any trust you place in it in a heartbeat. Disrespect the surf and the surf will eat you up!
With these kinds of thoughts in our heads, it’s any wonder how we managed to convince ourselves to embark upon our first surfing experience. Jade is not a strong swimmer and fearful of the sea while I have barely any experience with being in sea water. In truth however, despite our apprehension, we were driven by a desire to try something new and we were buoyed by a confidence that we would be well looked after by the experienced coaches and lifeguards of Sintra Surf.
Surfing with Sintra Surf
Sintra Surf, run by professional bodyboarder Nicolas Rosner, was the company we chose to surf with. He and his team offer a multitude of options that cater to everyone from beginners to those with more experience. They even run surfing camps and guided trips. Their website offers plenty of information on surfing in Portugal, details on everything they offer and also some much-needed reassurance that we would be in safe hands.
The day before our surfing lesson, Nicolas texted us the name of the beach where we’d meet. It was Praia Grande, a spot well-known for its surfing credentials. The location of each lesson is, as you might expect, weather dependant. Nicolas later explained to me in some detail how he looks at and interprets detailed weather patterns in order to chose the beaches with the best waves on any given day. That’s something you only learn with plenty of experience.
Jade and I took an Uber from our Airbnb in Sintra’s old town. As we neared the beach, the sunshine and clear blue skies were suddenly replaced by dark, grey sea fog. A sense of foreboding perhaps would have emerged had we not been excited about what was to come and also astonished at how quickly the weather changed.
Preparing to surf
Nicolas and his colleagues arrived shortly afterwards in a blue mini bus covered with surfing stickers and filled with equipment. Nicolas greeted us warmly, then looked up with regret at the sky. “Perhaps it will clear up,” he said unconvincingly.
Within a few moments, boards and wetsuits were being retrieved from the back of the bus and were handed out amongst the small group of five trainee surfers. The boards were large and unwieldy but manageable. We were soon kitted out and carrying our boards down a ramp towards the wet sand of the beach and towards the rolling waves.
Before we even dipped our toes in however, we needed to warm up, stretch and get to know our boards. After a few laps in the sand and some stretches, we we taught how to lay on the board, how to paddle and how to snap up into the perfect crouched ‘surfer-style’ position. I was expecting the tuition to last longer than it did, but it turns out, surfing isn’t all that complicated. Provided you catch a decent wave and you’re standing correctly, surfing is easy!
Well, in theory.
If at first you don't succeed...
It wasn’t long before we discovered that falling off a surfboard is also pretty easy. Initially, we stayed lying down on the board, only lifting our upper body as the wave propelled us and our boards forward.
After a couple of goes, we attempted to stand. Staying loose and low is crucial to keeping your balance, but that’s easier said than done when there’s a crest of water suddenly carrying you towards the beach. There’s a lot to think about all at once, and the excitement, noise and flurry of water meant we struggled to keep our brains in gear. Our first few attempts didn’t end well. We were soon submerged in waist-high Atlantic salt water.
Knowing that Jade was particularly nervous, our instructor Felipe offered her a bit more support. She was taught how best to time the jump onto the board and where to position her body once she was on. He helped to steady the board right up until the wave caught her. It was really great to receive such awesome, one-on-one support.
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We become actual surfers
After many attempts, including one where Jade’s board was flipped over her head by a particularly strong wave, something clicked. When it comes to surfing in Portugal, practice really does make perfect it seems, as suddenly, we both managed to stand on our boards and surf, albeit for around 10 metres. I even managed a smooth, running dismount into the shallows at the end of my best attempt. In my mind, I looked pretty slick. In actuality, I must have looked like an albatross learning to walk on water.
The fog never let up through our lesson. At one point, it got worse, thickening considerably so that we could no longer see the restaurants on the seafront. This was probably a good thing. A World Championship Bodyboarding competition was taking place on the same stretch of water upon which we were learning to surf. Thankfully, it had been delayed by the weather, so our amateur attempts to surf were unlikely to be seen by the pro’s waiting patiently along the coastal road for the fog to clear.
Fatigue kicks in
After around an hour of surfing, tiredness began to kick in. The tide was coming in and therefore, wading through the water to get to the breakers was exhausting. Thankfully, as the entire session lasted two hours, taking rests on the beach between attempts was encouraged by the team.
As the tide continued to come in, conditions for surfing worsened to a point where it was difficult to maintain the ‘surfer-style’ standing position without falling. Luckily, this coincided with the end of the lesson. We were called in, asked to clean the sand off of our boards heading back to the van.
Surfing in Portugal: Our thoughts on our first surfing experience
We’d had a blast! It’s always good trying something new that also challenges you. Surfing in theory is easy, but it requires plenty of practice to master the waves. We discovered that an element of mindfulness was useful so as not to overthink, as well as a lot of patience.
We couldn’t have been happier with the tuition and support we received from Nicolas, Felipe and the team behind Sintra Surf. They were warm, friendly, encouraging and, most importantly experienced and trustworthy. When it comes to surfing in Portugal, we think Sintra Surf are the team to go with.
The ocean off of Portugal’s coastline is well-known for its high waves and strong currents and it therefore can seem daunting to those who are inexperienced. Despite our initial apprehension, we felt completely safe throughout our experience. In fact, we had so much fun, we completely forgot our worries.
Portugal is a global haven for surfers and bodyboarders thanks to it being home to waves that can be conquered by both beginners and professionals. Since surfing is part of the fabric of Portugal’s heritage, it would be amiss if you didn’t try it yourself. If you’ve never tried surfing, Portugal is a great place to get a taste for it.
Incidently, the World Championship Bodyboarding competition eventually managed to get going an hour or two after our session and we enjoyed watching the pros perform tricks from our vantage point on the seafront. It looked great fun and it’s something we’d love to try in the future. Sintra Surf provide lessons on body boarding as well as surfing, so keep this in mind when you contact them.
Dinosaur Prints at Praia Grande
As well as providing excellent conditions for surfing and bodyboarding year-round, a selection of cafes and bars and a lovely, sandy beach, Praia Grande has another, rather unique attraction hidden up its sleeve.
Thanks to the marvels of tectonics and geology, causing former sea bed to be driven up vertically into cliffs, actual dinosaur prints can be seen just a short walk from the beach.
To see them, head to the southern end of the beach where you'll find a staircase ascending the cliff. Keep your eyes peeled as your climb as the prints can be found on your right hand side around half way up.
How to get to Praia Grande from Sintra & Lisbon
Getting to Praia Grande is easy and there are a couple of methods.
From Sintra, the 441 bus, run by Scotturb, runs to/from Praia Grande. Check timetables on the official Scotturb website.
Jade and I used Uber to get to Praia Grande from Sintra. We’re not entirely comfortable with using Uber, but the fares are low and it’s by far the most convenient option for getting around in the region.
Regular taxis are also available and can take you from Sintra and Lisbon, but fares will be higher.
Are you considering or have you already been surfing in Portugal? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
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