2 girls. 2 weeks. 2 surfboards.
In the many months leading up to summer, a lot of my time was spent daydreaming, procrastinating and basically longing for a summer surf trip. On particularly cold, wet and windy days I would send messages to my friend, Megan, who would reply with similar dreams of surfing somewhere warm and with good waves. As much as I love surfing in Wales, staying there over the summer wasn't really on the top of my wish list. So, the planning begun. Of course, with an initial budget of pretty much ZERO. We thought about going to Bali (ambitious, I know), then it was Fuertuventura, then it was Portugal, then Costa Rica, Morocco and probably a few other places in between. Until, about a month or so before our departure date, we decided Portugal was the place to go! Yay!
I landed in Lisbon with:
Too many clothes (I'm not always great at packing light)
Meg had spent the last few months in Germany doing an Erasmus...no surf for her, except on the Munich river wave, so I packed for us both. I was definitely a lot stronger after a summer spent in France paddling all-the-time BUT this didn't prepare me for the epic challenge of getting to Ericeira alone with my big ass board bag. Not to mention the fact that my phone didn't work and I was expecting to be picked up by the hostel car (which conveniently decided to breakdown that very day) So, after an initial internal breakdown I managed to get a taxi and then bus to ...
Since we planned everything last minute we missed the opportunity to get it cheap. So we payed about €20 per night. We stayed in a hostel right by the bus station called 70s Hostel-it wasn't particularly 70s to be honest. The staff were super friendly, but it was really quiet...possibly not the right hostel for meeting lots of people. BUT there was a pretty nice roof terrace, it was really clean, and close to the beach and town. Also, we noticed a snapped surfboard and asked if we could draw on it, they were totally cool and wanted us to draw on the walls by the end.
Pretty cheap! We stocked up on food from the local supermarket and only really ate out once. The first night we went to a nice restaurant where we shared a pizza, cheesy garlic bread and a jug of sangria for about €10 each! The staff were so helpful and we actually ended up meeting them again one evening when we were exploring (and actually just desperately looking for somewhere to pee), we ended up meeting loads of their friends and getting a locals tour of the bars. In the evenings the streets are filled with people and music, lot's of young tourists from all around the world as well as locals - a great atmosphere! Oh, and you can buy half pints of beer for €1!
Meg and I love, LOVE cafe's. Ericeira had so many cute cafes, perfect for sitting and getting inspired, writing, drawing, reading or just chilling. Lots of them served really fresh, healthy options (Meg is vegetarian so she loved it) as well as really tasty and relatively cheap coffee. Each day seemed to involve sitting in a different cafe, having a coffee and as a result, long chats about changing the world...
The shops were also pretty special, particularly the surf shops (there are loads). Some of them with artwork on the glass in the windows, or little coffee bars within the shops. The staff were also incredibly helpful and keen to let us know where's best to surf, when and in what conditions! Perfect for if you've only got a week somewhere so don't want to waste time surfing the wrong places at the wrong times (although we still managed to do this just a couple of times). Here's a few cafes/shops/bars I'd recommend...
KFE Coffee Shop - Sunset Bamboo Bar - The Magic Quiver Surf & Deli - Boardriders Quicksilver
Fourthly (is that a word?), skating
Once we had settled we quickly put our skateboards back together ready to explore the town...this turned into a slight fiasco! One board worked fine, but the second, for some reason just wouldn't skate straight (it sent me flying). I was certain the trucks were on correctly (I've done this several times), well it turns out, they weren't. Meg was using my deck and her trucks (which were initially on her longboard) after a little experimentation and (not so helpful) help from the hostel guy, we turned them round...no problem. There's a massive Quicksilver store in Ericeira called Boardriders, a little out of the town but easy to walk/skate to. It had a skatepark as well as a little cafe and viewing terrace where you could watch people skate. They also held yoga classes (Meg attended one, I was too scared because, well, I suck!) But she really enjoyed it and definitely thought it was worth the €12. We skated the carpark and a couple other spots. The roads in the town are cobbled, therefore beautiful, but not really skateable.
Lastly, and most importantly, The Surf!
There are several spots to surf in Ericeira, a mixture of beach breaks and reefs. Some very close to the town, others a long walk away, therefore more suitable for cycling to or catching the very convenient...
€1 Beach Bus, which departs pretty much every hour, you can catch it from the main bus terminal, or from almost any bus stop. For €1 it'll drop you at three of the main beaches; Foz do Lizandro, Ribeira D'llhas & Centro Rodoviario it has free Wifi as well as a trailer on the back to put your surf boards! There's even an Ericeira Beach Bus app which I recently found, it's in Portuguese but pretty simple to understand. The cool thing about Ericeira is that it's small you can walk to plenty of surf spots and we found ourselves seeing the same people almost everyday, either on the bus or in the sea ! We even met a couple from Wales, which was really cool.
Anyway, on our first day, desperate to surf with very little knowledge of where to go, we walked to one of the closest beach Sao Sebastiao, it was a reef, but there were lots of people on swellies obviously having lessons, the reef is pretty flat so not too scary. A great, pretty safe place to try out reefs for the first time. We managed to surf at the wrong time, so the tide was a bit too high and where it was still working there were too many people.
(A downside-surf schools seem to teach 10-15 people at once, which makes the sea incredibly crowded. This can get a bit frustrating, and adds the challenge of avoiding hitting people everytime you catch a wave)
Having a car would have definitely helped in finding different, less crowded spots to surf...it seems there are many BUT being there for just a week and not really knowing anyone made it a challenge.
This could have potentially ruined our surfing experience, but it didn't at all! Although I'd definitely rather surf with less people, everyone was pretty friendly and we got used to the crowds. We spent the rest of the week surfing a beach break called Foz do Lizandro. We would arrive early, have a coffee in one of the cafes, and wait until the surf would start working, as soon as we saw a rideable wave we'd get in, this meant we were able to surf the first 30-45 minutes with not too many people...we'd surf for a couple hours, get out once we were tired or when it wasn't working as well. We'd sleep on the beach, eat, and get back in!
It always takes a bit of time for me to get used to surfing new places, but I found that I quickly adapted...paddling and surfing in France made me tougher (I regularly received a beating) so I found the paddle out in Ericeira a lot easier and my wave count went up!
Our time in Ericeira was so positive! We did yoga on the beach in between surfing, we drank tons of coffee, cooked (well Meg cooked, I washed up) ate on the roof, got inspired by the beautiful scenery, went for adventures, discovered an old castle ruin (the perfect chill out/potential rave spot), got lost right before dark, fell off skateboards, met new people, drank Sangria, happy days!
Our next stop ...
To get to Baleal we caught two buses and then a taxi from Peniche to Baleal. The journey took us a few hours and cost us approx €15 - pretty cheap! The bus ride was interesting as we both managed to fall asleep and nearly miss our stop! The first bus allowed us to put our luggage underneath … we weren’t so lucky with the second bus and had to somehow keep our very heavy board bag upright to avoid hitting other passengers. Not super easy when you have nothing to hold on to. The other passengers were amused and not annoyed thankfully!
When we arrived in Peniche we were tired and felt a little lost. The bus station was in the middle of some sort of factory estate and it took us ages to find the Taxi’s, which were hidden round the corner (turn left as you leave the bus station). But our driver was lovely and knew exactly where to take us!
So, our week in Baleal commenced …
We arrived at H20 Surfguide Hostel, but due to arriving a few hours earlier than planned, the owner Francesco wasn’t there. Luckily a couple of Italian guys staying there let us in. The hostel was smaller than we expected with enough beds for 8 people I think – but this turned out to be perfect for us. It felt like a home! The hostel was very close to everything; a 3 minute walk to the closest super market, 5-10 minutes from the beaches (an easy skate), surf shops everywhere and bars right on the beach.
Again, due to late booking we payed about €20 per night, but it had a great kitchen, chill out area with a hammock, and BBQ area outside! It was a very blue hostel with a clear surf theme! When the owner arrived we were instantly struck by his friendly Italian accent.
Francesco, the owner, ran the hostel pretty much by himself taking care of everything. He would welcome people, get them settled, take them on a little tour of the town giving information about where to eat, surf and drink. He's a great surfer, brought up in Italy he quit university and moved to Portugal to teach surfing, he then bought the house and turned it into a hostel. He LOVES what he does, spending most of the year working at the hostel, taking a few months off to travel to other places to surf. A pretty great life! He was a brilliant host, taking us to good restaurants, cooking with us and taking us to local villages with great cake and cool shops! Everyone seems to know him.
Meg and I stayed in a room with two Swiss German brothers, they had the bottom bunks and we had the top. Initially we found this quite funny, it wasn’t a huge room and we didn’t know these guys at all – but they became great friends.
By this point in the trip, my budget was about €4-8 per day … so we shopped in the local super market (which wasn’t necessarily that cheap) and cooked quite often. I of course had to buy myself a pot of Nutella, which I constantly snacked on (I think I have a bit of a problem).
We went out for food once to a Brazilian Restaurant called Gauchao da Picanha, it was quite busy and not necessarily aesthetically too nice BUT the food was amazing, and there was enough to take home for lunch the next day. I spent €12.50 (a little steep for me but worth it).
We often ate together as a house, we had a BBQ together one evening, Francesco cooked us Italian Pasta on another and the other nights Meg cooked!
The slightly expensive food was balanced by the very cheap beer! Each night Francesco and the boys would head to two bars at the beachfront, one would play reggae music and the other was a bit more mainstream. Since these are the only two bars in Baleal, everyone seemed to flock there! Meg and I went a few times but most evenings found our selves pretty exhausted from the day and snoozing by 9pm!
One thing I HAVE to mention is Happy Hour at the super market.
From 5pm – 7pm you can buy two beers (half pints) for 80 cent!!! The super market Super Lagide Grocery, with tables outside would fill up with both locals and tourists buying trays of beer, sitting on the street, socializing and being pretty merry. It seemed like the whole of Baleal was there … so many familiar faces. It was amazing! Such a chilled atmosphere, no one getting too messy, just relaxing into the evening with nice beer. We definitely got on board with this!
Thirdly, Café’s / Shops
We didn’t drink loads of coffee in Baleal. In fact, for the first few days we didn’t have any at all. This may have contributed to our initial tiredness… as soon as this occurred to us (not that it’s great to rely on coffee) we restarted our daily tradition – we felt the difference!! Coffee was a little expensive, so we would buy espresso shots for approx €1.
There were lots of surf shops in Baleal, my favourite being Hangfive surf Baleal. This shop inspired me SO much! It was full of art, unique clothing, beautiful swimsuits and wetsuits as well as locally shaped surfboards. The man working in the shop was so keen to let us know about the shop and its ethos. They’re all about using local shapers, artists, designers as well as brands, which are not mass produced but made with quality and the environment in mind.
Some of their brands/artists included: Sen no Sen - Lizzyartwork - Bloodbrothers - Craftbeer - Chicama
They also produced a Zine, which outlined the thinking behind their shop. It was so evident as we walked through, and into the evening there would be people sat outside, playing music and drinking beer before closing. Such a family feel.
Meg bought a lovely swimsuit here!
We didn’t actually skate all that much here, despite the roads being smoother with less cars. But a couple of times we did skated to the beach early in the morning to check the surf, when it wasn’t too good yet we did yoga on the beach instead. A great way to start the day!
Lastly, the surf
I’m not really sure where to start…Baleal was amazing! You can pretty much always find a spot to surf, no matter what the wind direction, due to the beaches facing several directions. We surfed everyday, twice a day.
The beach breaks get quite crowded, with lots of tourists and surf schools, but the further down you walk (on the main long beach) the quieter it gets. We found ourselves doing this almost everyday, surfing the Baleal break. The waves would often be a bit bigger but definitely quieter with more (very friendly) locals. If we had a car we could have travelled to some of the more secluded spots further east or down towards Peniche, but we were very happy and had a pretty full surfing experience.
Similarly to Ericeira, we found ourselves seeing the same people almost everyday, making Baleal feel pretty familiar and almost homely!
In my opinion, Baleal is perfect for beginner/intermediate surfers wanting to progress! I caught more waves in each session than I ever usually do, meaning I had more opportunity to practice turns and more time on the wave actually figuring out how to surf it better. The paddle out wasn't too bad, and when it was bigger and a bit tougher, I still managed to catch a few waves - some of the biggest waves I've surfed! (I definitely had a few 'oh my goodness that was freaking scary but so fun' moments.) Of course not every surf was perfect, with many frustrating moments, but this just made the good surfs feel even better!
A VERY cool thing about Baleal is that the Car Park right by the beach seemed to be full of vans and camper vans. I'm pretty sure you can just park up for free. Every morning people would be playing music, chilling outside their vans eating their breakfast, able to just wake up and watch the surf, getting in whenever they fancied it! A pretty cool vibe! I would definitely like to go back in our van next time.
Adventures - we went for lots of walks and adventures
One evening Meg and I bought a couple of beers and took them with us on a little adventure. We ended up on the top of the most beautiful cliffs, looking out to sea. Here we sat, drank our beers and enjoyed the beauty that Baleal has to offer – incredibly inspired and grateful!
INSPIRING people - Pia
One day, after an amazing surf, Meg and I sat on the beach, blissfully happy. A lady with blonde hair walked past carrying a beautiful longboard, we had seen her surf it and she was brilliant! We chatted to her and it inspired me beyond belief! Her name was Pia, from Denmark, she had beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair. Her board was shaped by local shapers Bloodbrothers, it was 9’2 long, 22 wide with a stunning floral fabric inlay. She told us about how she used to have a good job but decided to quit. She started her own business working in the mountains during the winter and as a surf instructor during the summer. She talked about not having loads of money but beamed as she told us that it’s worth it! I love meeting people like her.