Though it often gets lost somewhere between Portugal’s big waves and the sunny, topless surf scene of Southern France, Spain is more than just tapas and bullfighting. In fact, it doesn’t take much to recognize Spain as a surf-adventurer’s paradise, offering more breaks per coastline area than just about anywhere in Europe.
While Spain’s Mediterranean coast catches wind and storm swell in the wintertime, its northerly Atlantic coast is rugged, cliff-lined and nothing short of mythic. Storms pummel the area during the cold months, providing consistent and often huge surf, while summertime offers up enough clean and empty lines to make you ponder a one-way ticket. It doesn’t hurt that the country is considered the sunniest on the entire continent.
We compiled a list of our five must-hit surf locations from the Land of the Setting Sun to stoke the adventure-surfing fire and make that bucket list just a little bit longer. Enjoy, compadres.
It’s impossible to talk about surfing in Spain without all conversation leading to Mundaka. That’s probably because this dreamy left-hand barrel nestled deep in Basque Country has haunted the dreams of just about any surfer who has laid eyes on it. A long, triangular bank makes for a unique, world-class tube and rides that can last over 500 feet down the line.
The downside to this wave is that, unlike most of the Spanish coastline, it’s internationally known and has hosted World Championship Tour events, making it crowded and more than a bit localized. In addition, Mundaka rarely fires two days in a row, so if you’re looking for perfect conditions, be sure to have a couple of buffer days to check out the lush Spanish countryside.
Could be worse, right?
San SebastiánThe city of pintxos (the Basque Country’s delicious take on tapas) and Spanish summer retreats, San Sebastián is also home to some pretty darn good wave-riding just a few minutes’ walk from your boutique hotel. If you can find energy between meals, paddle out at La Zurriola Beach, where there is a wave for any ability level.
Lefts roll in off the breakwater, and the beach is pretty well protected by a cape on the other side, keeping conditions clean even when the ocean is anything but.
The biggest coastal city in the northern province of Asturias, Gijón is special. After all, there aren’t many places in Europe (or in the world, for that matter) where you can pick up nearly any swell direction and still make it home for dinner.
Surf right in front of city center at Playa de San Lorenzo or venture a few cliff-lined beaches down the coast to Peñarrubia or Rodiles, where you’ll battle with no more than a handful of savvy surfers for breaks.
The city itself offers several options for rentals and gear supply, and there’s even new surf-specific accommodations in town, the Gijón Surf Hostel, run by a couple of local rippers and attracting an international array of surf explorers.
Play your cards right and the pair will show you a few of Asturias’ finest breaks -- though don’t expect a red carpet. “We’ll definitely help you find your wave,” says Gijón Surf Hostel’s co-founder, Alejandro. “But we aren’t going to show you our waves. You’ll have to find those for yourself.”
Out toward the western tip of Spain, Pantin is a cold-water surfing stalwart, featuring ultra-consistent beachbreak ranging from beginner fun days to big-wave hero conditions. Best with a northwest swell, Pantin works year-round, with crowds flocking to the goods in the warmer summer months.
Though Pantin is wetsuit country, the water temperature never really rivals that of surf locations in New England or the Pacific Northwest, allowing for comfortable surfing even in winter months.
Possibly the biggest added bonus of this break is its location, sitting in the cultural hotbed of Galicia, home to both the end of the Camino de Santiago and world-class seafood. Try the pulpo á feira (traditionally prepared octopus) and thank us later.
While much of Spain’s surfing lies along the country’s north coast, El Palmar in the southern province of Andalucía is not to be ignored.
For much of the year, Spain’s southern coast sits in Portugal‘s swell shadow, but during Atlantic hurricane season, the region comes alive, and perhaps no place more so than the 2 miles of sand that make up El Palmar. The beach offers a few different peaks and is accessible for any ability level.
With over 3,000 hours of sun a year and calm weather patterns, El Palmar boasts winter swell that is organized, powerful and impossibly clean.