When I realized that Portugal was known for their surfing, in particular, known for the largest wave surfed ever, I knew I had to jump on the bandwagon…err, board. Ever since I was little, I’ve been drawn to the ocean and was eager to try the sport. I remember going to the Massachusetts cape most summers growing up and pretending my boogie board could withstand my surfing dreams on tides that barely hit my knee caps. Alas, after many unsuccessful attempts, my wave wishes were put on the back burner. Until now! Our hotel, Casa Mae, in Lagos, Portugal offered a full day surfing excursion and I signed us up immediately. We weren’t given a lot of information beforehand so I wanted to share the things I wish I knew ahead of time.
What To Wear
Depending on where you are, you might be required to wear a wetsuit. If you have your own, great! If not, wear a swimsuit underneath your clothes that you can wear under the wetsuit (for sanitary reasons). It may take a hot minute and some weird stretching to get the wetsuit on, so make you wear something that secures the goods. Although we went surfing on the Algarve Coast, Portugal in late March with an outside temperature hovering around 60 degree fahrenheit, we were surprisingly comfortable in the water. However, about halfway through I could tell my toes were frozen and I needed to take a break. Water shoes aren’t great for balancing on surfboards so you’ll most likely be barefoot. Make sure you bring a set of dry clothes to change into (life saving!) and wear shoes that you can slide on and off easily. Sandals work the best and, I hate to say this, but if it’s chilly, wear an extra pair of socks with them. Some of the others in our group wore sneakers and they were tough to get on and off. If you have long hair, I recommend sporting a french braid. It’s the one hairstyle I’ve found that doesn’t turn my hair into a giant nest after an hour in the ocean.
How to Prepare
It helps if you’re comfortable in the water to begin with since you’ll be heading out into the ocean. Those waves ain’t playin’. During our lesson, we had to go to a smaller beach since the one we had planned on going to had 14 foot waves. Um, no thanks. Apparently a full moon is the real deal. Waves can get high quickly even if they start small due to the changing tide. Plus, the undertow is no joke. There’s no life jacket so the ability to swim is a must, even though your board floats. Despite being on the swim team for four years through high school, I occasionally had difficulty swimming underneath the waves while maintaining control of my board. Upper body strength is surprisingly important for surfing to pull yourself onto your board and transition to your feet. While you can’t build those biceps overnight, keep in mind you’ll be feelin’ it all over the next day.
What To Bring With You
As little as possible. Most of your items will be left on the beach so forgo the social media for this one day. Other than dry clothes and a towel, we brought food and water to enjoy between surfing. Even though lunch was provided, we have a habit of bringing dense snacks (think Clif Bars and trail mix) in cae we don’t love what’s being served or we get snacky. Keep in mind, surfing is a serious workout and you’ll need to fuel accordingly.
What To Expect At Your Lesson
This can vary greatly depending on what company you use, but for the most part they stick to a general plan. We walked to the surf store around 9am where we were sized for boards and wetsuits. We helped pack up the van and headed out out the beach where we proceeded to unload and get dressed in our gear. We did a quick warm up on the beach, think jogging, jumping jacks, squats and stretching. We then went through the motions to mount the board on our bellies while still in the sand. After practicing it a few times on sand, we headed out into the water. Our instructor took time with each of us to hold our boards and watch our form. After about 30 minutes of practice, we went back to the sand to practice getting into the standing posture with a three step sequence. Once we “mastered” it on land, it was back into the water to give it a go!
A little note on the actual surfing: this was way harder than I anticipated. As an avid snowboarder, I thought this would come naturally to me. Uh, no. I spent many waves nose-diving underwater and remember why I quit swimming after high school. Salt water and open mouths don’t mix. I was able to get myself to standing a time or two after the wave was closer to shore, but balancing on a skinny piece of foam is no joke. As the tide became higher, it was more and more difficult to prepare for the bigger waves and my nerves continually got the best of me. While I had a blast and will 100% go again the next opportunity that presents itself, I was pretty much done after about 2 and a half hours. It turns out that the waves became too large and we had to cut it short anyways. Secretly (or not so secretly to Dan), I was relieved to head home. Dan, on the other hand, was a natural and easily popped on onto his board and was looking forward to more practice. I’m lucky to have him as my future coach!
What You’ll Need Afterwards
Some drinks. Locally brewed is preferred. Plan to take it easy for the next day or so since you might be feeling sore all over. I ended up with a nasty bruise on my dominant foot from sliding across the board so many times. We planned it so the day following our lesson was a travel day so we just spent a few hours on a bus, which worked perfectly. Other than that, brag about your new found talent and google how close your hometown is to Hawaii.
Our favorite memories traveling always seem to be the active adventures we sign up for. Whether it’s jet-skiing in Key West or white water rafting in Yosemite, we love a thrill. Surfing was no different, it just turned out to be a little more challenging than I thought! Nothing is more bonding than learning a new skill together (along with brief moments of utter fear).
Have you ever been surfing? What’s your one piece of advice? If not, would you try it?