Words by Matt Carr
On the face of it, ours was a surf story as old as time. We were a gang of surfers of Anglo-Australian provenance in vans, looking to plunder perfect autumn waves on the continent. Having spent close to a decade between us between in the increasingly overpopulated brine of South-West France and the major surf zones of Portugal, our attention was drawn to a less well-known stretch of coast between the two.
Options, as any seafarer worth his salt knows, are imperative when committing to a surf trip weeks in advance. Swell window, swell probability and coastline orientation are the three crucial factors. Maximise all three and your chance of being betrayed by mother nature are minimised.
By this logic, Galicia ought to be Europe’s premier surf zone. Spain’s most westerly region, jutting out into the Atlantic above Portugal, boasts over 1000 miles of jagged coastline that hoovers up as much swell as just about anywhere on the continent. With 180 degrees coastline facing from South West right around to North East, Galicia’s is less a swell window than swell greenhouse. And yet many European surfers would struggle to confidently point to Galicia on a map. We were here to find out why.
We were immediately struck by Galicia’s wild and unspoilt landscapes that seemed to have more in common with Cornwall or even Ireland than the better-known regions of Spain. Rolling hills gave way to massive cliffs battered by the full force of the North Atlantic. The coastline was streaked with “Rias” – Spain’s own interpretation of Norwegian fjords. Brilliant white sand beaches were, in most cases, deserted in late September. Aside from the odd other surf van, the only tourists we encountered were hardy pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago trail. We were on a pilgrimage of sorts ourselves.
With southerly winds due to give way to north easterlies later in the week, we began in the north, where Marc Llewellyn found a glassy corner on day one.
With much of Galicia's wild coastline and best surf spots located miles from any major population centres, a van is the transport mode and sleeping abode of choice. If like me you don’t have a van, British Airways, among others, runs daily flights into Porto, just an hour south of the Galician border. Here I picked up a trusty and well-appointed double-decker steed, complete with low-profile zebra paint job, from a van rental outfit.
Galicia is truly God’s own country if you’re in a van. Well-travelled St Ives snapper Nick Pumphrey’s secret weapon when on the road was a portable wood-fired pizza oven, as evidenced below.
One cloudless day the coast was mired in a thick sea fog, so we bolted inland with a coolbox of beers and swam in a lake without - it seemed - another soul for miles around.
WQS hopeful Vicente Romero joined us for a morning session, punting here against the quintessential Galician backdrop. Once the wind turned to the northeast we fled south and west to the Costa Da Morte (The Coast of Death), so-called due to the hundreds of ships that have been wrecked here over the centuries. This is one of Galicia’s wildest, most unspoilt and beautiful stretches of coast.
It may be awash with options, but that doesn’t mean finding good surf in Galicia is easy. On our final day we racked up well over 50 miles of driving, checking half a dozen spots none of which was quite doing its thing. We were almost out of patience, ideas, daylight and coastline to check before eventually we struck gold, trading hollow lefthand spinners between the four of us before the sun slid beyond the horizon and our arms gave out.