Having heard tales of great surf in Portugal, we flew into Lisbon and immediately drove thirty-five minutes north to the “surf house” that we had booked in Ericeira. We quickly learned that those gorgeous, perfect, tropical looking waves that we had seen in photographs are more elusive than we realized.
Below is a list of things we discovered and would be helpful for anyone planning a surf trip to Ericeira.
Things to Know For Surfing Ericeira
By no means is Ericeira a unknown, hidden surf destination. The throngs of Europeans marching towards the ocean with soft top longboards on their heads is evidence of the popularity of Ericeira. However, despite the number of people flocking to this section of Atlantic coastline, there is a limited amount of useful pre-trip planning info available online. Hence, the list below so that you won’t end up like me wishing you had brought a warmer wetsuit and puzzled by why the waves looked nothing like what I saw in my surf magazines!
1) Gear Up For Cold Water
We looked at Surfline a few days before departing to check the water temps and forecast. While we had packed spring suits expecting hot summer days with 65 degree water temps, it was actually much colder. According to a local surfer the water temps can vary week to week depending on what the currents are doing which we hadn’t realized when we made our decision to bring spring suits a few day before leaving. So we ended up packing wetsuits only to have to rent wetsuits.. Play it safe and bring a 4/3 if you want a long, toasty warm sesh.
2) Inconsistent Swells
Where were all those alleged incredible waves that inspired us to make the 14 hour journey? Turns out the best waves bless Portugal in the winter. If you are an experienced surfer then winter is definitely a better time to go. Summer is mostly wind swell and if you’re really lucky you might get some ground swell but it’s pretty hit or miss.
3)Tons of Crowds
The cold weather and fickle swells didn’t stop hoards of Europeans from flocking to Ericeira Even in the worst of conditions, i.e rainy, windy and choppy there were still an astonishing number of optimists bobbing around in the sea. In other words plan on sharing waves.
4) Surf Schools
There are countless surf schools taking out groups into the surf. If you’re interested in catching a few white water waves and learning some of the basics, and don’t mind doing so in cold water, then Ericeira is a good option. The surf schools took groups out at a variety of breaks but I would recommend a taking a lesson at Foz do Lizandro beach. It’s one of the only sandy beach breaks in the area and better suited for beginners whereas many of the other spots we saw people learning to surf were rocky.
5) Surf Spots Rated by Difficulty
The surf spots are easy to find and are marked by simple wooded signs with a color coded system indicating the difficulty of the break.(Kind of like runs at a ski resort) Green is easy, blue is intermediate and red is advanced. We noticed that green didn’t always mean small waves rather it meant that it was sandy and not as rocky.
6) Expect Fog
Mornings are frequently overcast and it can take a while for the clouds to clear. This can make for nice, glassy ocean conditions but it can be a little bit of a downer if you’re expecting to bake in the sun all day long. Bring a pair of pants and a sweatshirt.
7) Easy Gear Rentals
There is no shortage of board rentals in Ericeira. If you’re planning on surfing at Ribiera D’ilhas or Foz do Lizandro, there are board rentals available just steps away from the ocean which is great for people who don’t have a means of transporting boards. There are also ample shops throughout the area that will rent you anything from a soft top to a performance short board. Typically prices are around 20 euros a day for an epoxy board and around 5 euros for a wetsuit. If you’re going to be renting for multiple days you can often bargain for a slightly cheaper rate.
8) Good Vibes
Everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful and honest. We left our stuff on the beach with no theft issues and found the overall vibe of the area to be safe and mellow.
9)Rocks and Urchins, oh my!
Unless you stick to the beach breaks you will likely find yourself having to walk across some rocky sections before paddling out. A lot the surf schools outfit their students in reef booties which isn’t a bad idea if you don’t want to end up with foot wounds. We were also warned that some of the spots have urchins so tread carefully.
10) Tides Matter!
Tides have a big impact on many of the breaks in Ericeira. Too low and you’ll find yourself surfing over rocks in knee-deep water, too high and a lot of the spots won’t break. Getting out there right around mid-tide will give you the best chance of scoring good waves. This is no secret and you’ll notice a big increase in crowds right around mid tide.
Good food is a surf trip essential. Bonus points if there’s a place where you can enjoy a post-surf burrito. Casa das Tres has a small but flavorful menu featuring different bowls. The Mexicana bowl was a great stand in for a burrito. When you’re ready for a hearty salad head to Sunset Bamboo Bar and order the Caribe Salad. It was the best salad I had on the trip and quite possibly in the top 10 restaurant salads I’ve ever consumed. If you have a hankering for traditional Portuguese cuisine, there’s a variety of restaurants in the charming village section of Ericeira and if you ask around people can help you avoid the overpriced and underwhelming eateries and steer you towards the good grub.
12) Alternative Activities
It’s always good to have a few alternative activity options on a surf trip in the event that the surf is flat or there are people in your group who aren’t stoked to spend the entire vacation surfing.
- Day trip to Sintra: If you have your own car it’s about a 30-40 minute drive to the breathtaking castles of Sintra. It’s also possible to get there on a tour or via public transit. We explored the Quinta da Regaleira and maybe with some better planning we would have had time to explore one or two other palaces.
13) Language Requirements
Most people in the hospitality industry, hotels, tourist restaurants know enough English to point you in the direction of the best surf break or a surf shop. But when you venture away from the main tourist spots it becomes more common to encounter locals who don’t know much English.
If you’re going to Ericeira as part of a larger surf trip around Portugal or will be in the area for an extended amount of time, it might be worth it to consider learning a little basic Portuguese. Knowing some Portuguese will help you get some credibility in the line-up with the locals or at least be capable of asking if you can borrow some wax. Check out this article on the best language learning software options if you’re interested in picking up a little Portuguese before you’re trip!
The Bottom Line: There is plenty of potential for some really fun surfing in Ericeira. But with the fickle Atlantic conditions it’s going to take a little good luck to experience this section of Portuguese coastline at its best.