The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Europe

Surfing thrives in Europe. Portugal’s rugged cliffs to France’s dynamic beaches offer plenty. Bring your wetsuit.

Introduction to surfing in Europe

Surfing’s roots in Europe trace back to the 1880s, when the Spanish ambassador brought the first boards from Hawaii. Today, Europe’s surf scene is diverse. You’ll find competitive waves on rocky reefs and vibrant surf towns with varied breaks. Adventurers can uncover hidden Portuguese bays and Spanish fishing villages with challenging waves.

Europe offers surfing for all, from the North Sea’s icy waters to the Canary Islands’ warm swells. Hossegor in France, known for its river mouth tubes and beach breaks, stands out. Portugal’s Supertubos offers intense barrels, while Cornwall’s coves are perfect for beginners.

Planning a European surf trip is straightforward. Flights from the UK are short. Car rentals and surf hostels are accessible and affordable. Plus, some of the world’s best surf camps dot the coastlines of Iberia, the Canaries, and the UK.

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Top Surfing Destinations in Europe

Europe’s surfing landscape stretches from Norway’s majestic fjords to the warm waters of southern Portugal, covering thousands of Atlantic coastline miles. This expanse includes numerous countries with diverse breaks and conditions.

Portugal

Portugal, a premier European surf spot, has gained immense popularity in surfing recently. Its 1,100-mile coastline, still being explored, offers varied surfing experiences. Key regions include Lisbon, with famed spots like Ericeira and Peniche, and the Algarve, known for warmer, beginner-friendly waves. Northern Portugal’s wild waves and Nazare’s massive breaks also deserve mention.

England

England’s West Country and southwest are pivotal in fostering the UK’s surf culture. Cornwall leads the charge with diverse breaks, from sheltered ones on the English Channel to robust Atlantic swells at Sennen and Polzeath. In Yorkshire and the northeast, a growing surf scene thrives, with locals braving the icy North Sea and its wind-driven waves.

Wales

Wales’ coastline, a hidden gem, offers consistent waves amidst beautiful landscapes. Pembrokeshire is a must-visit for surfers, with Freshwater West’s wide, exposed sands attracting robust Atlantic swells. The Gower Peninsula near Swansea boasts Llangennith Bay, a spot with numerous peaks and one of the world’s most stunning shorelines.

Spain

Spain’s surf scene goes beyond its cultural stereotypes of paella and flamenco. In the south, Cadiz offers waves near a charming old town with cobbled streets and tapas bars. But San Sebastian is the jewel for surfers. This vibrant city serves as the gateway to numerous appealing and challenging beach breaks in the Basque Country.

France

Hossegor in France is synonymous with challenging beach breaks, with its roaring tubes and walls along wind-swept dunes. Yet, there’s more to French surfing than Hossegor’s winter giants. The west coast is dotted with long, sandy beaches offering numerous peaks for both right and left rides, though they often close out. Brittany, further north, combines family-friendly surf breaks with its distinct Breton culture.

Italy

Italy, often overlooked in the surfing world, hides gems along its extensive coastline. The Mediterranean Sea, framing Italy, provides unique surfing opportunities, particularly in winter. The west coast, including regions like Tuscany and Sardinia, sees swells enhanced by winter storms. These areas offer a mix of beach breaks and rocky points suitable for various skill levels. Italian surf culture, though nascent, is vibrant, combining the country’s rich heritage with the laid-back surf lifestyle. Surf schools and local communities are welcoming, making Italy an intriguing option for surfers seeking new experiences in European waters.

Canary Islands

While Europe prepares for winter, the Canary Islands enjoy sunshine. These Spanish islands catch strong cross-Atlantic swells in winter, offering consistent point breaks, beaches, and barrels. Summer brings families and beginner surfers. Fuerteventura’s white beaches and northwestern Lanzarote are ideal for them.

Norway

Norway, a cold-water surfing haven, gained fame with Unstad’s barreling right point. Beyond this Lofoten highlight, Norway offers beaches for beginners, Arctic bays with peeling points, and beachside surf camps. It’s a top choice for a unique, off-the-beaten-path European surf adventure.

Poland

Poland, emerging in the cold-water surfing scene, offers a unique experience distinct from Norway’s well-known spots. It boasts long, beginner-friendly beaches, Arctic bays with engaging points, and beachside surf camps. Poland represents an ideal European destination for those seeking an unconventional surf adventure.

Malta

Malta, nestled in the Mediterranean, is surrounded by sea. Like other southern European countries, it often lacks swell. Yet, during winter, stronger winds bring surf, creating unexpected breaks along the main island’s west coast.

Monthly Surf Guide for Europe

In Europe, there’s always a wave to catch. The continent’s diverse geography, spanning the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea, ensures varied swells year-round. Portugal and France generally offer consistent conditions, while more sheltered areas like Poland and Norway rely on specific conditions for good surf.

This guide caters to surfers of all levels, providing a month-by-month breakdown to help plan the perfect European surf trip.

January-February

  • Atlantic Coast (Portugal, France): Intense winter storms bring challenging swells, suitable for experienced surfers. Wetsuits are essential.
  • Canary Islands: Exceptional waves, one of the best periods for surfing here.

March

  • Central and Silver Coasts of Portugal: Ideal for intermediates with SW swells.
  • Algarve: Warming up, great for beginners.
  • Canary Islands: Gentle waves and sunny weather, perfect for varied skill levels.

April-May

  • Nazare (Portugal): Conditions mellow, shifting focus to towns like Peniche.
  • Lanzarote and Fuerteventura: Warm waters, possibly surfable with just a rash vest.
  • France and the UK: Rising in popularity, especially Cornwall and Biarritz.

May-June

  • South of Brittany: Expect warm, sunny days. Good for all levels as NW swells soften.
  • Portuguese Coast: More accessible beaches.
  • Canary Islands: Ideal for beginners.
  • Note: Possible onshore winds in Portugal.

July

  • General: Pleasant water temperatures, suitable for 3/2 wetsuits except in Scandinavia.
  • Various Regions: Groundswells offer diverse waves for all surfers. Prime time in Bordeaux, Basque Country, Galicia, and Costa Vicentina.

August

  • General: Very hot, crowded, with potential closeouts due to onshore winds.
  • Hidden Gems: Consider Porto, Galicia, or Scotland to avoid crowds.

September

  • General: Warm waters with less crowd post-summer holidays. Ideal for learners in Peniche, Ericeira, Cornwall, and the Canaries.
  • Wave Conditions: Mix of gentle and more powerful swells.

October-November

  • Nazare: Begins its high season with monstrous waves.
  • France: Beach breaks intensify.
  • Northern Europe: Colder waters, gear up with gloves and booties for Cornwall, Scotland, or Scandinavia.

December

  • General: Expect colder conditions, likely needing 4/3 wetsuits and hoods.
  • Canary Islands: Reliable sun and consistent surf.
  • Portugal: Good for peaky breaks near Lisbon.
  • France and the UK: Challenging conditions, mostly for dedicated surfers.