After three weeks of home isolation I’m already starting to get cabin fever and there’s no end in sight. Whilst this is definitely a first world problem to be grounded at a relative’s house with all the creature comforts, I still can’t help but trawl through old photos and think to myself when we will have freedom again to follow our passions and explore new places.

This photo was taken in October 2018 while we were staying in southern Portugal on the Algarve coast. It was the first time I had surfed this particular spot, I won’t name it, but it is a fairly well known bodyboarding wave. The swell had come in overnight thanks to a large hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean that was slowly making landfall in northern Portugal and causing all sorts of chaos.

When we arrived in the morning to check the surf the car park was virtually empty except for a few tourists and locals having a look. As I stood on the beach with my mum (who had come over to visit us for a week) and Jahla for half an hour watching I only saw one other bodyboarder out the back scratching over set waves and landing a few large aerials.

The weather was overcast and gloomy, and it looked like it would rain soon. But the waves looked good enough, as the bay where the wave was breaking was more groomed and sheltered than some of the other more exposed beaches we had checked out earlier in the morning. With that I decided to give it a try.

The waves were a solid head to double over head height, and had plenty of power and were very consistent/relentless thanks to the close proximity of the hurricane. It was a very difficult 15 minute paddle out, and once I got to the back I noticed the other wave rider had gone in. I was out the back on my own, but there was a small crowd of spectators on the rocky headland watching 100m away, so it didn’t feel too spooky.

No sharks in Portugal, right?

As I’d just spent three weeks surfing heavy shorebreak waves in Nazare, I was feeling strong and confident in the large and heavy conditions.

Heavy shorebreak waves in Nazare, Portugal

Still, I decided to play it safe at a unfamiliar wave and I picked off a few smaller waves to warm up. The paddle back out each time was fairly brutal if I mistimed and took a smaller wave before a set of larger waves arrived.

I decided that it was hard work to catch smaller waves on this day, and it would be a better approach to wait for a solid set wave and go hard and make it worthwhile. I was so focused on the waves and my surroundings that I had completely forgotten that Jahla was sitting on the beach with my mum, huddled in a sun tent to keep out of the rain, with her camera.

The next set that came through I managed to get a nice solid wave and pulled off the back before riding it in too far towards the beach. I quickly paddled back out to the back and could hear the group of locals cheering and hooting from the rocky headland.

I knew that a solid set wave must be approaching so I paddled hard further out and managed to link up with the sizable right hander just as it started breaking off the sandy/rocky takeoff spot. This was the wave from this photo, taken just after I had dropped into the wave and was attempting to transfer my bottom turn and set my line.

Hurricane swell in southern Portugal

The wave actually seemed quite small while I was on it, but it was very fast and quickly went into a large hollow tube. I felt like I was inside the barrel for an eternity and was holding on for dear life hoping that I would be pushed out of it by the foamball behind me. Unfortunately it was too fast and I was ended up being rolled and cartwheeled inside the wave.

Both my swim fins were torn off my feet, my leash was ripped off my arm, and I popped up dazed and disoriented half a minute later. One of my swim fins was still attached to its tether, but the other had been ripped clean off and was lost.

I found my board near me and caught it into the beach. I was furious at the time as I didn’t have a spare pair of swim fins with me and knew it would be impossible to surf in the large conditions without all the gear.

A few minutes later we managed to spot my broken swim fin and neoprene fin sock washed up on the beach. We decided to quickly drive back to the nearest town and see if there were any surf shops open to buy a new pair of swim fins. Thankfully, even though it was early Sunday morning, we found a number of stores open and most of them had a decent array of bodyboarding swim fins. I managed to find a new pair of swim fins (Viper Deltas 2.0 – amazing quality btw) and we went back to the same spot all within two hours of that last wave.

Unfortunately it was 11am by then and the carpark was now jam-packed with locals and tourists looking for a wave in the semi sheltered bay. The swell dropped through the day and the crowds were now over 30 people on that same takeoff spot where I had been sitting alone a few hours sooner.

The upside was that with the sun emerging, combined with the smaller swell and change of swell direction, the wave had turned into an extremely fun wedge wave – if you could sneak one from the highly territorial locals. While I watched a number of foreigners who didn’t obey the rules and were sent in by the locals, I kept quiet, maintained my spot, and was told to go on a few by the locals who must have appreciated the fact I wasn’t hassling them or getting in the way. It also helped that I saw a number of familiar faces who had also been competing in Nazare the previous week.

90s style Eppo-air off a southern Portugal wedge

Portugal was most definitely the the wave-oriented highlight of the five months we spent travelling all around Europe in 2018. I would return again without hesitation. It’s surreal to think that right now it is illegal to travel to/within or go to the beach or surf in most countries in Europe due to COVID-19.

I have no idea how long it will be before things can return to “normal”, and to be honest, I don’t know if we even should return to normal; as we knew it at least. But I am looking forward to being able to travel, explore and find new waves again without fear of infringements, penalties or exposure to this virus.

Stay safe out there and look after each other.

Read Part 2 – click here