It’s a good thing, then, that I was on the surf and sangria trail in northern Spain, a well-beaten coastal road hugging the Atlantic Ocean from the French border through San Sebastian, Bilbao, Mundaka and beyond to Portugal.

At every well-known surf break, you’ll find fellow board riders, hippies and travellers chasing the perfect waves that grace Spain’s rich coastline.

That’s how I met Mick, an Aussie who offered me his spare board to use until I could find a replacement for my smashed ones.

“No worries mate,” he enthused, pressing the brand new thruster into my hands.

Five minutes later, I was stroking my way over the crystal clear Atlantic swells, every care in the world forgotten amid the thrill of simply being back in the ocean, revelling in the adrenaline rush of riding waves.

It may come as a surprise to learn that Europe has waves as good as anywhere else in the world, albeit with water temperatures cold enough that wearing a wetsuit is always a necessity, even in summer.

“I’ve surfed Australia and Indonesia and Hawaii and I think Europe is as good as any of them on the right day,” a surf shop assistant in Biarritz tells me a few days later, his hair still wet from an early morning session in the waves.

Indeed, the Atlantic coast of France, Spain and Portugal is littered with quality surfing breaks, while Morocco and island groups such as the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands are also on the well-trodden European surf path.

But Spain makes an ideal surf safari option – you’ll avoid the crowds you’d find in France and dodge Portugal’s frigid water.

What’s more, Spain has a good diversity of surf breaks.

There are great beginner waves and surf schools in San Sebastian, and more challenging rivermouth and rock-bottom spots for experienced surfers in the regions of Asturias and Galatia as you head west.

After a week of placid but fun waves combined with big nights out on the town in San Sebastian (and a stop at a surf shop to buy a replacement surfboard), a solid swell arrived and we headed for Spain’s most famous wave – a hollow rivermouth break near Bilbao called Mundaka.

The waves were incredible but the line-up was a sea of bobbing surfers, with hundreds coming from around Spain and over the border in France to make the most of the epic conditions.

When the swell dropped, our van trundled west past Santander, away from the crowds to the remote and beautiful headlands, bays and beaches of Asturias.

Here we surfed another quality rivermouth wave called Orinion, in a beautiful misty bay where Australian-imported gum trees lined the rocky headland.

Further west, another rivermouth break called Rodiles offered up more barrelling waves in yet another verdant bay lined with steep cliffs.

In fact, with all those great waves and pleasant vistas, smashed boards were soon forgotten. It’s hard to be angry when you’re on a surf trip.

The rush of riding waves is sure to put a grin on your face, and the mellow vibe of cruising the Spanish coast is nothing if not soothing for the soul.

Island life

Most surfers and beginners who are keen to tackle Europe’s waves make a beeline for either France, Spain, Portugal or Morocco.

But the Atlantic Ocean also has plenty of islands with perfect peeling waves – a peaceful, soothing hiatus from the hectic pace of the mainland.

Canary Islands

These dry, barren, volcanic islands have a wealth of powerful lava-bottom surf spots not for the faint-hearted. The islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura also offer friendly beach break waves with heaps of surf schools to choose from.


Beaches are few and far between as Madeira is formed almost entirely of towering cliffs plunging straight into deep, dark water.

Still, it makes for a spectacular setting with some quality waves scattered around the island.

The Hebrides

Right off the beaten track, the Hebrides islands off northern Scotland have top-notch waves – if you can handle the freezing cold water.

Europe stacks up pretty well compared to the rest of the world. Once you’ve done the Continent, however, turn your attention to these other famous surf zones.

All around the world

The South Pacific

Picture-perfect coral reefs, balmy water and hollow, barrelling waves.

Central America

Take three months to surf your way from Mexico in the north to Costa Rica and Panama in the south.

India ocean islands

A swell factory sends thumping waves to the shores of Indonesia, the Maldives and Mauritius, as well as the east coast of South Africa and Mozambique.


Warm, tropical and idyllic, the Caribbean is home to dreamy reef break waves that can get surprisingly big and powerful in regular hurricane swells.

There’s more to surfing than just learning how to stand up on a plank of fibreglass. You’ll also need to master these techniques in order to become an expert at riding waves …

Learning the ropes


This is where it all starts.

If you can’t paddle out from shore, you won’t be riding many waves. Keep your paddling regular and rhythmic, and train in advance by doing laps in your local pool.

Duck diving

This is the technique for pushing your surfboard and body beneath the surface when a breaking wave rolls over you.

Push down with your hands and use your foot or knee to pivot the board back up when the wave has passed. Practice this in still water to get the hang of it.

Reading the ocean

Rips, currents, sandbanks, tidal flow and winds – the waves are affected by all these variables and more, and learning to read the ocean comes alongside a lifetime of experience for many surfers.