It has been nearly twenty-five years growing up and living in the beautiful, sunny Queensland, Australia, never more than forty minutes from the best beaches in the world. I don’t think it would be incorrect to estimate that I spent one third of my life at or on the beach. Yet still when people ask, “oh your Australian; you surf?” I have had to hang my head in shame and sheepishly reply, “no, not really”. Perhaps, I’d get away with a little white lie and say, “I have, but I’m not very good”; however, the truth is I can’t, I have never, and I’ve always desperately wanted to try. So after a lifetime of squandering my birth right, I decided it was time to do something about it.As a clear embarrassment to my heritage, I certainly couldn’t learn to surf in Australia. The acceptable years to start had long passed me by. The Solution? Portugal. With its stunning coastline, world famous surf, delicious food, and comparatively cheap prices, Portugal seemed the perfect fit.
Thankfully, Baleal Surf Camp just outside of Peniche agreed to take me on for a five-day intensive course. The small fishing town of Peniche lies a bit over an hour north of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. Peniche and it’s even smaller neighbour, Baleal were once islands, but as the ocean receded small sand lips have divided the coastline into three separate beaches.
The unique geography means that one beach can remain calm enough to teach people who’ve never surfed a day in their life, while down the road world championship surf competitions can be held. It’s the perfect spot for all levels.
Despite its advantageous location, dealing with something as unpredictable as the ocean means nothing is guaranteed. A good surf school needs to be able to adapt with the ocean. As a beginner, I quickly learned that this is perhaps the most difficult part of surfing. Nonetheless, predicting and reading the ocean is essential for both your safety and your enjoyment, a skill that takes years to develop.
I feel this is where Baleal Surf Camp really stands out. As the oldest surf camp in the area, the expertise of its staff are unrivaled. It seemed every day there was a change to the previous days schedule due to changing conditions. Yet not a single day went by that we were not all becoming better surfers. If we weren’t in the water, we were learning about conditions or board types or visiting surf board manufacturers. We were never doing nothing and never spent too long out of the water, even if we had to go to another beach.
Staying in one of the surf houses, I felt like I was living and breathing the life of a surf bum. A typical day usually started with a small breakfast, surf instruction all morning, a quick break and a light lunch, surf all afternoon, eat an enormous dinner, fall asleep, wake up, and do it again. I could feel my life adapting to this routine and every session with our instructors always close by I felt like I made leaps and bounds.
By the end of the week, every part of my body hurt, but I wasn’t run down. I felt rejuvenated and healthy, a big contrast from the nights spent in Lisbon drinking the week before. More importantly I felt confident enough in my skills, from just five short days at Baleal, to return to my country! The level of improvement from everybody involved was incredible to see. We were a diverse range of people from various parts of the world and vastly different age ranges, yet every single person could confidently catch at least small waves by the end of the week.
Baleal surf camp wasn’t just an experience, I learnt a tangible skill, that I can take advantage of and nurture for the rest of my life. It made my experience in Portugal as a whole, so much more meaningful. Spending time in exotic locations, learning anything, not just surfing, is both a productive and relaxing use of time. It has made me reconsider how I travel, and ask what more can I get out of the places I visit. Baleal Surf Camp was an experience, and one I won’t soon forget – Now whenever anyone asks, “do you surf?” I can now proudly nod my head and say “Of course”.
***Photography credit Pau Gonzalez