Tantalizing possibilities for the journeyman surf-scribe.
Perfect points and Mediterranean curves in Ericeira, Portugal
I’ve settled into a pleasant beach hostel-type arrangement in Ericeira, and I’ve been surfing a local point break at dawn every morning. I was a little annoyed at how crowded the waves were to start with, but it’s since picked up in size, and this has thinned down the numbers in the water.
A genuinely lovely Italian guy called Antony runs the hostel. It’s a fairly quiet time for guests, but there’s an Italian lass called Francesca who also seems to be about the place. She is blessed with true natural Mediterranean beauty and is hard not to notice. She often spends her mornings gracefully lounging on a rug in the garden sunning her flawless olive skin. The afternoon finds her cleaning at a leisurely pace, sometimes breaking into delightful song. I assume that she is either Antony's girlfriend or sister. So unless I want glass shards sprinkled into my morning muesli, I’d best stay well clear. As the days pass however, I am beginning to wonder at the true nature of their relationship.
I am doing some reading through the late morning. When I rise to get a glass of water, I notice Francesca sprawled on her favourite rug out in the garden. When I return from the kitchen, I can’t help glancing back out the window. She looks like a Renaissance Goddess. The bright sunlight kisses her chestnut hair and the smooth curves of her neckline. Her dress has ridden up slightly, and I can just see a glimpse of white panties. I firmly instruct myself to return to my reading, but barely make it through a paragraph before I’m back gazing out the window like some desperate, sweating pervert. The back-door slams as Antony enters the house and I throw myself back into my reading chair.
The surf eventually drops, but Antony still seems keen to hit a local beach break, so I go along for the drive. We get there, and after checking it for 10 minutes, it looks like longboard conditions to me. But Antony remains enthusiastic and I find myself paddling out mostly to spare him any disappointment.
I spend the next 30 minutes sitting out the back, trying not to look bored. Antony paddles around brimming with the kind of excitement that only exists in someone who has recently discovered surfing. He eventually finds a waist-high wave and manages an unsteady bottom turn before steering himself along for a short distance. He paddles back out grinning from ear to ear. I sit and consider the kind of wave required for me to experience a buzz like that. I realise I will be waiting until I return to Indonesia next year.
During the drive home, I make the most of Antony’s buoyant mood and casually ask him about Francesca. He explains that she’s a family friend who came to visit a few months back and hasn’t got around to leaving. He laughs and admits that she doesn’t do her cleaning jobs very well. Then he gives one of those signature Italian shrugs and says... “But it is a... mmmm... how you say... nice to have her around the house... No?”.
I admit that indeed it is.
Antony smiles and gives me a knowing look. “Ahhhh Ben... but she is a... how you say... mmmmm... a complicated woman”.
There’s a minor influx of guests for the weekend. Antony proposes a BBQ for dinner, and I’m once again dragged along with his enthusiasm. We are soon down at the town market. Antony inspects the produce on display with an expert eye as he banters with the stall owners and negotiates prices with a casual ease.
We get the fire going in the late afternoon, and Antony is soon laying choice cuts on the grill with generous latherings of olive oil. Evening finds a group of us seated around a table in the garden. We literally have people from the four corners of Europe in attendance. Plenty of nice Portuguese red wine seems to relax everyone. The conversation is insightful, and the culturally diverse opinions coming from around the table remind me of why I love travelling.
As evening wears on, I am blessed with a shy smile from Francesca. My heart skips a beat as the moonlight frames her hazel eyes and the soft curves of her face. I realise that I would do just about anything to taste those fruits.
Another swell arrives just as I’m thinking about continuing my journey south. The winds look good for Coxos, the most well-known wave in the area. A lengthy discussion with Antony takes place. He looks concerned and warns me about the urchin covered reef and aggressive locals. I take his warnings onboard but I’m already making loose plans in the back of my mind. From what I had heard, the wave would definitely qualify for any surfer’s bucket list.
I’m standing on the headland of a small bay early the following morning. The road in is lined with cars, and it already looks busy in the water. Heavy lines of swell are wrapping in and reeling down a shallow rock ledge right through to the middle of the bay. I watch it for twenty minutes while I’m pulling my wetsuit on. There is a tight pack sitting on a consistent peak that breaks off the rocks at the north end. But occasionally sets swing wide, allowing those sitting further down the line to get amongst it.
Entering the water involves an unsteady urchin dance across slippery rocks, then a mad paddle through an imposing shore break. When I get out the back, the vibe is noticeably tense. The local crew sitting on the peak are picking off the best ones then paddling straight back to priority. It’s easy to spot the surf tourists. They are all sitting wider, mostly looking hesitant and frustrated at the same time. Clean up sets roll through regularly, sending everyone into a frantic paddle for the horizon.
I quickly tire of picking off scraps so start to make my way towards the main peak. I’ve barely entered the area when one of the locals strokes past me and snarls a verbal warning. There is a brief moment where I consider spitting something angry in return, but common sense prevails and I’m soon scratching around the inside, again hunting for left overs. My luck holds out and I find two nice medium size walls that run right through. But then the surf gods turn against me. After paddling back to the inside, I turn and see an ominous dark mass of water on the horizon. I get every wave of the set on the head and am washed right down into the bay.
The waves stand up and throw harder as the tide begins to drop. Unfortunately, the locals maintain their tight grip on the main peak. Some absolute smokers come through, but the majority of us are confined to spectating on the shoulder. I roll the dice a few more times and sneak back to the inside, but it doesn’t always pay off. And getting caught out by the big sets feels increasingly dicey with the dropping tide.
The morning sun is high in the sky, as I drag myself out of the water and stumble up onto the rocks. The local contingent continues to take their pick as another shapely set rolls in. I realise that surfing Coxos is a bit like the situation with Francesca. Promising so much... yet remaining just out of reach.
The writing above is an excerpt from a recently published book…
Eyes To The Horizon
One man’s psychedelic journey into dating apps and perfect waves on foreign shores
Written by Ben Simon Smith
Available on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play and with other good eBook retailers