Big barrels, and benders with the Russians, on the island of Lanzarote.
I have arrived in Famara, which is located on the north coast of the island of Lanzarote. The town feels a bit rundown but has a chilled surfer vibe to it. The island itself is like a moonscape with occasional sparse vegetation. Parts of it are quite spectacular though, with impossibly high volcanic mountains plunging almost vertical into the sea.
The surf forecast looks absolutely woeful, but it’s been good to get back in the ocean. I’m feeling relieved that the European component of the trip is largely behind me. The waves never really seem to be consistent enough in that part of the world, and I usually end up immersing myself in the local culture a bit too much. Wandering into nearby supermarkets and doing my level best to sample their entire selection of wine, cheese, and cured meats. I love it, but perhaps a more restrained lifestyle would suit me better right at the moment.
I'm up at dawn to check a nearby reef break called San Juan. A small swell was supposed to fill in overnight, but it looks slow and crumbly. I watch for 15 minutes and nothing inspiring rolls through. It's been flat since I arrived. The Canary Islands are supposedly known as the Hawaii of Europe, but I'm starting to wonder if it is all a hoax. I decide to head back to my cramped dorm room for some more sleep.
I’m up early to check San Juan again. It’s still not really working, and I end up surfing boring waves at the beach break just for the exercise. I’m back at the hostel making lunch when Jakub wanders in. He runs the hostel with a friend and is originally from Russia. In a deep baritone, he asks if I've been surfing. I reply that I have, but that it’s been pretty crap. “I go to La Santa soon... will be good waves there... you come”, he responds.
We are soon cruising along Lanzarote's open roads in Jakub's truck. The forecast is only showing a small swell, and I'm not expecting anything much more than shoulder high. I’m excited to see La Santa though, as well as the legendary El Quemao. The reef break has been responsible for countless injuries and has a scary reputation.
We drive into town and down towards the water. As we pull up at El Quemao, a raw slab of ocean rears up out of the depths and unloads across a shallow reef that goes dry in some sections. I have that feeling every travelling surfer has once in a while. Shit, I should have brought a bigger board. Jakub smiles and murmurs “Looks good... Yes”? I nod, trying to appear confident. Ten minutes later we are scrambling over some very slippery rocks towards the jump off point. Jakub points to an impossible looking section of reef further out that is surrounded by surging ocean... “Jump from there left into channel... watch out for urchin”.
It ends up being the scariest rock jump I have ever done. At several points, I am looking at oncoming waves and thinking... ok we are definitely screwed now. Jakub almost gets washed from the jump off point, and I slip and cut my feet on some barnacles. But we eventually make it out the back and have two hours of solid slabby overhead peaks to ourselves. It is far from perfect but is challenging in a good way. I eventually get a bit cocky on a shallow left-hander and end up getting washed in. The rest of the set drains the reef around me, and I spend a few minutes getting pinballed amongst the rocks. It’s lucky that there are no cameras back onshore, I would have looked like an idiot.
On the way home, Jakub mentions that there is a party later at another hostel. When I show up, I find out that it’s actually Jakub's birthday. He has a number of Russian friends in town for the celebration, and there’s a scary amount of bottled Vodka on the premises. An hour or so later, the party is well and truly in progress. One of Jakub's crazy Russian friends is making the rounds pouring people shots. When someone politely declines, he just continues to stand next to them holding up the shot with this slightly unhinged smile on his face. Eventually, he wears them down and they drink. A number of large spliffs come out. Someone opens the windows to help clear the air, but almost just as quickly one of the Russians closes them again.
A few hours in and things are starting to get pretty loose. An impromptu dance floor has materialised in the middle of the living room, and one of the Russian guys has passed out in the corner. When his friends dance by, they grab his hands and wave them to the music. Someone has vomited in the stairway, and there are empty bottles and cans strewn across benches and tabletops. Jakub grabs my arm at one point and states unsteadily that we must go surfing tomorrow... “be good for hangover”.
I meet up with Jakub early and we are both looking a touch shabby. As we drive down to La Santa, I look out over the ocean, which is a marvellous deep shade of blue. There are perfect lines of swell stacked to the horizon. We turn up at El Quemao, and it is absolutely firing. Perfect double overhead barrels are unloading across the shallow reef. It’s fairly crowded though, so we turn our attention to another nearby reef break. We watch it for 20 minutes, and it looks marginal to me; with large wash throughs and unpredictable peaks. Jakub seems keen however, and I’m soon perched on the jump-off rock feeling pretty unsure of myself.
The first 30 minutes is really challenging. We spend the entire time dodging sets only to eventually get cleaned up. One of the largest waves of the morning explodes about 20 metres in front of me. I get a solid duck dive in, but this matters little. My board is ripped straight out of my hands and I get properly rag-dolled. I consider going in, but I'm certain Jakub won't be impressed so I persevere.
After some more set dodging the swell seems to settle as the tide rises. The next hour is full of adrenaline fuelled vertical take-offs and the odd clean-up set belting. Jakub paddles into some absolute freight trains while I try to find the more user-friendly options. I make it back to dry land and have a number of urchin spines lodged in my foot but am still buzzing from the waves.
We drive to a point break not far from La Santa in the afternoon. The swell is continuing to build, and Jakub decides to paddle out on his 7'2 semi gun. He strokes right out past the main point and picks off some of the biggest sets of the day. I'm stuck riding my normal shortboard, and it sometimes feels like I'm paddling a toothpick into a tidal wave. I scratch around the inside section picking off the smaller ones and getting mowed down by the clean-up sets. I haul myself up the rocky beach sometime later feeling like I've spent a few hours locked in a washing machine.
We are back at La Santa for another early surf. I find a few waves before getting absolutely flogged again. I decide to surf the more sheltered beach break at Famara in the afternoon. Mostly in a belated attempt to rebuild my confidence.
The evening rolls around, and a party has been organised at one of the other hostels. I'm exhausted from the days surfing but decide to go along for a few quiet drinks. The plan is to slip away at some point and get a good night's sleep. I walk into the party not expecting much and glance across the room. I feel my heart catch in my chest… what light from yonder Ikea lampshade breaks? Sitting just over by the kitchen bench is a vision of true exotic beauty. I immediately decide I have to talk to her, but I’m suddenly unsure about my appearance. I'm sporting that sun-bleached been surfing everyday look. Complete with tired bloodshot eyes and a salty scruffy hairdo. Luckily, I've had a few beers, so I'm prepared to roll the dice, and I wander over to say hello.
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