Portugal is so vogue right now. Ignore the questionable calls of the WSL and think Kate Moss late ’90s. Think Cara Delevingne early 2010s. Think red ’80s Mercedes with cream leather interiors, purring down cobbled streets. Think golden light, set ups of a thousand different flavours, Über babes for all tastes and the cheapest beer prices in western Europe. Champagne tastes for Coors Light incomes. Delve deeper to explore why Portugal can be your dream….—Alexei Obolensky
Ports in a storm
Lisbon. Lisbon is the epitome of civilisation. A melange of San Francisco (Bridge vibes), Rio (Hill vibes) and with a garnish of grandiose arcutechiure à la St Petersburg. Lisbon has everything you need and more. Black high heels on the end of exceptional legs clatter down winding cobbled streets. Marlboro Reds are smoked by girls in little black dresses with olive skin and sultry eyes. You are young and attractive. Enjoy the benefits that brings. Lisbon has the warmest winters of any capital European city. English as a language is welcome not scorned and it is incredibly affordable (not you Paris). Air BnB is your friend here and you must stay in Barrio Alto or Alfama. In all likelihood you will fly into Lisbon Intl. Make a weekend of it.
Peniche Peniche is Basra in 2004. Peniche is Berlin in 1945. The Donesk’s peoples republic and Mogadishu are twinned with Peniche. Embassies “advise all but essential travel” to Peniche. There are Surf Camps but they look like the set of Black Hawk Down. The restaurants are as bland as the journalism on the Inertia. The roads are potholed. There are stray dogs, foaming at the mouth. There are no girls. It is the polar opposite of Lisbon. It is a scar on the face of Portugal. The Mayor however is the happiest man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and refuses to wear shoes. The Dalai Lama of central Portugal. Surf in Peniche until your heart’s content. The waves are great. Unless you are the WSL, it is impossible not to score. But as soon as the aquatic dance has finished, leave
Ericeria. Old world charm, new world waves. Ericeira is the El Dorado of surfing. Everything you are picturing from your cubicle in LA, Sydney or NYC of Old World surf is Ericeira. It is cheap; the food is to die for. The waves are next level fun. There are Scandi girls aplenty. The wizened old ladies that sit in doorways, always in blue, always toothless, always with cane – are charming. Ericeira was the holiday destination of Portuguese royalty and it would be rude not to treat it as such. Deeper reading will reveal that real estate prices are laughably low. Ericeria will make you question why you live where you live.
Porto. Industrial, renaissance vibes. The Bronx of Portugal. East London 5 years ago. Nowhere in LA to my knowledge. Good music scene, students, and yes, again; she’s cheap. But you knew that already. Worth a punt.
Start your morning with a Pastel de Nata, buy back-ups for snacks. These will become a serious addiction. They are small and round and custard filled and flaky pastry affairs and will make you question why the f*ck they aren’t made anywhere else in the world. It is a hangover cure, it is healthy (tell yourself, repeatedly), it is cheap, it is your sun, your moon, your north star, it is all points of the compass of good times. Pre-shred, post-shred, early night, late night, date night. Pastel de Nata is hype.
For lunch and dinner, restaurants in Portugal are, to coin a phrase used in common parlance; da bomb. Fish is king. All sorts, menus will be foreign and you will be nervous but this is not what a euro shred mission is about. Go off piste, throw inhibitions to the wind, be the Shackleton of the joint. Order the weirdest fish on the menu, eat the eyeball for maximum Portuguese local points (serious). For the more vanilla of you, the centre right voters, the long term relationship from age 17 – 25 kinda guy; Bitoque is your go to. A steak affair, with chips and sometimes an egg, it will satisfy but it is vanilla. Never pay less than 5€ and never pay more then 8€.
There are great restaurants in Ericeira, there are sublime restaurants in the Algrave and Porto. You will be hard pushed to find a bad restaurant in Barrio Alto or Alfama in Lisbon. Peniche does not have any of the above. A recent experience at a Rip Curl party at “restaurant” near Peniche was reminiscent of the opening scene of Oliver Twist.
Is key for a good time. Portugal is Europe and not ‘murica so you may drink at any age / time / place. Sangria is cute but beer is king in Portugal. There are two types, Super Bock and Sagres. Unless you are Portuguese they are both the same, cold they are delicious and they are always cheap. Super Bock’s name does have a certain je ne sais quoi to it, so buy that strictly in multiples of 24. Local specialities include, fisherman’s fire water (worse than anything) and fisherman’s fire water with a fish eye in it (worse than anything with a fish eye in it). Avoid these at all costs. Unless being offered by a local, then accept graciously, have at least 3, and then gently enquire with your host as to sitting deeper on the peak. It will work.
North: Many waves, exploring vibes. Somewhat unchartered (It probably isn’t, we have just been too busy drinking super bocks and scoring around central Portugal to notice). But you, you are different. You are the Captain Cook of North Portugal, act accordingly. Stay in Porto and strike out.
Peniche: Being a peninsular there are options a plenty. Supertubos can be amazing but is beyond crowded, fluro wetsuits and screams. Overrated. See this year’s WSL contest for proof. However stagger up on down the beach, around the corner, up, down, left, right and there are waves everywhere. Pretty much all swells, all winds. A map of the area, and a viewing of recent free surfs around the competition site should be more than enough for reference.
Ericeira: Ericeira derives it’s name from Ouriceira, itself a derivative of Ouriço, referring to the name for Sea Urchin. And yes, you guessed it – it’s reefs play host to a whole party of Urchins. Coxos it the marquee spot, it is all time but it’s crowded. If not then Reef, Ribeira, Backdoor (all rights) and Pedra Blanca (a left) are all really fun and, despite Ericeira being a world surfing reserve, don’t get too crowded. Drive up the coast from Ericeira and you can check all the waves from the road.
Lisbon: Carcevelos and Cacais area can get seriously good. Fun beachy vibes, better on low to mid. You will surf next to Lisbon’s commuting elite. Suit and tie, straight outta the S Class Benz into a wet 3/2 and they will surf surprisingly well. Base your future self around this, you went to school for a reason. Visualisation is everything. Attractive members of the fairer sex are everywhere in Cascais. Stay for a drink.
South / Algarve: Warmer, beachy heaven. Pretty uncrowded. Many angles, many options. And in the words of E-40, Errybody got choices. A well informed choice would be to hit the Algarve in the winter months, South swells and some of the warmest water going. 3/2 all year round baby.
Portuguese coffee is next level, although there are only two varieties; with or without milk. Portugal’s answer to a Flat white/Latte/Cappuccino is called a Galão and they are better than anything. Start your day with at least one, and a Pastel de nata and you shall be fuelled to the max. Lisbon has many coffee venues, all of them are good, choose your spot on location. In Ericeira your go to is Pão da Vila. Pão da Vila is Ericeira’s coffee answer to Foodland on the North Shore, or Café de Paris in Hossegor, in the morning everyone who is everyone is there. To avoid discouraging looks from locals, from the zinced up grom to the wizened old ladies, be sure to grab a queue ticket on entry to get served. Thank us later.
There is a Club in Lisbon called Lux. It is the finest establishment I have ever frequented. Exclusive but inclusive. Smart but not serious. Wear a shirt, we are grown-ups now. Affordable but reassuringly expensive. It is waterside. It starts late. It finishes never. There are girls, there are boys, there are cocktails. The music is good. Everyone is attractive. It is anything a nightclub should be and more. To go to Lisbon and not go to Lux is incomprehensible.
Lisbon. Lux. My place or yours?
Unlikely. In the rare case of the water slides being cancelled; visit Sintra. Because, culture. Skate the Quik park in Ericeira. If not then load up on the Super Bocks and settle in for a long afternoon.
Portugal, if you’ve ever seen a map of Europe, borders Spain which borders France. To the south is the once exotic but now somewhat passé Morocco. A road trip down the West Coast of France, North Coast of Spain and coast of Portugal then onto Morocco is a fine time indeed. Across the border in Spain (conveniently off the highway) is the city of Salamanca. It is as far removed from the world of surf as you can get, but perspective is a beautiful thing much yearned for. It is the Oxford of Spain, it is ancient but young at the same time with beers at 40 cents. There is no closer place to feeling like a 21st century Don Quijote. Visit.
Fluro wetsuits are the worst thing in surfing. Period. I won’t negotiate. Sadly, in Portugal they are rife — a plague. Usually made by a brand that I won’t name, but it begins with J, ends with A and the middle three letters are ANG. I implore you to Google it to see what I am talking about. And as we all know already, Fluro wetsuits go hand in hand with, excuse my French, being a bit of a cunt.
I was recently screamed at whilst aquatic dancing at a 2-foot beachy for “paddling around,” after having been dropped in on, twice by the prosecuting party (I still plead not guilty). Anyway 2 foot beachies are who cares. The man in question was wearing a wetsuit that was a carbon copy of Uma Thurman’s costume of Kill Bill. A yellow wetsuit with black stripes on the arms. A veritable crime against fashion, nay, humanity. Tarentino has unwittingly created a monster.
A horrible clash in anyones books, grossly exaggerated by a face of acne scars and yellow teeth. Yellow teeth that snarl out the words, ‘fuck off’, ‘go fucking in’ and somewhat contradicting ‘don’t fucking paddle’. My response to Uma Thurman in-between his flecks of spit and the adjective ‘fuck’ was to ask him politely but firmly; A) who his stylist is? (I can only hope he fired him, or the fashion police sentenced him to life) and B) was he aware of the gross fashion faux pas he was committing?. This, unsurprisingly, fell on deaf ears. And I fucking paddled down the beach.
The Dark Lord of Ericeria.
There is a man in Ericeria. He has a large dog. He is the possible love child of Kala Alexander and Kaiborg. He drives a black Land Rover. Parks it where he wants. Normal laws do not apply. All bets are off. He is one man Da Hui. He is a credible suggestion to single handedly combat the IS threat. He is Ericeira’s answer to Eddie Rothman. You will see him, you can’t miss him, he is always surfing and he has hands the size of Mac Books. He is sinew and violence incarnate. He is omnipresent. Germans quake in their beds in Hamburg, 12 months post Portgual trip after having committed a minor infraction. Dutch surfers tell hushed stories in surf camps, the French cry in hire cars, they go home and are diagnosed with PTSD. He is everywhere.
He bares no ill will to those who do not question, to those who don’t offend. We drank fire water shots with fish eyes with him and since then he has been nothing but charming to me. However if it’s his wave, it’s his wave and that’s fuckin’ that. Position irrelevant. Normal laws do not apply. All bets are off. No questions, no ifs, no buts. Look down. Paddle down. Anywhere but here.