In mid-October, the surf world's collective eye turns to Peniche, Portugal, and the MEO Rip Curl Pro. Peniche's unique charm and distinctive identity are deeply entwined with a seductive blend of the two S's...surfing and sardines. One industry involves shiny, sparkling, yet slippery individuals that are at risk of perishing when out of the sea... the other comes in cans full of omega 3. Here's why they both love this place.
It's Always Offshore:
In Peniche, the wind is always offshore. Not ‘always offshore' as a figure of speech, like ‘the beer tent is always offshore'. It really is, all the time. Peniche used to be an island, now joined by sandy land bridges, giving it stretches of coast that face every direction, so spots work on any and every wind. Since the event started in 2009, organizers have been able to make use of pretty much every swell/wind combo imaginable, running heats at Supertubos, Molhe Leste, Lagide, Belgas, Pico da Mota… there was even a cameo freesurf tow session outside Baleal. If you like options, you'll love Peniche.
It's a Swell Magnet:
Accepted surf wisdom dictates that swell exposure and wind protection are usually inversely proportional. The more protection a stretch of coast has from inclement winds and seas, the less exposure it will have to open ocean groundswells. The thing about rules though, is that it's often the exceptions that prove them. Because despite benefitting from the 'any and every wind' status above, Peniche is an absolute swell magnet, copping any kind of motion in the North Atlantic ocean, from ferocious, high-latitude depressions romping off the coast of Greenland, to Mid-Atlantic stock swells, to balmy extra-tropical storm fare meandering off the Gulf Stream. You don't need to be an oceanographer to balance the equation: plenty of swell + any wind options = scoring.
Run to the Sun:
Summer is over. It's done, in the Northern Hemisphere at least. It's been fun, it's been... emotional. But now it's time to face the music. Because when hippies first threw single fins into camper vans and pointed them south to Portugal, spawning the classic Euro road trip some half a century ago, they did it for good reason. At 39 degrees north of the equator, this part of Portugal is mainland Europe's most southern, Atlantic-facing outcrop. Peniche's prevailing climate is Indian summer-style falls, followed by short, comparatively mild winters. Hoping for a little bit more of a good thing? Aren't quite ready to quit yet? We know of a place...
The Clue Is in the Name:
Surf spot nomenclature is consistent only in its wild inconsistency. Some spot names (The Right, Our's) are chillingly understated, giving little indication of their ferocious nature. Others (The Surgeon's Table, Lacerations) are alarmist, verging on the melodramatic. Others (Winkipop) are just plain weird. Then there is Supertubos. Even if your Portuguese isn't that strong... you'll get the idea. So while high-performance heaven can be readily found in peaks up and down the coast, and Supertubos is properly doing its thing, you -- and the Top 34 -- will be grateful just to successfully negotiate a bottom turn.
With long waiting periods in prime season, lay days are hardly downtime. Quite the opposite, in fact. The freesurfing antics that go down along the coast range from frighteningly good to break-the-Internet rad. In an hour's filming, one year, a particular rivermouth beachbreak set up north of town garnered more page views than a YouTube clip of a cat playing the bagpipes. Remember Slater's 540 ‘don't call it a 720'? What about Kolohe's tube to full-rotation alley-oop clip that many were calling ‘best wave ever ridden'? For some reason, whether it's something in the air or the venting of pent-up event pressure, what start as humble lay days in Peniche often end up as performance paradigm shifts by dinner.
Fans. Lots of ‘Em:
Portugal has the most mainstream surf culture of any country in Europe. After soccer and golf, wave riding is arguably the third-largest sport in the swell-rich and sunshine-drenched land. As a result, the Championship Tour stops in Portugal make nightly news bulletins, and the crowds draw from all corners to line the famous sands of Peniche. Europe has always had well supported surf events with passionate and vociferous crowds giving stadium-style atmospheres, but Peniche is next level. When the world's best surfers are out in the water at Supertubos, to get an idea of the vibe on the beach, think a cross between Rio, France…. and Pipeline. In addition to that, throw a tight, tantalizing World Title race into the mix.
You know the place. The iconic lighthouse on the cliff with the monstrous A-frame threatening to eat it, so big that it looks like it's been photoshopped (it hasn't). Well guess what? Billabong XXL nominations and WSL Big Wave World Tour events aren't Nazaré's only party tricks. She also does a nice line in flaring shorebreak barrels on ‘small' days... like the 6-8-foot, bone-crunching kind. With Nazaré added as a back-up venue to the 2016 MEO Rip Curl Pro program, this year's event could be the most spectacular yet.