The art of surfing was first described by Joseph Banks back in 1769 during the first voyage of the HMS Endeavour during the ship’s stay in Tahiti. Surfing in ancient Polynesia at that time was already a central part of their culture, but further historical studies have shown that the activity documented in pre-Incan civilization actually predates that of the Polynesians by over 2000 years. So European practice is actually a fairly recent phenomenon (circa 1885 to be precise) but one that has certainly seemed to strike a chord with, and subsequently sink its fins into, modern Western living today.
Surfing first started in the subtropical Portuguese island of Madeira back in the 1970s off the villages of Paul do Mar, Jardim do Mar, and Ponta Pequena. Almost every major surf break on this island is both rocky and powerful with waves rarely breaking under six foot during the winter months. Because of Madeira’s geographical isolation and the fact that its surf breaks were seen as particularly challenging and dangerous, the island did not really come to the attention of foreign surfers until articles in surfing magazines began covering the treacherous waves during the mid-1990s.
Since then, top Portuguese surfers from the mainland have flocked to the island’s breaks to compete in many of the notable surfing competitions held there throughout the year; including the regional edition of the ‘Billabong Challenge’ and the World Big Wave Championships that were held on Madeira back in 2001. However, Madeira really came into its own as a surfing destination when, in January of 1995, the renowned Portuguese big wave surfer José Seabra and Californian artist and surfer, Ithaka rode glassy eight-meter high waves by themselves, with no other surfers in the water. The photographs captured of the session by photographer João Valente have since appeared in publications the world over including the cover of Surf Portugal Magazine.
But as interesting as the history of surfing and more specifically surfing on Madeira island is, you came here to find out what the best breaks on the island were and where to find them. So, without further ado: Madeira’s top four surf spots…
Paul Do Mar is Arguably Madeira’s Most Popular Break Experts claim that this is where to find the best barreling waves on the island. Both stand-up surfing and bodyboarding are regularly practiced here and the ISA World Surf championship was held on this break back in 2000. Paul do Mar is a well-revered break throughout the surfing community as it frequently offers up eight-foot-plus waves with well-formed, tubular tunnels. Like many of the surf breaks on Madeira Island, Paul do Mar’s waves can be a considerable challenge to master and the capricious tides can turn a playful ride into a heavy-set within a matter of minutes. With this in mind, if you’re still learning or even if you’re still a little uneasy in bigger swell, then it’s best to simply watch this one from the sidelines and take in the magical view.
Jardim Do Mar Lies Just Across the Way From Paul do Mar This is another spot best kept for the more experienced surfer. Situated on the South-West side of the Island, the charming town of Jardim do Mar consists of a quaint church, a smattering of bars and restaurants and a handful of understated and charming households. It’s home to one of Madeira’s most popular hiking trails and of course the impressive swell that’s generated at its beach’s rocky point. This break produces reeling right-handers that start from around two meters but can easily reach up to five. Jardim do Mar gained some notoriety amongst the surfing community when it was featured in Jacob Holcomb’s documentary “Lost Jewel of the Atlantic”.
Lugar De Baixo Has Recently Seen the Construction of a Seawall which Has Unfortunately Compromised its Quality Somewhat But is Still Definitely Worth a Punt This break was originally ‘all-time’ at high tide but now the new wall means that surfers will likely experience a strong blackwash when the tide is up. That being said, if you arrive around an hour or so either before or after high-tide then you can expect to find perfect, freight-train barrels with very steep drops and speedy, hollow sections. It becomes dangerously shallow in low tide and is another wave that’s best left to the pros.
Finally, a Spot That Everyone Can Enjoy is the São Vicente Break on the Calmer North Side of the Island. Here, you’ll find an operating surf school as the gentler waves make it a suitable ride for both beginners and intermediates alike. This break usually manages to pick up enough swell to supply fairly consistent waves throughout the year; however, if you do happen to trundle along when the surf’s just ‘not on’ then you can also check out the volcanic caves and lava tubes (the underground tunnels created by the island’s lava flows) that are located nearby.
If you’re surfing mad and well on your way to completing your BUCKiTDREAM diary list of the world’s best breaks then you should also check out How To Surf Like A Pro In Indonesia and Shooting The Curl: The Top 5 Places To Learn How To Surf.