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BASKIN’ AN END OF YEAR SWELL

On my last surfing sesh before returning to my regular adulting life in London, a close friend of mine called our recent rendez-vous in our homeland, Portugal, the “best surf trip ever”. In the surfing lore, a claim like that usually comes cheap. Embellished descriptions of epic sessions and memorable travels are weaved into this culture’s secular narrative; its legacy built on a strong tradition of oral history classes that take place on any given lineup or lifeless parking lot overlooking a surf break. Put differently, a lot of the staggering stories detailed by regular ocean gliders – including your host here, obviously – emerge as  figments of personal perceptions, then pieced together by every crease of our brains…

Shit. I digress. To dig further on the matter of folksy lineup tales, let me point you to an interesting piece written by Tetsuhiko Endo a good while ago. That said, from here onwards, you’ll just have to take my word for it – or of my man’s to begin with. And fact of the matter, as I revisit memories of our past explorations – in locations such as Azores Islands, Ireland or Northern Scotland -, I come to the realisation that he was onto something; his view on our trip wasn’t far off from reality.

The story has it that by the tail end of 2018 and dawn of 2019, the wild shores of Western Portugal were graced with a perfect combination of solid swell and chilly offshore winds. It had been years since the community braced for a similar period of consistent waves in a Portuguese Winter and judging from the torrent of Insta-stories filed by ecstatic wave riders, the whole coast had been pumping, with riders from up and down the country basking in on some nuggets.

With the promising forecasts, there were plenty of options at hand. It was just a matter of adjusting our timings with the Full Moon tides and work up the best alternatives to escape the pressing crowds that would be bobbing pretty much on every spot. So we ended surfing in different places, although for most days we parked ourselves at a particularly isolated break where we slurped some perfectly shaped emerald lefts for three or four hours straight without a living soul in sight.

On my last day of the trip, the waves and wind aligned altogether in the most spectacular of ways around that spot. The waves rolled through with mathematical precision one after the other, dumping their energy on the reef in slow motion while carving smooth, yet powerful barrels. The lineup held up to these features the whole freakin’ day – and with only a couple of ocean dwellers regaling on such feast.

Funnily – or tragically – enough, one of those riders wasn’t me. You see, for a couple of weeks, our routine consisted of rising at 6am, zooming through ghosty roads for an hour, trail coastal towns for waves and then surf until every muscle screamed with ached. The latter eventually caught me up, leaving my energy levels absolutely drained. It also added up to a series of bloody, crater-like blisters on my feet, which made it hard to kick the fins or simply walk. So for as much as the waves appealed to one’s spirit, I ended up leaving the gear in the car, then trudging (painfully!) through the reef at low tide and shooting some landscapes, fully taking in on the surrounding wilderness. In the end, I didn’t grieve the least bit about it.

You’d be excused to think I was mad for letting that session slide. Yet, I guess that, over the years, my experience in searching for waves changed. I went from being a horny surfer mindlessly chasing the next ride as if it was the last one to becoming a more grounded rider, absorbing and appreciating the experience of waves, elements and landscapes as all being part of the same equation. Come to think of it, I dig that personal growth.

Looking through the rearview mirror, my man was right. Our perceptions met halfway through: reasons were abound for what made this trip back home the most memorable one to date. More so, it gave us a much needed peace of mind to face the bleak, not-as-thrilling Winter in London. Believe that.