Oh Praia da Areia Branca, surf me gently

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Finally I find the time to tell you of a trip I went on some weeks ago. Beware this post is a long one! I went to Portugal with the girls. The girls are five ladies that went to school with me. My mum nowadays always tells me off for still calling them “the girls” because she thinks that at 30 we are not girls anymore. But for me they will always stay “the girls” even if we will be 80 one day and hopefully still meeting. We all live in different cities, are working and some have boyfriends. But we enjoying going on holidays together for a week, if possible once a year because we don’t get to see each other that often otherwise. And we really enjoying being just us girls. I guess we can be pretty annoying too, laughing, screaming and squealing quite a lot. Maybe this is why we want nobody that knows us to be around when we meet…

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Where did we go and why?

We first went in 2010 as a group of three and then in 2011 with five of us. Then for two years I didn’t join the others but this year I joined in again. I don’t remember clearly why we ended up in Praia da Areia Branca, between Lourinha and Peniche, about 100km north of Lisbon, in the first place. I think we looked up surf schools and Ripar Surf School sounded nice. We (or at least some of us) have been returning here for the fifth time now. This year we were five out of six girls again.

How is the surf school?

The Ripar Surf School  is really pretty cool. They have evolved from a tiny shack in 2010 to a tiny shack with a huge outdoor area to get changed into your wetsuit and an outdoor shower in 2014. Even though the outdoor area was added they still have the same old shabby vans that look like they will fall apart any minute now.

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But the vans do their job to take people to other beaches when, as on our last day, the wave are too high for beginners in Praia da Areia Branca. This year we went to close-by Peniche on Friday because on our beach waves were up to 3.5m high. When you book a surf course you get the equipment with it: wetsuit and board, soft boards for beginners like me or short boards for “pros” like Tine.

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We have had the same instructors for all those five years. And those guys have a lot of patience. Tine, Martha and Aleks are pretty good surfers by now (considering the fact, that they go surfing only about 1-2 times a year for a week) and Ulli is ok. I am a really bad surfer which is due to a mixture of a lack of balance and probably a huge mental blockage. As I think I can’t surf and tell myself I don’t care because I enjoy it anyway, I don’t really try hard to learn and practice it properly (which is why I cheated with the pictures and the one on which I’m standing on my board is from 2011, as are some other pictures).

I had a funny conversation with our instructor on our last day. We were waiting in the waves for a good one to come and he kept coming around pushing us beginners into the waves so we would catch them. When he came to me he said: “When I say go, you stand up!” I laughed and said I would try to. Of course I didn’t stand up. When I came out into the water the next time he was furious at me. He said: “When I say go, you don’t laugh, you stand up! You must believe that you will stand up.” To my shame I had to admit that he was right. For about the first time in this week of surf lessons I decided I would be able to actually do it. I stood. Ok, for about 5 seconds, but at least I stood.

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By the way, surfing with Ripar is not for the ones that like to sleep in. Of course class starts according to the tide, so sometimes earlier, sometimes later but the people at Ripar prefer earlier to secure the best surf spots for their classes as surf spots are on a first come first serve basis. This meant getting up at 6.50 am, leaving the house by 7.50 am and squeezing into a damp wetsuit by 8 am. But this also meant warming up at the beach with the sun just rising which really made up for getting up that early.

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How is the town?

Praia da Areia Branca is a tiny holiday village. At first sight the village looked the same in 2014 as it did in 2010.  But things do change here too. The first two times I went there it was summer and the beach was packed with Portuguese holiday makers and barracas, tiny, tent like beach structures. But as we went this time in mid-September, holiday time was clearly over. Not many people were on the beach anymore even though the weather was pretty nice. The beach used to be long and sandy but during the last season a lot of the beach has been washed away especially near the promenade. The others said that last year you didn’t see as many stones washed out on the upper beach as there were now and the tides seemed to come up very high this year too but this could also have been because it was full moon when we arrived. Other than that Praia da Areia Branca hasn’t much to offer. Don’t get me wrong. This is great. There is still only one small mini mercado and a tiny fruit and vegetable shop. If you want to do proper food shopping you need to go to Lourinha, about 5km inland, but the tiny bakery has evolved to a fancy store with indoor and outdoor seating and there is even a quite chic new pizza place. Other than that you’ll find here some holiday beach side restaurants, snack bars and the Barraca, a small beach front pub where the surfer crowd gathers at night. As for the surfer crowd, when we first came here there were mainly holiday apartments and maybe two surf houses. But by now I think there are about one dozen surf houses, hostel like places with room for about 20 people. Nowadays many seem to come with their own surf school. And you notice this when you go surfing. There is still enough space for everyone to do class in Praia da Areia Branca but in 2010 and 2011 there were maybe 20-30 people in the water at the same time now there are sometimes 50-60 people. In Peniche it is even worse. Luckily we always started class early in the morning so when we came to Peniche on Friday we were the first ones in the water and could secure us a nice surf spot. About 1.5 hours later to water was cramped with surfing beginners and it got a bit annoying.

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How was the weather?

I’ve been in Portugal in late June, early September and mid-September by now and even though the weather forecast said 22-24°C and cloudy before we left, the weather was just perfect. It rained a few times while we were there but it cleared up pretty quickly and when it was sunny it was super nice. We spend time at our pool and some of us even got a light sunburn. It was nice and warm but not super-hot which was also good for sightseeing. In the morning when we got up there was usually a misty fog hanging low in Praia da Areia Branca but this cleared away as soon as the sun came up. The sea was cold (what can you expect, it is the Atlantic) but not as cold as expected. I wouldn’t have gone into the sea in my bikini but going for a swim after surf class still in the wetsuit was a delight.

Where did we stay?

The first time we went there we stay in an apartment. The second time we even had a whole house to ourselves for really little money. But as the girls had stayed in a surf house last year they insisted in going there again this year. We stay at Underdog Surf House, probably the oldest of all surf houses in Praia da Areia Branca. The Owner, Danny, told us that he opened the house 10 years ago. It is, like most of the other surf houses a rather big private house that has been turned into a hostel. The house has about 12 beds, a terrace with a pool, a big common area with a kitchen, a sitting area and most important a pool table and a tabletop soccer table. We played a round of tabletop soccer every night and even though I’ll never get as good in it as Aleks (but well she is officially playing in a tabletop soccer team) I learned a lot. In the end I wasn’t that bad. The house has a four bed room with an ensuite bathroom but the rest of the people share one big bathroom, a shower room with two showers and one extra toilet. We were never more than 9 people in the house (plus the do-all guy who lives in the house too) so sharing was not much of a problem. Danny said he likes to do a bit of work on the house this winter and  equip all rooms with an ensuite bathroom which would actually be nice. But to be honest I would have loved to have the house to ourselves. The four young French that were there at the beginning of our week were ok but a bit noisy while the four Italians that stayed with us for the second half of the week were kind of weird. Maybe we are getting a bit too old for hostels.

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A résumé

I completely forgot about all my stress at work. I got tanned and was super relaxed by the end of the week. Getting up early meant going to bed early too which meant that I slept more than at home too. And even with my non-growing surf skills, I had lots of fun in the water and while sightseeing (more to come about that later). A great holiday!

PS: All surf pictures courtency of Pedro Roque Rebelo Photography.

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