There’s nothing novel about surfing in Peniche – no secret spots or hidden gems. What you see is what you get, and what you get is usually swell. Choosing your European surf destination can be tough though. If you’re a city dweller, well then you want to make sure you’re going to get some quality surf time and not step foot back onto concrete feeling cheated. Criteria: Consistency, value for your hard earned euro and FUN. I found a place that has it all as ‘goes-without-saying’ standard and have laid out a few other extras for good measure.
In recent years the surf camp industry has exploded in response to the number of people wanting a piece of Mother Ocean. Among eleven other camps and schools spattered around the peninsular, Peniche’s Baleal Surf Camp is the original, and by far, the best. Sixteen years down the line and the local Bairros brothers have it down. With their passion for surfing and clued up business savvy they have created a place where people who surf want to be. With the constant ebb and flow of people all year round there’s still a genuine sense of “family” which you feel part of from day one. Conditions on this pearl of a peninsular are more consistent than anywhere else in Europe, having thirty spots within a twenty kilometre radius. This may have something to do with it, but there’s more to it than that.
After three days of debauchery in the Capital, arriving in Peniche and inhaling some salty (albeit a little fishy) ocean air was an instant detox. Location location location. The camp couldn’t be closer to the beach if it tried. I was stoked to find some fellow girl surfers chilling in the lounge, red eyed and relaxed after a day in the water. With our own spacious room (balcony and ocean views included) we couldn’t have been happier bunnies. The squeaky clean, hostel-style Surf House is a home-away-from-home. Super comfy beds, fully equipped kitchen, cosy lounge and perfect wide patio, which doubles as the best seats in the house for watching some spectacular Portuguese sunsets, beverage in hand.
With a love for surfing as a common thread the mixture of nationalities at the camp, from Kiwi’s to Swiss, all clicked. The down time between tides and changing wind directions was more like high time, with a trip around the coast, super interesting Fatum Surfboard factory tour and a visit to the prettiest medieval town, where drinking cherry liqueur from chocolate shot glasses is customary, if not compulsory. I’ll have two please. We also all managed to get through a decent amount of beer, wine and fresh seafood which are as abundant as O’Donnell’s repertoire of moves on a long board.
Despite Peniche’s size, there are some fun times to be had at the infamous “Bigode Bar” (Portuguese for moustache). One look at the Dutch-turned-local owner and you’ll know why. A laptop connected to some suspect speakers is the sound-system, and you are the DJ, choosing songs from YouTube. The choice is limitless! I thought there was nothing like some Blue King Brown to kick back to, but what I thought would be a crowd-pleaser turned out to be a little too mellow. Some people need to chill out a little. Over weekends, Bruno’s Bar (belonging to Baleal’ SC owner) is one of the most happening night spots in Portugal. It’s literally on the beach and a stone’s throw from the camp, which of course can be rather convenient.
For those starting out, you’re guaranteed an experienced and focussed instructor who also knows how to have a laugh. Someone you can trust and who’s going to challenge you where you need it most. They truly love what they do and get pleasure out of sharing their passion and enthusiasm for the sport. Being told to “Visualise yourself on the wave” and “Respect the ocean, don’t try to fight it” are some of the pearls of wisdom imparted on those learning the ropes. And wise words they are.
For the more experienced surfers, you are provided with a surf guide, who will take you to the best spots according to conditions on the day. Did I mention you’ll be chauffeur driven in the very cool, old-school Land Cruiser? Unique to the camp is their exclusive concession to Baleal beach, which means the 11 other camps have to go someone else and battle for waves. Sorry guys.
So, next time you’re planning a surf trip to the land of piri-piri chicken and Port wine, head for this little stretch of surfing heaven. There are no surprises, just good waves and good times.
TOP 5 SPOTS (for beginner to intermediate level surfers)
1. Cantinho Baia 2.Molho Leste 3.Cerros 4.Red rocks 5. Prainha
Baleal Surf Camp is the original Portuguese surf camp, which opened in 1993. Unique beach front location, surf centre with surf school, surf camp, surf rentals, beach bar and disco.
There’s cool hostel or apartments style accommodation all within walking distance to the beach. So no transportation needed. Excellent ratings in Trip Advisor. The place to be in Peniche, is Baleal Beach, so check it out!