Madeira, a real surf adventure

by Clare James

Clare James, a Bristish photographer and surfer, went to Madeira with her sister and her boyfriend to discover and expore this incredible European island. She tells us more about her surftrip.

”Do you crave a real surf adventure – exploring rugged coastlines and actively searching for elusive breaks?

“Where are you heading on your next quest to find waves??!”

This is a subject that is often racing around my mind. Late last year I was looking for an escape from the Cornish winter – somewhere close to home in Europe with waves, no crowds and hopefully not costing a bomb.

I took a chance and booked flights to Madeira, sometimes referred to as the Hawaii of Europe.  However, finding waves out there turned out to be just as challenging as some warned. The coastline of Madeira is pummelled by crazy mid-atlantic swells.

Dramatic, steep volcanic cliffs plunge vertically into the ocean, meaning all the waves are only accessible over extremely slippery volcanic rocks. A real surf adventure!

Flying into Madeira felt like landing in Jurassic Park. The airport runway is built out over the sea as there is nowhere flat enough on the island to land – so no room for error. The first night on the island we realised the surf report had changed and was now looking a little less cheerful.

There was an unusual low pressure system sitting over the mid-atlantic and bringing in weather that was more like summer conditions – a flat calm. Not the best conditions for surfing. Not to be deterred and still full of optimism, we jumped into our little car fully loaded and set off to check out some of the island’s rocky spots. These spots usually work on really heavy swells (which we were lacking). However, we could see the potential.

Luckily the island was full of lots of other places to explore and adventures to be had.

On the days with no waves, we disappeared off into the Madeirian wilderness, hiking to mountain tops, exploring the amazing levadas (Madeirian waterways) and finding natural rock swimming pools. These were once used by the local fisherman to catch ocean fish on an incoming tide, but now they are the perfect place to swim in crystal clear waters.

The vegetation in Madeira was almost tropical at sea level, changing to pine forests and shrubs on the mountain tops. Whilst hunting for waves we were never short of refreshments, and guess what!! Fresh fruit markets on the roadside had not a bit of plastic packaging in sight. Colourful stalls and array of delicious fruit was unreal.

Finally, the surf report changed. After days studying dodgy reports, conditions, spots, tides and only seeing one other surfer, we decided to take a risk and head out along a volcanic beach with boards under our arms and camera in tow. We walked from Ponta Paul along a bouldery beach in order to access a reef we had watched break in the distance.

After one hour of walking we arrived – not a soul was out on a right hander peeling beautifully!! We stayed there until the sun started to set, then trekked back to the town for some much needed rum poncha.

Invigorated by our success the previous day we decided to check a new spot known as Chickens. Apparently the least sketchy spot to surf on the island, but as we witnessed on a high tide these waves were a lot heavier than the majority of those we find in Cornwall.

With one day left on this stunning island, we re-visited the first right hand reef break. This time there were three local guys out, which was the busiest we had seen the water.  The waves peeled through perfectly and we surfed until dark. It was hard to believe it wasn’t a dream.”

To go further : @clarejamesphotography