Europe is well-known for a lot of things – culture, food and history, to name a few. For most people surfing comes pretty far down the list of what they associate with the continent, but with a sizeable west coast which is at the mercy of the vast Atlantic Ocean, the cultural capital of the western world has plenty of high-quality waves. Let’s take a look at some of the best of them.
Just alongside the formerly sleeping fishing village of Peniche lies Supertubos, home of the MEO Rip Curl Pro and one of the best beach breaks on the planet. Supertubos, as you might have guessed, means super tubes in English, and is an apt description of the wave. Nestled just to the south of the small peninsula on which Peniche itself sits, Supertubos lies dormant for much of the year. When the swells reach it, though, and the wind lines up, a hollow peak offering up both lefts and rights appears, and with it a crowd of talented locals. The wave is fast, powerful and heavy, and can handle plenty of size. You need to be up and moving at speed as quickly as possible, but once you navigate the drop the wave will handle the rest.
Courtesy of a unique layout, this part of Portugal draws surfers from all around the globe not just because of Supertubos. The coast wraps around the Peniche headland and heads east, meaning that within a few kilometres you have both west facing and north facing beaches. As a result, even when Supertubos is asleep, it’s likely that there’ll be a quality wave to find just around the corner.
Supertubos might be regarded as heavy, but head an hour north to Nazare and you’ll find yourself re-defining that word. Nazare is the home of some of, if not the, biggest waves to be found anywhere on the planet. It’s not somewhere that you, me, or really many sane people are likely to be surfing any time soon, but just watching it is equally as thrilling as surfing the other waves on this list.
The wave exists courtesy of a deep, narrow channel which leads into the coast. The big swells from the Atlantic Ocean are funnelled into this channel, producing waves whose faces can easily reach 100+ feet. Most of the supposed ‘biggest waves ever surfed’ occurred here – be it Andrew Cotton or Lucas Chumbo on the same day last year, Rodrigo Koxa a few years earlier, or a handful of others – and the clips of these rides are frightening. The surfers are a mere speck on the wave, more discernible by the trail left by their board than by their actual bodies. Surfing Nazare isn’t exactly on the bucket list of many, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most incredible waves in Europe, and indeed the world.
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Hossegor has played host to the other WSL event in Europe over recent years, and if Supertubos is seen as arguably the best beach break in the world, Hossegor’s dumping shorebreak might be some of its stiffest competition. Hossegor is actually the name of the town itself, situated on a long stretch of beach in France’s southwest where a number of world-famous spots can be found.
La Graviere is the one typically associated with Hossegor. Another wave at the mercy of the Atlantic swells, the waves here can be, to put it bluntly, terrifying. With enough size they will cap and sometimes even break a reasonable distance out to sea, but a deeper section of water will see them flatten out again before jacking up and crashing down often perilously close to the shore. These waves are thick-lipped, heavy, regularly close out, and as mentioned, can break far too close for comfort to the shore given their size. At the WSL event here it isn’t uncommon to see the pros slip out of a dark tube and hop off their board virtually onto dry ground. Hossegor breaks more than its fair share of boards and can be a humbling experience even for the best of surfers.
Situated on the north coast of Cornwall in England’s southwest, Newquay is often regarded as the home of British surfing. Fistral Beach is the most well-known in the area and is where most UK pro contests are held, but there are a number of other quality waves in the region. Fistral itself is a consistent beach break which can, on its day, turn into a world-class one, offering up barrels for the hordes of surfers who flock there.
Off the headland at the northern end of the beach you’ll find The Cribbar, which is where the most swell is attracted and where waves up to 25 foot can be found on the right day. In contrast to the consistency which is a hallmark of Fistral Beach itself, The Cribbar needs everything to go right to be working, and when it does it’s big, heavy, and full of rocks. As you might expect being in the UK, the water here isn’t exactly tropical, but if you’re a fan of cold water surfing then Newquay is a must visit.
Never heard of it? Thurso might not have the global recognition of some of the other waves on this list, but on its day it’s well and truly worthy of being spoken about as one of the world’s best barrels. Thurso is a seemingly protected little bay right on the northern coast of the UK, benefiting from swells produced up towards the icy Arctic. It’s a righthand reefbreak, and when the NW swells have just enough west in them, it’s one of the longest and funnest barrels in Europe. Too much west in the swell, though, and it will be blocked off by the headland; too much north and it will be a much softer ride.
Despite being so hollow, the entry into this wave is relatively simple, and surfers are rewarded with a tube that stretches seemingly for miles. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that we’re around 1,000km north of Newquay here. If you imagined Cornwall was cold, well – Thurso is worse.
They might not be tropical wonderlands like you can find in Asia and parts of Australia, but the highest quality waves in Europe can compete with the best of them. Yes, the water might be a bit colder, but that’s what wetsuits are for. Next up, we’ll head across the Atlantic to the US of A, home of many of the world’s best surfers and even more world-class waves.