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Learn to Surf in Fuerteventura, Spain
We spent a week in the Canary Islands, taking #surfing lessons and having a blast! It was not easy but the instructors were great and I felt like I really learned the correct surfing techniques. The whole week in #Spain was lots of fun, everyone was friendly and we stayed super #active.
Hands up, who can surf? If you’ve raised your hand then you will probably find this story of true novices an entertaining read. For those who are well-experienced with this physically intense and incredible balancing act of surfing, try remember back to your true beginner stages where you encountered more waves on your head and in your face, rather than under your board. For those who are yet to try this or have tentatively sat on a longboard in the white wash, then read on, as you may find a week long surf camp of interest!
Sophie: I do love the water. Splish-splashing in swimming pools and bombing into the depths came naturally to me as a young kid, but as I grew so did my irrational fear of the sea. This rolling, uncontrollable beast of salt water that harboured god only knows what deep within. When Kathi gave me a shout about a week long surf camp in Fuerteventura with Planet Surf Camp, I immediately said yes… after I had a quick Google of ‘shark attacks’ around the area of course.
Being the girlfriend of an Aussie surfer, I had heard all the grim tales of great white sharks and getting washing-machined in pounding waves, so I was pretty darn nervous about this trip. But surfing was something I had never tried before, so with the Pinterest-friendly quote of "Do something everyday that scares you" echoing in my mind, I packed my bags and jetted off to the sunny island of Fuerteventura to join my beloved Kathi for a sport that I felt truly out of my depth with.
Fuerteventura is one of the largest islands of the Canary Islands that lie off Spain’s southern mainland, towards the north coast of Africa. It’s politically part of Spain and is popular with tourists and adventure sport enthusiasts, which includes surfing, of course! The rolling Atlantic Ocean is known for it’s top surf, so you’re bound to see surf boards strapped to the majority of car rooftops. The island is dry, arid, rocky and full of dormant volcanoes; an island that you can really imagine dinosaurs stalking the land!
I arrived a day before Kathi, tentatively stepping into the airy guest house expecting ‘rad gnarly dudes’ waxing boards and judging me on my un-surfer appearance. But I couldn’t be more wrong! I was greeted by the lovely Alice, who quickly showed me my sunny room (with a balcony) before leaving me to explore the nearby bustling strip of the main town of Corralejo.
The thought of going for it without my comrade was pretty intimidating.
The next day was to be my first day on the board – and still no sight of Kathi. The thought of going for it without my comrade was pretty intimidating. I wanted someone who I could grab and take down with me during my inevitable failure in the water. Alas, her plane landed too late for that, so I was bundled into a van with a few other girls to have my first lesson.
We headed over to the stunning beaches of Cotillo (a 30 min drive from Corralejo) where the sand stretched as far as the eye could see, and the sun bleached everything white in its heat. As the only true beginner in the lesson (the others were a solid 4 days into their camp stay), I got to have a delightful one-on-one session with my instructor, Marco.
After a brief warm-up session on the beach, Marco ran through the basics of being on the board in the water. He ran through the importance of noticing current direction, my positioning on the board, the timing of paddling with an oncoming wave and how to steer once you catch a wave. He had quite a ‘feel the waves’ spiritual vibe to his teaching, but his care and attentiveness was impeccable. A truly great instructor!
As I dragged my board into the sea for my first go, I suddenly thought, “What if I don’t actually CATCH a wave?!” But that turned out to be a stupid worry! I managed to catch wave after wave, body boarding to shore. I hadn’t quite got the hang of controlling the direction of my board, but I blame Marco’s striking red rash vest. He’d wave and encourage me and I would accidentally go straight for his red figure, meaning he’d have to dive out the way as I streamed past calling, "I’M SORRRRRRY!!!"
Kathi: At the same time, as Sophie was assessing our surf instructor, I had finally arrived in Corralejo and made myself at home at the surf camp’s surf house aka I asked for the WiFi password.
The surf house is spread out across three semi-detached houses in a quiet residential area. To keep the neighbours happy, there is no obvious sign to the camp, so might be a little tricky to find. Especially if you, like me, ignore the house numbers which are very obvious…
The main building has a big common area with a large table, two kitchen corners, several fridges and cupboards to store food, plus a boombox playing Alice’s upbeat summer tunes. The social area behind the house has all sorts of fun things: a little pool, another large table, cosy bean bags and cushions, a pool table, a ping-pong table and a BBQ grill.
There was enough space to fill the hours outside of surf lessons socialising with the other people staying there. The rooftop terrace faces west – perfect for sunset yoga, which Ania (Alice’s colleague) offers a couple of times a week!
When a sun-kissed Sophie strolled in with salt in her hair, a big smile on her face and stories of waves, I got excited for my first surf lesson the next day. Although I had tried it when I was in Costa Rica two years ago, during my first lesson Marco explained everything from scratch, and showed me a very simple technique to stand up on the board. Well, simple in theory.
The next few hours were spent cursing the waves, the board, and sometimes even Marco. But eventually I managed to stand up for a split second a couple of times – mission accomplished. When first learning how to surf, it may not be the most rewarding sport, but those few moments felt like magic.
Sophie: During a week long stay at Planet Surf Camp, you get 20 hours of tutored surf sessions and a bed in the dorms. Each surf outing lasts around 4 -5 hours, but there’s no surfing on the weekends allowing you free time to chill, explore and kick back. We’ll tell you more about what to do in Corralejo and Fuerteventura later, but it’s good to note that we found the island an activity-based destination. There’s not much to do so I could imagine getting quite restless if I hadn’t been surfing.
Although my fears were focused on, "O dear God, don’t let me drown", I hadn’t really thought much about the vibe of the actual camp! The social areas are a big plus here – whether you’re travelling with a friend, like me, or alone, everyone mixes it up and chats away.
What a surprise it was to meet Alyssa from Alyssa Writes, who had just written a Travelettes guest post…
What surprised me the most was the fact that everyone there was just so friendly and willing to have a chat. I never felt awkward there and the vibe was so relaxed; it didn’t matter if you wanted to drink beers and have a chinwag or just snooze in the sun. Perhaps we just were lucky as the guests we encountered were incredibly lovely and the girls working at the surf house were awesome, but hopefully this is the general vibe that is encouraged at Planet Surf Fuerteventura. As a lone traveller on my first night, I felt welcomed in this place that was definitely more of a home than a hostel.
Kathi: Although we opted to eat out in Corralejo on our first night together (definitely go for tapas at Pincha Cabra!), we spent most of our nights at the surf house and with the people we met there. And with all the things Alice and Ania helped put on, it’s no big surprise.
On the Wednesdays we were there, (both Sophie’s first, and my last night) the girls initiated communal dinners – firing up the BBQ grill. Over the week, the group of surfers residing at the surfhouse had grown to about 30, which meant A LOT OF MEAT. Luckily, there was a group of Germans at hand, completely living up to the stereotype of a nation of organised BBQ-fanatics. They helped the girls sorting out money, shopping and carrying. Time for meat galore (and sangria too)!
Surf and Camping in Spain
Santiago Bernabéu Tour
Camino de Santiago Tour
On Fridays, the Planet Surf crew rounds up all the surflings and takes them for a big dinner in town. In our week, Marco had decided to take us to Big Wave pizzeria for pizza (he’s a true Italian after all), where they served what he called "an orgasm of a pizza." Personally, I’m not to sure about his #foodporn judging (the goat cheese and spinach pizza was way better than his favourite) but it was great to hit the town all together.
They served what he called "an orgasm of a pizza."
For €15 we got plenty of drink and enough food to become as round as the pizza we were eating – actually the pizza was longish to fit onto the little wooden surfboards which served as plates, but who’d even question that pun. Overwhelmed by sudden tiredness, Sophie and I sneaked out of the post-dinner drinks at one of the beach bars and rolled home happily.
Sophie: Thankfully, I had hit the gym a few months before and I could feel the energy pumping as I repeatedly ran into the shallows to catch them waves. I would highly recommend doing some kind of fitness training or swimming sessions if you have a surf trip coming up, as the amount of energy you burn in a day of surfing is incredible.
Running, swimming and yoga are all integral to getting fit for surfing – but don’t let that scare you off. Sure, you have to be fit but in our beginner classes we had a variety of people of different fitness levels trying it out. You can take breaks on the beach if you’re feeling worn out at all!
Kathi: As I’m a lazy ass, I didn’t start running in order to prepare for this trip, the way I had planned to. All I did was sweat in my yoga studio; strengthening my arms with arm balances, my legs with lunges and my back with just sitting upright for a really long time… you see, I am a real laze. Turns out, yoga is the perfect preparation for surfing though, and the way you move your body on the board is similar to a lot of yoga poses.
Pack loads of water and some snacks to keep your energy level up! You will inevitably swallow a lot of salt water, so keeping hydrated is really important. Bring trail mix or nuts, cereal bars and fruits to fill up with during your breaks. I munched constantly when I was out of the water – no shame there!
Sophie: The current was strong, meaning that you would enter the water at one point but then slowly be dragged down the beach far from your surf spot. Luckily, on our first few days in the water, it was pretty quiet on the beach with minimal surf schools in action, but when there are more learners in the water, you do need to keep to your designated spot and avoid getting in other people’s way.
I felt pretty safe with Marco as he was also a qualified lifeguard. You would always spy him carefully watching all his students in the water, and then he would call you up on the beach to give more lessons on improvements. But even during his teachings, he would always be watching everyone else and would sometimes yell out a random whoop of encouragement half-way through a sentence to someone in the water.
As previously mentioned, surfing is a physical onslaught on the body. I hadn’t even factored in the thought of an injury until I saw a fellow student’s poor toenail with half of it ripped off. On my penultimate surf lesson, I headed in the water thinking ‘This is it. I’m going to stand even if it means face planting into the sea bed and eating some serious sand.’ But on my first wave, some muscle in my left upper arm twanged ferociously leaving me manically paddling with one arm, going in semi-circles before being washed spluttering to shore.
I have no idea what the hell happened, but that pulled muscle meant I could hardly use that arm to get up on the board – WTF?! Nothing feels worse than sitting on the beach, watching everyone else frolicking in the water as you nurse your arm and a feeling of anger to fate. A whole surfing day was out for me and I hadn’t yet popped up. I needed a (sunset) beer, stat.
A full day of rest for my lame arm meant that it had recovered slightly for my last day in the sea. Although my arm was still weak as a kitten, I managed some time in the water and got popping up to a really low crouched position… with hands unfortunately still firmly on the board.
Still, I learnt that mind over matter is an important factor in surfing, as sometimes you really have to let go and not think about it too much! Fear holds you back, but you just have to clear that mind and focus on feeling the power of the wave beneath you.
Kathi: Speaking of fear, as I had arrived one day after Sophie, I got to stay one more day. Seeing it was my fourth day on the board, Marco decided to ditch me and made me join Gabriele and the intermediate class. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited about the playing with the more experienced surfers, and Gabriele showed the same reassuring Italian enthusiasm as Marco, but still – REAL SURFING in REAL WAVES?!?
Instead of the beach of Cotillo, we headed for the reef of Punta Blanca, just north of Corralejo. Gabriele ran through the basics of where to paddle out (a flat channel), how to line up, how to stay in a safe zone away from the rocks and not too far down the current. In theory, it all sounded clear. In practice, the sea does whatever she wants; no mercy at all.
In theory, it all sounded clear. In practice, the sea does whatever she wants.
I paddled out, lined up, and caught my first real wave with Gabriele’s help! I stood up for a second and felt like a rockstar, but that was it. From then on, it was being tumbled around in a washing machine of salt water, as sets of waves (always three waves in a set) came in faster than I could paddle back to the channel.
The current was too strong and my fear of drowning was too big, so I gave in and bodysurfed back to shore. From there I watched the others doing a much better job and put together an apologetic speech for Gabriele. Even though I was terrified, all I remember now is the incredible feeling I had riding that one wave – totally worth it!
Sophie: We both still have a ton of practice and learning to do – there’s only so much you can learn in one week of surfing (and I’ve probably forgotten most of it by now!), but goddamn, did I have fun! The welcoming community vibe of the camp, getting to be on beautiful beaches, not dying and successfully catching waves! On our last day together, we couldn’t help hugging Marco (“Take a photo NOW, Kathi!!”), our cheeky chap of surfing, as he had really been fantastic and our lil’ ray of sunshine on our surf trip.
We’d recommend you to go out of peak season if you fancy a quieter trip with more space in the water and more room to breathe in the hostel. But as the summer approaches, the nightlife will ramp up providing plenty of partying options for those who like to get involved with this. Just bear in mind, learning to surf with a hangover is not recommended, but the choice is yours of course!
Both Kathi and I are both in full agreement that we would go back again and give this surfing malarky another go. The camp was a great mix of chilling out with lovely travellers and surf enthusiasts, and getting to try out the waves in a safe environment with great instruction.