The Number 1 Place to Wild-Surf in Europe

The Number 1 Place to Wild-Surf in Europe

Surf addiction? Looking for somewhere different with mind-blowing natural phenomena for some winter sun? Then consider a small Spanish-owned island off the coast of North-West Africa, it’s a surf heaven. Nicole Buckler finds the good stuff.

The capital, Arrecife, is not touristy at all, and you can find some excellent restaurants here.

Surf Lanzarote

Europeans, Scandinavians, and Russians know the island of Lanzarote well. The town of Puerto del Carmen on Lanzarote island is thick with holiday apartments built specifically for the package holiday traveller. Most of these travellers live in countries so sun-starved that tourists are there for one purpose – to get some solar rays on their skin.

Typical accommodation at the resort area of Puerto del Carmen

Perfect Surf Weather

Lanzarote is nicknamed the “Island of Eternal Spring” because of its guaranteed good weather all year round. A subtropical-desert climate can do a lot for the tourist trade. Such tourists don’t tend to leave the resorts much, or venture further than the unadventurous restaurants around their accommodation. All they want to do is uptake vitamin D while lying next to a pool. None of these people surf. So this means that if you are going to Lanzarote to explore the natural phenomena, then you will get an easy ride. You will actually get some sites all to yourself! We Gold Coasters are spoiled for sun, so we can concentrate on other things while there.

Because of its package holiday reputation, this is one of the most underrated places to holiday in the world. Outside of the McResorts is a natural wonderland of world-class beauty. The island is so spectacular, that it was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993. And UNESCO don’t go around naming biospheres lightly.

A small church on an arid mountain in a tiny town called Femes

Volcano!

Lanzarote, one of the famous Canary Islands, has a volcanic origin. It was born through fiery eruptions. Solidified lava streams as well as extravagant rock formations are quite the sight to behold. And they can go on as far as the eye can see. Some parts of the island are so moon-like, that photos of the area were studied by Apollo astronauts before going to the moon so that they could get an idea of what they might encounter.

The otherwordly scenes at Playa de Famara

Beaches

The part-sand, part-volcanic-stone beaches are perfect for the barbequing of human flesh. This, combined with clear waters, makes Lanzarote the tourist attraction that it is. If you want to sneak off to a National Park beach, a must-see is El Papagayo, a collection of small bays with incredible crystal-clear waters and fine white sands — it could be the most gorgeous place on the island. Although, it can be quite a mission to get to it.

Papagayos Beach, inside a national park, is probably the most beautiful beach on the island

As well as needing a car (preferably a 4WD as the roads are not really roads at all), the best coves require visitors to climb down a sandy cliff to reach the alluring beach below. Only mountain goats or reasonably able humans can accomplish this feat. Clothes are optional here, so when in Rome…

Black Sand

Because of the volcanic history, there are several black-sand beaches on Lanzarote. This is an Instagrammer’s dream come true. If you’ve never seen a black sand beach before, you’ll be amazed when your feet sink into one. Check out the black sand beach of Playa Quemada (burned beach).

Another thing to know is that Lanzarote is one of the best surf spots in Europe. Known as the Hawaii of Europe, the best place to surf is Playa de Famara. It is a black sand beach under huge black cliffs that will seem otherworldly. It is not touristy at all in this area, and you can find some crazy little places to stay in Caleta de Famara, a coastal village next to the beach. But be quick, this place is starting to get on the map. In the last few years Famara has become the place to be for numerous surfers from all over the globe. The 6-star ASP event La Santa Pro is a leg of the world surfing championships. It was held in October at the beautiful beach of San Juan, a few hundred meters away from the village.

If you want to surf here, you can hire boards and wetsuits on the island. Remember, this is the Atlantic Ocean, not the Pacific, so the water can get cold at times.

Playa de Famara, said to be the best surfing spot in Europe.

Other Swimming Spots

The lagoon called El Golfo is something else. The neon-green body of water sits between a black beach and red cliffs. It started its life when sea water ran into an old volcanic crater. The green colour is from algae living its best life in the water. Around the edge of the lake, you can pick up pieces of a mineral called olivine – it is very popular with jewellery makers. Like vast tracts of Lanzarote, being there is like being on another world.

The strange colours of the lake at El Golfo

El Golfo is a small fishing village that retains an old-world feel.

The Hot Stuff

Timanfaya National Park is the hands-down highlight of any trip in Lanzarote. Timanfaya, meaning “Mountain of Fire” is one of the greatest geological phenomena you are likely to see. This region was devastated by intermittent volcanic eruptions, the last being in 1824. All life was nuked. The effect that this had on the landscape was, and is, incredible. It is a vast expanse of lifelessness that goes for as far as the eye can see. There are “seabeds” of dried lava which look like giant petrified slugs that go on for miles. It truly is an amazing place.

One of Timanfaya National Park’s spectacular craters.

At this strange-looking place, the ground is still scorching hot, so you aren’t allowed to just walk around like a lunatic. Any visitors must stay on a bus or be contained in guided tours. The ground is still so volatile and deathly dry that a human could die in a few hours of being lost in the park. But be sure to visit Timanfaya, you’ll feel small and unimportant in a good way.

The vast expanse of hardened lava seas.

As a side-note, the heat of the volcano is used for cooking steaks and fish in a restaurant on top of the lava flow, called, of course, El Diablo. More or less, the dead flesh is held over the lava until it is crispy and perfect. Free heat, I like it.

A restaurant in the volcanic area uses geothermal heat from the earth to cook up a Sunday roast

A demonstration of the geothermic activity is performed by throwing water into the ground resulting in a sensational geyser of steam

Wine Production

If humans ever wanted to learn how to grow grapes on the moon, they should come and see it being done in La Geria. This wine region looks like the lunar surface. It is desolate, seemingly dry as hell, and steep. But Lanzarote’s biggest wine-producing region has managed to make a wine industry thrive in the face of punishing adversity.

Lanzarote is windy. Legend has it that after several days in Lanzarote, the constant wind creates a biological response in humans of sheer anxiety. As well as allegedly making us all jumpy, the wind blows away the grapevine seeds before they can germinate. So the locals of Lanzarote dig deep holes in the hills of lava, and build rather odd-looking stone circular walls around the seeds so that they don’t blow away. These walls also hold in the scant dew that appears on the plants from time to time.

Crescent shaped, dry stone walls called zocos are built around the northerly edge of each grapevine pit to shield the vine from the prevailing winds.

Each zoco is built carefully to still allow the air to pass through the tiny holes and cracks to keep the plant well ventilated

It is truly extraordinary to see large expanses of these stone circles. But all the effort building these pods is worth it. The wine of lava from Lanzarote has a remarkable peppery taste and you drink a whole lot more of it than you remember, usually. If you ever take any of my crazy recommendations, take this one. It is seriously the best wine I have ever tasted in my life.

Water

Lanzarote is a “desert island” where most of the drinking water is imported in bottles. It is a seriously dry place where only cacti survive well. The rainfall is scant, but in Lanzarote there is fog fairly often, which is a saving grace.

The locals have developed an ingenious way of collecting water — they catch fog. They have erected huge vertical sheets of fine nets which sit on the tops of mountains. When the fog moves through the nets, it precipitates into water and runs down the nets into storage tanks. This technique of collecting “horizontal rain” provides an alternative source of freshwater. Along with the wind power turbines, the landscape is quite an interesting spectre, all in the name of living well in a harsh but achingly beautiful place.

The cactus is the most successful species on Lanzarote.

Cuisine 

If you stay in the tourist towns, you can expect to be disappointed with the food. However, once you strike out into the areas where the locals live, you’ll be impressed.

The Spanish port areas sees the menu change to tapas, fresh fish and seafood cooked in the Spanish-Lanzarote way. And, you’ll find the famous Lanzarote potato with Mojo Rojo sauce — tongue orgasm kind of stuff. Anywhere out of the way, after a wild surf, is where the good stuff is.

Video

Here is a video from the Lanzarote tourist board. 

Getting There

A great way to see Lanzarote is to book a package holiday out of somewhere like London. That way, you get to see London and then you can get a cheap, direct flight from the English capital. Your accommodation will be thrown in for next to no extra cost. Otherwise, flights go from the Gold Coast via Doha in Qatar, while others are routed via Spain. Happy travels! ■

Museo Atlántico 

This insane attraction is an underwater museum featuring more than 300 sculptural works by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor. It opened to the public in 2017. The art pieces sit 14 metres beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in Bahía de Las Coloradas, on the south coast of Lanzarote.

The underground art gallery is permanent and has been created entirely with pH-neutral materials. It is currently being colonised by marine life and makes for a spectacular dive in the Atlantic.

North-west Africa too far? Then how about Thailand? 

Elephant Love – Swim with Elephants in Thailand

A Perfect Break Means Big Profits – Let’s Fire Up Some Waves

A Perfect Break Means Big Profits – Let’s Fire Up Some Waves

A perfect break is a money spinner. So let’s add it into our investment mix. Editor-in-Chief Nicole Buckler argues for a perfect wave.

There are ways to attract visitors to an area, like casinos, restaurants, nightlife and adventure parks. But let’s not forget about the reason why people were attracted to the Gold Coast to begin with, before development even began. It was a surfer’s paradise.

The Spit rejuvenation plan has been received with excitement by Gold Coasters. But, we are all worried about over-development and having the area turned into a burnt-out overrun tip. I get the struggle. I am a nature lover at heart. If you come near my turtles with your straws, I will maim you with my pencil IN. YO. FACE.

That said, we all need jobs. We need to keep developing our city to make sure tourists and other Australians keep coming here with their wallets. It is great living in a stunningly beautiful place, with epic weather. But reality says that we need to make it work for us so that we can make a life for ourselves here.  It’s balancing the two competing factors of protecting nature and making it work for us that separates the good mayors from the scoundrels. All we have to do is listen to environmental scientists and take their advice very seriously while creating our liveable utopias. Several fascinating studies have come out recently which speak about how profitable natural phenomena can be to a local economy. So, let’s talk about the one that directly applies to our area: A good wave break.

A Perfect Break

A recent study has shown (to our delight) that good surf breaks create economic growth. The study analysed 5,000 surf breaks globally. Not only did they discover that a good surf break meant an immediate jump in tourism and profits – they also discovered that if the break was destroyed, that the area would decline economically almost right away.

Perfect Break

Perfect Break

The researchers analysed satellite images of night-time lights as a ‘proxy’ for economic growth. The lights increased after a new break was discovered and the word got out. A high-quality surf break boosted growth by 2.2 percentage points per year.

The Research

Dr Sam Wills, of the University of Sydney’s School of Economics was the researcher in question. He wanted to escape the cold and go on a surfing holiday. “I looked for somewhere warm and sunny with good waves. I settled on Taghazout in Morocco, thinking it would be quiet. Flying in at sunset over the desert I noticed that everything was dark, except for one little spot that was lit up like Pitt Street: Taghazout. Once I arrived, I realised that this previously sleepy little fishing village had been overrun by surfers, and so I wanted to figure out whether it was systematically happening around the world.”

It was. It’s well understood that natural features like rivers and fertile soil matter for economic growth, but this research shows that natural amenities are just as valuable.

Researchers also investigated two locations where surf breaks were removed and found that nearby economies shrink when this occurs. A break at Jardim do Mar, Portugal, was removed though the construction of a coastal road, while another at Mundaka, Spain, disappeared after a river mouth was dredged.

The paper suggests that building or taking care of existing surf breaks can create jobs. And in tandem, protecting environmental quality is a must. But there is a way to do both on the Gold Coast: by building artificial reefs.

Artificial Reefs

As we all know by now, Palm Beach will soon be home to an artificial reef, work started last April.  The $18.2 million project is being built primarily to protect the beach and stop the sand from being constantly washed away. But it is hoped that it will actually create more surfable weaves. The perfect break. Also, once established, the reef will be a haven for wildlife. Local surfers have divided opinions on wave creation: some say it will work and others doubt the possibilities. We will soon find out!

The Spit redevelopers hope to create an artificial reef using sculptures, which I am super-excited about. But while we are creating reefs, why not throw a few more into the mix and make the Spit a surfing haven? Let’s build a guaranteed perfect break or two. I would really love policy-makers to feel this idea. Reefs are often built to protect beaches, so, why not make ones that would not only stop erosion and protect infrastructure, but as an added bonus, could create consistently perfect waves?

Many “perfect break spots” all over the world owe their existence to developments along coastal areas that were built without the wave breaks even in mind. “The Wedge” in California is an example: It was created after a wall was built to ensure boats could get into the harbour safely.

Perfect Break

Perfect Break

The Perfect Break

Artificial surfing reefs have been topical for the past few years all over the world. So we can definitely have the conversation for the Spit development. Oceanographers all over the world are trying to perfect a system that will see the perfect break appear every single day. There’s a good foundation of knowledge as to how to change the ocean floors to affect a wave break. It’s an exciting idea.

Standard beach waves can be unpredictable: waves can change as sandbanks move around. But waves breaking off solid, established reefs are the best going: They are consistent, and look the same 20 years ago as they do today – as long as the reef remains protected and intact.

Here’s the bad news: Artificial reefs are expensive. But let’s start seeing this as an investment, rather than a cost. The future benefits will make them more than worth it. I’m ready to put my taxes against this uncertain utopia, how about you?

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