Apparently, this is one of the worst winters the island has seen in years. Three people have practically apologised to me for this in my first 24 hours on the island, yet I’m struggling to feel disappointed. I’ve just come from mid-January Dublin – if 19⁰C and slightly cloudy is as bad as it gets… well, do your worst Fuerteventura.
I’m staying in Corralejo, a buzzy little town on the north of the island. It’s easy and cheap to get to; a short ride on the number 3 bus from the airport to the bus station, and then the number 6 from there for another 4o minutes or so – all for under a fiver. If you want to get a taxi, it usually costs around €45 – not bad if you’re sharing, but the bus is a winner.
I’ve actually never tried this winter sun thing before. I have no idea why not; it’s absolutely brilliant. You don’t have to put your socks on the radiator once, the whole time you’re away. You don’t have to do that shivering jump from under your duvet into your clothes, hoping for as little sub-zero air on your skin as possible. There is no need to de-ice anything in the mornings, and if your clothes get wet, they get dry again soon.
But most of all? You can just… sit outside. Just sit there, with actual fresh air on your skin, and a coffee or an obnoxiously large gin and tonic in front of you, with no discomfort and no shivers whatsoever.
It is quite windy on the beaches around Corralejo though, and not always warm enough to comfortably lie out and sunbathe – but that’s ok with me. Sunbathing is not the reason I’m here, so a little cloud and wind really isn’t a problem.
I’m here for the Atlantic. Specifically, I’m here for the waves.
You see, as well as being a beautiful, volcanic, sunny Canary Island, Fuerteventura has the added bonus of being one of Europe’s top surfing spots. Wild winds way out in the Atlantic cause groundswell on the Island’s west coast which means big, beautiful waves. Quite intimidating ones for a relative novice like me, actually. My plans are to just rent a board and a wetsuit and do my own thing, until I see them.
I want surf lessons (read: I need surf lessons), so I head to Fuerteventura Surf School (a new ‘branch’ of the island’s much loved Kailua Surf School) on Calle Grandes Playas. The place is owned by Adan Ferreres, who is every bit as chilled out and friendly as you’d expect from a guy that runs a surf school on a beautiful island in the sun.
I choose a three day course costing €120 (one day is €45). Lessons run from 10am to 2pm each day, and this includes pick-up from your hotel/apartment. Or your local café, where I prefer to wait in the morning sun with a coffee, a croissant, and my book.
The surf lessons take place wherever conditions are best on the day, which is very often the beautiful and wild El Cotillo beach, on the northwest coast of the island. My instructor, Massimo, is a friendly and stereo-typically gorgeous Italian, who has the whole ‘long blond hair and blue eyes’ surfer look absolutely nailed. I ask where we’re going, and sure enough, Cotillo is the destination.
In about 20 minutes we’re there. The waves are big – bigger than the ones I saw yesterday – and I’m already delighted I opted for lessons. We bring our stuff down to the beach, get in our wetsuits and do a thorough warm-up before the ‘dry’ part of the lesson. I’ve done a little surfing before, so Massimo just gets me to pop up a few times on the sand to have a look at my technique. He gives me a few pointers before sending me off out into the water, so he can spend a little more time with the other people in the group. None of whom have ever surfed before, so they get a longer beach lesson to get a handle on the basics. For me, it’s time to get wet…
My first day back in the ocean after a far-too-long hiatus is brilliant. El Cotillo is lovely, the sun is shining, I catch (some) waves, and I catch the surfing bug all over again. It’s just incredible, the feeling when you ride a wave. It doesn’t even matter that I do it with all the grace of a drunk, lame elephant, or that I rack up countless failed attempts before one brief moment of glory. Actually, all the failed attempts are what make it glorious. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s lesson.
The next two days of surfing do not go so well. Strong winds whip the waves into a bit of a confused mess, my body is exhausted, and it feels like I drink more water than I surf. But Massimo knows his stuff, and he patiently gives me tips and advice, and most importantly – encouragement when I get frustrated.
Despite a tough two days, I’m not deterred and rent a board for two further days when, thankfully, the waves get friendlier, things click, and I start to feel a lot more competent. If you’re a beginner you’re better off starting with at least two lessons, ideally more – there’s a lot to take in when you start out, and it helps to have someone watching you and correcting any mistakes you make. For novices who are struggling to progress, a lesson or two is the perfect way to hone your technique and fix any bad habits.
Look. There are some home truths you need to know about surfing;
1) Good surfers make it look way easier than it is.
2) It’s not easy to learn.
3) If you do yoga/swim a lot/are in good shape, it’s a little easier.
4) It’s still not easy.
5) Big waves are scary and tiring.
6) They are also lots of fun. It’s all lots of fun.
7) It teaches you patience.
8) All the frustration – (and there is plenty) is worth it for those glorious moments when you catch and ride a wave.
It really, really is worth it. There’s a reason that surfers tend to be some of the most chilled out, happy people you’ll come across, you know.
Flights to Fuerteventura
- Dee Murray