I met Nick in Sagres and he is, amongst many other things, a co-founder of CoWorkSurf. A Geography Teacher gone rogue, Nick moved to Portugal in “search of a lifestyle more connected to the ocean, to nature, to like-minded people”.
“I have always chosen a life I knew I needed,” he continues, “ Away from the cities of this world, the smoke, the rapid pace, the development, the noise of human progress. A step back, a slower flow, connection with the natural rhythms and now, ultimately, life more connected to surf.”
He’s warm, generous, kind and forever giving, and despite growing up in the Peak District National Park, approximately three hours in any direction to the nearest surf spot, he’s a better surfer than he’ll often admit. For this reason, and his cracking writing style, I invited Nick to share three of his favourite cold water spots. I wasn’t disappointed with Rastabake’s response.
I grew up in a place known more for sheep than surfers. Although far from the sea, growing up in the British countryside instilled a great respect and appreciation for the natural world. I’m forever indebted to my parents for that. Not to mention all the childhood hiking, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, skiing and snowboarding. It wasn't until my early 20s that I caught the surfing bug. Snowboarding still ruled my world but between numerous ski seasons and global adventures in search of snow, I managed to slowly practice and improve my surfing. Over a decade later I still consider myself a pretty mediocre surfer but here are my three favourite cold water locations which keep me stoked along the way.
Cayton Bay - Yorkshire
"Fuck me it's cold. Really fucking cold."
I used to surf here in a 3:2 no hood, boots or gloves. Mostly thanks to a lack of funds, complete unawareness of thicker neoprene suits and a dashing of Northern grit (aka stupidity). Later on I got wise to 4:3s and hooded Excel vests. The best swells come in winter so bring your thermos brimming with Tetley tea, you're gonna need it.
Have you ever seen the Yorkshire seaside? No? Well, I'll tell you summat fer nowt cock, the wa'er ain't that blue. The colour of the North Sea on the Yorkshire coast is caused mostly by the rapidly eroding glacial till deposits that comprise the youngest layers of the sedimentary stratigraphy lining the coast. That and a good deal of post precipitation farming effluent run-off water, oh and some industrial and commercial waste from The North's industrial cities thrown in for good measure. Yes, it's got a bit of a brown tint.
Brain freeze cold and muddy brown. Sound inviting? "Nah, den youth. Keep yer gob shut when tha's duckdiving." At least the locals are friendly enough.
There's a few peaks that work along beach but the real show occurs out at the rocky point on the north side of the bay. With the right swells it can produce a left hand wave with stand up barrels. The paddle to the point is long but get inside one of those grinding, gurgling, Yorkshire kegs and you'll quickly forget all the effort it took to get there.
The best swells come in winter so bring your thermos brimming with Tetley tea, you're gonna need it.
Fickle and not for the faint-hearted, you'll be lucky to score it at its best, unless you're a local watching it from your bedroom window with binoculars, but well worth it.
Mundaka, Basque Country, Spain
On my first visit to Mundaka I was way off the mark.
I arrived in late July with my friend Tom. After inspecting the harbour, in search of one of Europe's top ranking elite class lefts, we thought we'd got it wrong. Then, after asking a local when the wave would work the response came "In October." We knew we'd got it wrong. This kinda settled it for us and we opted for jumping like loons from the harbour wall with the other tourists for the afternoon. The next day we drove on.
There are a few theories about where Mundaka gets its name from. My favourite, highly plausible and one of the oldest (around 1000 years) is the Norse origin for the name. It is well documented that Vikings inhabited this area, now modern day Basque country. Based on the likely presence of a medieval Viking settlement in the area. In Danish, "mund" means "mouth", and "haka" means "promontory, cape". Mundaka lies precisely at the mouth of the estuary of the Oka river.
The Oka river flows from south to north into the Bay of Biscay. Here when solid swells roll in it can generate one of Europe's most highly prized cold water waves offering potential stand up barrels for days.
Forward in time to a most memorable surf with my late great friend Cam. This time on the road trip on our way home from the usual extended summer in and around Lagos and Sagres, Portugal.
In the chilly river mouth we watched him get "Totally slotted!" according to the commentary from the wonderfully cliché American logger, who was enigmatically whooping away. Strange that at that moment I had no idea this would be one of my few last surfs with Cameron. It wouldn't have changed anything, he still just surfed on that day like a champion, as always. I miss you little brother.
Aguçadoura, Douro, N. Portugal
Teaching Geography and being born in a country which is (was...) still part of the E.U. had some advantages, living and working in another one of those member states, to say the least.
30 mins east from the coast, the city of Braga provided affordable lodgings, numerous bakeries and was accessible via good transport links. My teaching job there served me well and allowed plenty of weekend warrior and evening solo missions to the beach.
Aguçadoura is a small sleepy fishing village at the end of the winding cobbled roads through arable farmed land. If you're lucky you'll bump into Luis in the car park and have impromptu intercontinental duo-lingual rap battles with him. I did! Respeito. Or maybe you'll see long-term globalist navigator, Bocha Javier, boss man at Aminon clothing company, imagined in Madrid made in Portugal.
If not you'll simply score empty, off-shore, A-Frame glass on the low tide. Sometimes there were half a dozen in the line up, sometimes...
"Oh nice one! Now everyone knows!" Honestly though I don't feel bad about blowing the whistle about this quiet little beach break. Why not? Well, because you'll probably never go there. The nearest international airport is in Oporto (1.5 hours away) the water is cold, it's quite a solitary break with few surrounding options, so if its not working you're driving at least half an hour to the next spot north or south, it's a bloody mission to find, it's probably not working when you get there, it works best in winter and that's when it rains too. But, please prove me wrong. Go check it out.
It's a bloody mission to find and it's probably not working when you get there.
Well that's three of my favourite cold water spots in Europe. I hope you get to visit them all at some point, they have certainly all been poignant waves in my surfing life. In the meantime stay salty, stay Seafox and stay stoked.
Nomadic writer and designer