No Contest France and Portugal: The World Tour's European Leg Is A Decadent Affair
La Grav fires, Lisbon is the cosmopolitan surfer's dream, things get fishy in Peniche, and there just ain't no party like an Airborne party 'cause an Airborne party don't stop.
Welcome back to No Contest, our indulgent travelogue series with Red Bull following the World Championship Tour.
On this episode, we're running our fingers along French lace, then down Portuguese burel wool along the so-called European Leg—the ninth and tenth stops on the WSL Championship Tour: Hossegor, France and Supertubos, Portugal.
For decades, the European leg has served as the CT's cultural high water mark, while also landing at a crucial pivot point in the year as far as ratings, requalification, and historically, World Title campaigns, which makes for a polarizing experience depending on a surfer's position.
Kolohe Andino fading into a La Grav drainer.
After a few days of sandbar barrels and a little backstory on the Capbreton Bunkers (Nazis!?), we kick off Red Bull Airborne's final event of the fast and loose tour's first year in style, with a full cast dinner of moules frites and gambas—massive bowls of mussels and thin-cut fries, and generous plates of grilled shrimp (washed down by more than a few bottles of good Bordeaux).
We go behind the scenes like we always do at Airborne, for the tour's most ridiculously entertaining event to-date, and celebrate our boy Ian Crane's big win at the Stab House on the beach at La Grav.
If you’ve never done it, any visiting surfer has to make the drive from France to Portugal, if only to get a good look at the Spanish Basque Country, and two of the most culturally, culinarily, and architecturally rich cities in Europe, if not the world: San Sebastian and Bilbao.
Jordy Smith more than happy to stretch his legs and stand tall in some sandbar pits after a week crouching in the wave pool.
On our way south, we made a quick stop in San Sebastian with Josh Kerr and Ian Crane, Chris Cote, Vaughan Blakey, and friends for some pintxos, cidre, and good Spanish red, before a lesson in Basque cooking at the Gastronomic Society, a private eating club traditional to the area where club members gather with family to cook. Our menu, soft eggs with local mushrooms, and a few massive hunks of txuleta steak, thick-cut bone-in Basque entrecote that’s served rare and simply salted.
The drive from France to Peniche, Portugal takes eight to nine hours, depending on the route, with countless potential Spanish pit stops between Madrid, Galicia, and Salamanca, before getting to Peniche, and to the south, Ericeira, plus the oldest city in Western Europe, Lisbon.
Situated at the mouth of the Tagus, the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula, Lisbon has for centuries been a linchpin trade location for Europe and the rest of the world. The gorgeous architecture of Lisbon today can be traced back to the city’s rise to power during Portugal’s incredible period of exploration, discovery, and conquest in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Julian Wilson's full-sends made for French highlights, whether in the main event, Red Bull Airborne, or morning freesurfs.
In the last five years, countless international pros have relocated to Portugal. Why? Incredibly affordable property often a stone’s throw from any number of world-class waves within a short drive from Lisbon International. Often described as a mix between Paris and San Francisco, it doesn’t take long to understand why Lisbon is so attractive to a proudly cosmopolitan character like Kanoa Igarashi, who has called Ericeira, Cascais, and Lisbon home for the last half-decade.
For locals, visitors, and especially California transplants like Kanoa Igarashi, Lisbon’s proximity to world-class waves like Carcavelos, the reefs around Ericeira, the shifting sandbanks of Supertubos and Peniche an hour north, and Nazare just beyond that, makes it a pretty damn radical place to live and surf. One of the most electric cosmopolitans in Europe, with countless dream waves within striking distance.
Aside from some of the most wave-rich coastline in Europe, Portugal is known for castles, cork, and seafood—especially the area’s famously plump little sardines. If you’re curious where the overwhelming aroma of raw fish is emanating from, look no further than the fishing boats in the Peniche harbor, and the sardine cannery smack dab in the middle of town.
Seafood is big business if Portugal. The country has the third-highest seafood consumption per capita in Europe, and for centuries the area has relied on a ridiculously bountiful sardine population. However, in the last decade and a half, the once-plentiful sardines have become increasingly sparse and expensive. in the last decade, the sardine population has dropped, mostly due to climate change and excessive fishing. In 2006, fishermen caught 106,000 tonnes of sardines, versus 22,000 tonnes in 2016.
And if they aren’t sinking their teeth into sardines, surfers in town for the Rip Curl Pro Portugal are doing their best to read the winds, tides, and shifting sandbars around the complicated Peniche coastline. From Supertubos to the south, Peniche juts east into the Atlantic like a veritable peninsula. While there are a few waves in the rocky nooks around the city center, most of the best surf is found on the sandbars to the north, when south winds blow out Supertubos but groom the north-facing adjacent beaches. As fickle as anywhere on tour, if you’re on it, hunting waves around Peniche can be widly rewarding: think short windows of uncrowded, often empty sandbar barrels.
It’s worth noting, the Portugal Current brings cold water from the north which is why Portugal’s colder than France
Europe is a particularly rich region to document, and this was one of our favorite episodes to make. This is No Contest France and Portugal.
Hossegor transplant Leo Fiorivanti came back swinging from his shoulder injury incurred in West Oz, taking down Kelly Slater in front of a packed local crowd, and scoring more than his share of La Grav pits in freesurfs. Welcome back, Leo.