Maybe you are as unaware as I was that Portugal is one of the surfing capitals of the world. Who knew?! Surf pros head to the Portuguese coast to train and catch some of the best waves around. Some even stay where my Topdeck Surfari travels took me, to one of the world’s top surf camps: La Point, Ericeira.
Full disclosure: I had never surfed a day in my life. Heck, I am about as balanced and as graceful as Bambi is on ice. I can’t even touch my toes, but learning how to surf was on my bucket list (as well as part of Topdeck’s Ultimate49), so I thought, ‘Dammit, this girl can, and WILL learn to surf!’.
When I arrived I was actually a bit nervous. Although I’ve travelled ‘alone’ many times before, I had never truly been alone in another country. I also unnecessarily managed to convince myself that I was probably going to end up with a totally advanced group of rad surfer bros and I was going to slow everyone down.
So, when I rocked up at the hostel and was greeted by 14 other friendly, eager and welcoming faces, it was a relief. Turns out every person in my group was travelling alone and also hadn't touched a surfboard in their life. Over the next few days we bonded, soaked up some sun and ate some fantastic food (shout out to the Portuguese tart!).
We arrived in Ericeira during a ‘big swell’, so the waves along most of the coast were particularly large and advanced (apparently September is when the professionals start to arrive to kick some serious ocean butt, and I can see why). Thankfully, there are some excellent sheltered areas with waves suited to beginners, too.
On day one we were fed, suited and boarded up by 8.30am, then given a lesson on ‘surf theory’ that I can honestly say just made sense. Afterwards we were given 15 minutes of instruction on how to ‘pop up’ on the board to ride the waves, ‘bail out’ and dismount the board if an object (or person) was in our way, and the proper way to ‘wipe out’ without getting hurt.
Finally, we took to the waves. There were three things that truly surprised me: how ridiculously warm I was in my wet suit, how much fun I was having and how little fear I had of falling into the ocean (and that comes from a girl who refuses to get into any part of the sea around England). Between laughing and paddling, all that was on my mind the entire time was ‘legs, pop up’.
On my first go, I rode the wave lying flat on the board, which is so much fun. The second time I managed to make it to my knees. After that, I peaked. I just could not stand! I kept telling myself ‘on day two, I will stand and ride this ocean like the ocean goddess I am’. I just needed to understand how to feel balanced or ‘zen’ on the board. As Joao (one of our instructors) put it to me: ‘Be one with the board, feel the board, BE the board’.
It was extremely good fun, even though I only managed to either make it to my knees or wipe out in a glorious fashion (though I did catch some green waves). All of us laughed together, no one cried – and afterwards, we headed out for a celebratory lunch before partying the night away.
I can say I have never enjoyed a sport so much and I am happy to have made so many memories with such a lovely group. Surfing was not only one for the bucket list, but something I hope to continue in the long run. I will come back (hopefully with stronger abs), and my God… I will pop up.
Mandy Celine is a filmmaker and photographer residing in London, UK. She has spent the last six years producing and filming for some of the top creators, broadcasters and brands in the world – such as Zoella, BBC, RTE, Greenpeace and more. Occasionally, she teaches filmmaking at YouTube HQ in London. Mandy explores the world as well as running her own business, documenting her travels across her YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/mandy) and her Instagram (@itsamandything).