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Last September my wife and I went surfing in Peniche (Portugal). We took a beginners course there. We had a lot of fun but I found the greenwaves and their strength when they come crashing down on you a little bit intimidating. I am therefore looking for a spot where you can surf in equally safe circumstances but where the waves are a bit smaller. Can anyone advise such a spot?

We took our first surfing course in August in the South of the Netherlands. I recall that the waves were maybe a little bit too small there.

I already asked on reddit but got no reply. Now I try my favourite community :p

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    I would not call it a full answer... I was in Porto this January, and the people were surfing in the ocean. The water was cold for me (they didn't seem to mind, as they were better equipped), the air was around 15 Celsius degrees, and the waves were around 1 meter high. So it might depend on the month/season as well. If I were you, I'd choose a bigger spot (like Porto), and then ask around and make one-day trips to different beaches in the area. – Akabelle Oct 16 at 7:36
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is too specific to be of much value to the site – Jan Doggen Oct 16 at 7:41
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    I am voting to leave open, I think it is fine. – James Jenkins Oct 16 at 12:20
  • This is not really a good question, as it is so open ended and ill defined. Any West European coast waves will be generally bigger than North Sea waves, as you have found, but in your region you can look for any of the surf pages, which will also give you weather and swell forecasts. – Rory Alsop Oct 16 at 20:31
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If you like Portugal go to the west coast of the Algarve in early Autumn. Arrifana is not that powerful unless the surf is big. There are a number of other spots around there e.g. Carrapeteira, Amoreira that work at any size. If the surf is too big on the west then you can head around to the south coast where there are plenty of spots too. I haven't been there for quite a few years but the people in Jah Shaka surf shop were very helpful and will be able to advise on spots that are suitable for your level (I'm sure any of the other surf shops around will be able to do this too).

If you're travelling you want to be able to predict fairly accurately that you will get good swell at your destination. But closer to home surf anything you can. If you can learn to generate speed on smaller and worse quality waves (onshore local wind swell) then that will serve you very well on better quality waves.

  • Thank you for your advice @br3w5, it sounds exactly like what I was looking for. You mention that I should go to the west coast of the Algarve in early autumn. During other times of the year it is not that nice there? – koteletje Oct 25 at 9:02
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    @koteletje it's always nice there in terms of general weather, places etc. For the surf you want to be aware of what the Atlantic is doing. Autumn is generally the best time to surf on the west coast of Europe because hurricanes off the east coast of the USA send swell across the Atlantic and the weather (especially in southern Europe) remains pretty good. You can check out MSW's spot guides e.g. magicseaweed.com/Arrifana-Surf-Guide/836 for the quality of swell. Generally summer is flatter with more onshore winds. Winter can get stormy interspersed with good swells but is cold. – br3w5 Oct 28 at 14:42
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    @koteletje - if you think this is the correct answer, mark it as corrected, so that it rises to the top. Thanks. – bob1 Oct 28 at 21:12
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I can't specify beaches because I'm not in Europe, and I guess you don't want to be travelling all around the world looking for surf waves. It looks like you are after a shore break, but there are other possibilities like reef breaks.

However, there are some generalities that can be made about waves and beaches:

To get waves that are suitable for surfing you ideally want nice directional breaks that are at an angle to the beach and a consistent beach slope with not much interference from headlands and the like.

The size of waves depends on the wind, tide/water flow and beach slope (i.e. depth of water and rate of depth change). There are no guarantees that any particular beach will have waves of the right size at any given time because of the above factors, all have to come into play together to provide decent surf.

In general if you want big waves, you need to have what is known as fetch, the longer the fetch, the bigger the waves will be at the end as there is more distance for the water to be pushed by the wind. If you are planning a surfing trip, look at the isobaric map for the region you intend to visit and look for long straight lines parallel to each-other for long fetch (big waves - you want the opposite). The closer the lines are to each-other indicates how strong the wind will be along the fetch, so look for ones that are well spaced. In addition, you can look at the direction of the wind flow along the isobars - you need it pointing at an angle to the direction of the beach you will be surfing at, this will give you nice angled waves, that break along the beach, allowing you to follow one wave for some time rather than have all or most of the wave break at one time.

Tidal and water flows can cause the waves to change - if you surf on an out-going tide or near a rip-current/river mouth/anywhere the water flows away from the beach, then the waves will be steeper as the incoming wave pushes against the out-flowing water. This makes the waves higher and steeper, but also means they collapse more easily and with greater force, resulting in "dumping", particularly on steep beaches, where similar forces come into play, as I explain below...

Steep beaches create taller waves as the rate of change from deep water to shallow forces the wave to pile up (the water has to go somewhere, and it can't go into the ground, so it goes up!). These sorts of beaches are more likely to create tubes and other wave forms that surfers like, particularly tall glassy breakers, which can be surfed easily (you go faster when surfing, which makes it easier to surf), but it also means the waves are more powerful and break more abruptly if breaking directly towards the beach. Shallow beach slopes mean that the waves don't build up so high, and may never break (depending on wave size), just surge up on the slope and dissipate energy that way.

If the beach has an inconsistent slope the wave may break and then wash out or suddenly change behaviour as the slope changes. If there is a sand-bar (shallow patch, with a deeper area closer to shore), then the wave may break and then subside and re-break as it hits the true shore. Generally some of the energy of the wave will be lost on the first break and the in-shore bit will be gentler.

Headlands, reefs, islands and rocks all affect the wave shape too. These can create interference patterns in the waves, breaking them down in semi-predictable manners and creating dead spots (and high spots too) that will be un-surfable and interfere with your enjoyment if you get caught in one of these areas. You can surf the waves generated by reefs (e.g. Jaws in Hawaii - not one for beginners!) and islands with a bit of know-how, just as you might for a shore-break.

In my experience, you are best to have a look online and scout out an area before going there - the locals know where the best waves are, so head to the beach and see where all the surfers are in the water. As you are after beginner waves, look for beaches that offer surfing courses, they will often have consistent waves of a smallish size, but there are no guarantees.

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