By Madelaine Dickie
Heading to Spain during the heart of winter wouldn't be everyone's first choice for a surf holiday. The North Atlantic is cold and muscly and it belts the beaches of the Basque coast, rarely rolling in at below 6ft. It's the kind of surfing that demands a 4'3, and for the tropical skinned, boots and a hood. It also demands a special kind of crazy, which the Spanish have in spades. Here's five kinds of loco that went down over a month in Spain.
Barcelona has a wild blend of hedonism and artistic impulse. I fell in love with the waterfront -- the antique whitestone apartments and giant palm trees; the multimillion dollar yachts and unhappy winter blue of the sea; the towering public sculptures that owe a deep debt to Miro and the other Spanish art giants. It's a classy city and a cool city and a city where you can still go for a beer at the same bar Hemingway and Picasso drank at nearly a century ago. Could I live here? Maybe if there was surf. And then suddenly, crazily, there is surf, the Mediterranean gifts the Barcelona bound with three days of a 2-4ft windswell, and the light falls in that soft, moist European grey, and it is so so fun!
Night surfing a city canal
Barcelona is a temporary stop to kick the jetlag (which doesn't soften for a full five days) before my sister Charlotte and I head to San Sebastian on Spain's north coast. San Seb's in Basque country, a heritage city built from old chilly stone that goes rose and gold when the sun hits it, which isn't too often in winter. The city is cut by a canal that surges and subsides with the tide. Magic Seaweed was calling a 21 foot swell at the end of our first week. When the swell hit, so did the snow; the hills behind San Sebastian got dusted white. It sure made for some freezing dawnies at the cove around the corner. It also made for swell in the canal. One evening, three loco grommets jumped off the edge and night surfed until well after dark by lamplight.
Fiesta and siesta
The Spanish can throw a crazy party. We caught a full day winter fiesta where locals poured in to the city from surrounding towns and villages kitted out in peasant's skirts and clogs and white button-up shirts. Gallons of cider and wine were swallowed and old and young danced to brass bands between the cold cobbled walls of the old city. The next day (photo above right) it was pumping, and with most of the city nursing treacherous hangovers, there were plenty of uncrowded waves to be scored.
Charlotte and I had grand plans of cruising the coast in a little hire car and Mundaka was first stop on the list. We weren't worried about the driving part because everyone drives across Europe! And then I crashed the rental car less than a kilometre from where we'd hired it. Driving on the other side of the road, going through roundabouts backwards and changing gears with my right hand was too much. I completely sideswiped a parked car scratching all three panels of the rental. Luckily, we got out the worst of it by doing a spit and polish with our scarves, and better still, we ended up in the most picturesque town, a fifteen minute ferry ride to southern France. In southern France, the skies were blue, the water was frosty and the winter swell lines continued to pour in. Crazy beautiful!