Surfing Madeira will be one of the most memorable surfing trips of your life, guaranteed! Powerful waves find their way onto rocky shorelines with stunning green cliffs, and empty line-ups that make you feel like you’re surfing in Jurassic Park. Some even call it the Hawaii of Europe and they’re not too far off. It was created by volcanoes and has a moderate climate year round. That’s nice of course, but we only care about the waves when you are comparing it with Hawaii.
Madeira’s waves all come from the raw powers of the North Atlantic Ocean. About 750 kilometers West of the Moroccan coast and about half way to the Azores, makes Madeira an ideal target for incoming swells. Just a few miles off the coast the ocean floor plummets and stays deep for quit some time. This means that Madeira’s waves are packed with energy when they reach shore and when they do it becomes quite a different story to what you are used to.
Surfing Madeira History
Surfing Madeira started in the 70s but didn’t get populair until it was published in surfing magazines in the mid 90s. By then it was getting world wide attention for its world class waves that don’t break under six feet in the winter. In 2001 even a World Big Wave contest was held in Madeira. The photo below is from January 25 1995 at Jardim Do Mar when two big wave legends rode eight meter flawless waves with no other surfers.
After the turn of the millennium the government decided Madeira needed more protection from the waves and the potential danger of rising sea levels. So they started building walls all around the island, impacting some of the world class surfing spots. This ment the end of surfing tourism in Madeira. Now, almost ten years later, Madeira is back to tell the world they’re still here. Alive and well, world class waves and empty line-ups.
Madeira is on a campaign right now to get surf tourism up and going once more. Very important for them though, is that they want to attract the right kind of crowds. Surfers who are experienced and come to surf high quality waves. They’re not looking to get mass tourism going, and also don’t have or want the capacity for it. What they do have is an Island of about 260.000 people, quality waves, and only 60 registered surfers.
When I Love Surfing visited Madeira we got treated with a solid 6-10 foot 16 seconds swell. Sure they told us almost no-one surfs on Madeira but we just couldn’t believe it when we saw clean overhead to double overhead barreling waves and not one single surfer. More about this trip will follow soon…
Not for beginners
Madeira is a beautiful surfing destination but it has its downsides as well. Because of its volcanic origin, there are almost no sandy beaches, and rocks are literally everywhere. Even the ‘learning’ spots are packed with rocks. Rocks on the beach, rocks in the water, rocks rocks rocks. You can’t surf Madeira without hugging the rocks at least once or loosing a fin every single session. Even the locals who have been surfing there for over 30 years still end up on the rocks. They even say, that a new surf board doesn’t exist on Madeira. Surfing Madeira is serious business. You have to know what you are doing and feel comfortable surfing big and powerful waves towards scary rock walls. With these dangers Madeira might indeed resemble Hawaii and even the waves could be similar to the surfing Mekka. However, Madeira doesn’t have any crowds whatsoever or Black Shorts.
Madeira is just a short flight from Lisbon with TAP Portugal and that makes it an ideal destination to chase good swells. Just check out some charts and if the time is right you hop on a plane in the morning from pretty much everywhere in Europe and surf the same afternoon.