Europeans love Spanish surfing because settled on the western flank of the European continent, mainland Spain juts rights into the path of fall, winter, and spring North Atlantic swells.
The collision of powerful ocean energy and unmovable landmass creates countless waves up and down the coastline. As a result, northern Spain is especially noted for its booming breaks and world-class waves.
There's rideable surf on the Mediterranean and southern coasts of Spain, but swell is inconsistent at these locations and the waves pale in comparison to their northern counterparts.
The low pressure systems that dump rain on England are to thank for favorable offshore winds in this region. Still, Spanish surfing didn't really catch on until the 1960s and 70s. Since then, the country has produced some of the world's top surfers. Expect some localization at the region's top breaks; as with any other destination, a little respect in the water goes a long way.
Looking for empty waves instead? The adventurous surfer has often been rewarded. With so much coastline and swell, wintertime explorers can find spots all to themselves. But keeping to the well travelled road can perhaps provide the most consistent, solid sessions. Check out these proven spots on any surfing holidays you take along the Spanish coast.
Just to get it out of the way. Mundaka has to be number one on any list of Spanish surf spots. Peeling down the eponymous Mundaka river mouth, the wave is often considered the best in Europe. Fast and heavy and capable or holding triple-overhead swell, ten second barrel rides have been recorded here.
The river's current creates a sandbar that translates into perfect lefts when swell picks up. Not for the inexperienced, the wave's band of locals probably won't let a new-comer catch much off the top.
Instead, sit further inside and pick off ones that get through without a rider. Make the drop and start pumping to get through that next barrel section!
Not far from the thunderous tubes of Mundaka, Bakio's beach break serves up a number of sandy-bottom peaks. A decent northwest swell can get the entire beach working, with a notable right hand barrel forming at the western end.
Bakio is good beginner-intermediate alternative from Mundaka's size and power. Crowds can be expected when the surf is good, but the variety of waves will help to spread out the lineup.
The beautiful beach town of Zarautz hosts a likewise beautiful beach and beach break of the same name. A sandy bottom shifts peaks around depending on the swell direction and waves can get large and closed-out on bigger swells.
The spot can be crowded on the weekends so try surfing early or during the week. A number of A-frames means a thinned out crowds, but it is definitely a popular destination.
Because of the geography, a true west swell won't do much at Zarautz. Check out the town when waves are lacking and stick around for a fun night of barhopping.
Billed as a smaller Mundaka, this wave can be just as perfect and offers similar lengthy cover-ups. Not usually as big or heavy than its titan brother to the east, Rodiles has an almost identical set-up: an ideal sandbar formed along the western bank of a river mouth.
The wave is probably the most popular spot in the Asturias region so don't expect to surf it alone. Get there early on a good northwest swell to experience this exceptional wave. Although less serious than Mundaka, reverence to the locals is always a good idea.
Playa de la Zurriola
Just outside the hustle of and party scene of San Sebastian lays the easy going beach break of Zurriola. Although it can pick up when swell arrives from the right northwest angle, the break is generally mellow and unpretentious.
Being so close to the city, it's an easy reach for visitors on surfing holidays, and it's hard for locals to claim the spot as the lineup is constantly in flux. Waves are consistent and fun. A righthander off the jetty offers a solid ride that tends to show up every day. Bring a longboard or fish to maximize the potential here.
Ask a local to translate for you or consult the nearest Spanish-English definition to understand the mood of this wave. A rocky jetty forms this right point with mammoth potential. When the swell is down and the tide has dropped, there is no use in surfing here unless you prefer dodging exposed boulders.
But when the surf gets going, this right is fast and gnarly and favorite destination for chargers from all over the northern coast. Experienced surfers should only paddle out here. Pack a minigun or a step-up when waves get overhead. Body and equipment are in danger of sacrifice if you misjudge a section on this long, zooming right.
Isla de Santa Marina
Off the port town of Santander sits the natural preserve island of Santa Marina. The tiny island is uninhabited but the giant right point it throws is not. The paddle from Santa Marina is serious in itself, and then you arrive at the wave to find you should have brought a bigger board.
But the quality is unmistakable and you're already out here. This is sure to become the destination of some surf trip entrepreneur in Santander, but until then, it will take a 30 minute paddle or a kindly fisherman to reach it. And one single ride might just worth the effort.