After Martinique, the next time I went surfing was a chilly November day in Westward Ho!. No, that is neither a grammatical error nor a reflection of how much fun I had. The place is called Westward Ho! and it’s the only place in the British Isles with an exclamation mark in its name. It was windy and I spent most of the time trying to paddle out to actual waves. I gave up when the current had pulled me a 15-minute walk away from where I had originally gotten in. When Tom came out of the water he was shivering so much that his teeth were chattering. Unreal.
It was then that I realized:
I’ll probably never surf again the way I could have in Martinique.
I lived a 20-minute drive away from a surf beach, the water is warm (no wetsuit!), and beyond the high season the waves were accessible for a beginner. Of course, I didn’t take advantage of it and quit surfing in Martinique after that incident.
I still like surfing and I really would like to get better at it (without having to withstand uncontrollable shivering), so I was really excited when Planet Surf Camps got in touch with me about heading over to their surf camp in Fuerteventura. Once I double checked they were for real, it wasn’t hard to get Tom on board: surfing + holiday is an easy sell in Tomland.
I informed all of my clients that I would be taking a holiday and doubled up on work the week before so I could focus on surfing and relaxing, and surf and relax I did! As a result, I didn’t take many pictures…or any notes. But I have my (okay, Tom’s) memory so here’s what went down:
The Surf House
I had seen the pictures, but I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of the surf house. Tom and I arrived late on a Saturday night and not many people were around, but Ania, a staff member from Poland, was there to show us to our room. Even though we had booked together they weren’t aware that we were “together” so she gave us an empty room with a pair of bunk beds (lucky us!). It wasn’t very “couple-friendly” but hey, we did our romantic holiday together in Morocco–we were here to surf!
The surf house is a pair of townhouses that are connected by a courtyard, so it has more homey feeling than a hostel. In the house we stayed in, there are three rooms on two floors– room for 7-8 and a couple of rooms for 4. The main house has two kitchens with plenty of storage space and large tables where people seemed to gather.
Outside was where all the fun happened: in the courtyard there was a pool table, ping pong table, a BBQ, a picnic bench, and a kind of gazebo where people just chilled out, tanned, and napped.
The surf camp only bought these houses in the last couple of years so everything was clean and newly fitted.
So, getting up at 7:30 every morning isn’t really my idea of a holiday. But going out that early meant that we missed the hottest part of the day–and believe me, you wanted to miss that part because it was sunstroke-worthy hawt.
The camp is divided in beginner and intermediate classes, each with a maximum of 8 students and 1 instructor. The first day I went with the beginners to El Cotillo–a beach break on the west coast the island from Corralejo–with our awesome Swiss-Italian surf instructor Marco. It was nice to ride the whitewater and get back into the swing of things!
From Tuesday to Friday, I went with the intermediate group. The intermediates were basically anyone who had surfed before so there was a variety of levels. The instructor for this sectionwas Gabri. We went to Punta Blanca and La Caletta, depending on which had better conditions. Both are reef breaks just north of Corralejo.
For both, we did a group warm-up and Marco or Gabri would explain where to swim in from, the direction of the current, and give us advice on taking waves and improving our technique. Even for experienced surfers who don’t need “instruction” as such, the information about the breaks is invaluable.
It was extremely windy during our trip in April, which means that the waves almost immediately closed out. Rather than getting those nice peeling waves, they tended to turn into white water quite quickly so we were all taking out long boards. Tom had one beautiful, long wave that he rode practically to shore. I was so proud!
The people we met on our surf trip were perhaps the best part! The night we arrived, I got quite the surprise. It was late and there were just a couple people on laptops at the kitchen table. One of them jumped up:
“Hey, are you Alyssa?!”
I looked over, surely with a look of confusion (I’m bad at hiding my reactions–or my “faces” as Tom calls them).
“I’m Kathi, from Travelettes!”
“Wow! Hi!” We shook hands and I explained to Tom that I had literally just written a guest post about the Balearics on her blog. We had been emailing back and forth for about a month and ended up in Corralejo at the same time, completely by coincidence. Small world, eh?!
As it turns out, Kathi and I weren’t the only bloggers. There was also Neil from Backpacks and Bunkbeds (check out his review of the surf camp), Sophie Saint from Saints on a Plane (see what she did there?), and Jannis from Jannis’ Life (it’s in German).
We chose a week of surfing in Fuerteventura over a weekend spent at the TBEX blogger conference that was happening in another part of Spain, yet managed to meet up with bloggers! It’s probably for the best that I didn’t go, since after a few sangrias I did go on a little rant about how difficult bloggers can be to work with–oops! Just an aside to the folks who were in Corralejo: I wasn’t talking about you–you were seriously lovely and it was a great pleasure to meet you IRL (ew, did I just use IRL without irony?)!
Besides the bloggers there was a mishmash of people: a group of friends from Germany, a gaggle (yes, gaggle) of Slovenian girls who shared our bathroom and forced Tom and I to stand by the door of our room to jump in to use the bathroom (ha!), more Germans, some Austrians, some guys from Poland…
Even though we all spoke different languages and were from different places, we all definitely had something in common: that we liked or wanted to learn to surf. It made everyone really easy to get on with and made for a good ice breaker!
The staff were fabulous. Ania and Alice helped out with the house and administrative tasks, and they (along with the guys from Germany) even organized a BBQ on Wednesday night for everyone. We were eating leftovers for a couple of days after!
As it turns out, there are actually 3 instructors, but I only got to surf with two: Marco (aka Italian Jesus) and Gabri. They were full of personality and had lots of experience surfing. It was really fun to hang out with them during the week!
What Did You Do When You Weren’t Surfing?
The surfing usually lasted about 4 hours door-to-door. We had to load the boards onto the vans, drive out to the surf spot, warm up, surf, and then get back, and rinse our wetsuits and such. The intermediate group started up at 8:30, so we were usually back by early afternoon.
Generally, Tom would make lunch and the rest of the day was free. The staff organized a BBQ for Wednesday night and then we all went out to Pincha Cabra on Friday night. I went home after dinner but Tom stayed out (he never likes to leave a party)–apparently they did a bit of bar hopping and the group trickled in after 3 in the morning.
I did a lot of reading and played a shitload of pool. Seriously. If I wasn’t surfing, eating, or napping (oh yeah, there was a lot of napping) then Tom and I were playing pool. I have no idea why I liked playing so much, especially since I suck and Tom spent his teen years in London pool halls drinking pints.
What Do You Think of Fuerteventura?
Being brutally honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Fuerteventura, and especially Corralejo. The island is…beautiful in its own way. It’s the oldest of the Canary Islands, which are volcanic, so you get a lot of rocks and not much vegetation. I’m pretty sure the only plant they grow locally is aloe vera–what else could survive in this rocky desert of an island? I kid you not, growing green things is so difficult that the streets are lined with fake grass.
It isn’t just the vegetation that has trouble growing on the island. In between the airport and Corralejo I saw a lot of FOR SALE signs and closed shops. I could really see that the economy is built around tourism and those not involved were clearly suffering for it. It made me feel a sad and kind of guilty…
Corralejo was weird. I heard more German and English than Spanish, a lot of shop owners were Italian, restaurants served “full English breakfasts” and “Sunday roasts”. I’ve stayed on resorts when travelling with my mom, and I’ve stayed in very touristy towns, but I’ve never been in a place that seemed like all culture had been wiped clean and rebuilt around sunburned Brits and Germans. I found it really confusing and couldn’t really get past that.
That said, the terrain made for a style of beaches I had never seen before: rugged, jagged cliffs with these dark sand coves and turquoise water. It was beautiful but I just kept thinking…where are the freaking locals?!
Is a Surf Camp Worth It?
Disclosure: I was offered accommodation and lessons in exchange for an honest write-up of my experience. Tom, on the other hand, paid full price. So really, I’m letting his opinion guide this part. Personally, I would pay to do it again and he thinks it’s a pretty good deal.
The camp costs €249 (~ £180) for a week of accommodation and 20 hours of surf lessons. I think that’s great value since it includes wet suit and board hire for the entire time you’re staying there (including weekends). It’s a bit difficult to surf without a car in Fuerteventura–even if you could get a board nearby none of the surf spots we went to were an easy walk. You definitely need a car, so we actually chipped in with a few people from the surf camp to rent a car on the last day.
It’s nice to surf in a group and to have someone there to help you out if you get in trouble. On one of the last days, I had trouble getting out of the water. The waves kept breaking on me and pushing me towards pretty dangerous rocks. I was too tired to swim and didn’t really know what to do. I could see Gabri signalling things to me and I was starting to get quite scared. I got out in the end, but had it continued he might have had to jump in to help!
I think that if what you want is the best experience for minimal effort, then definitely, the surf camp is worth it!
Flights: Tom and I paid about £70pp for our flights with Norwegian. Seriously, fly EVERYWHERE with Norwegian – it’s a budget airline but with a pleasant experience, a carry-on and a personal item, and FREE WIFI.
Getting to Corralejo from the airport: We booked a shuttle bus, which cost about £10 (for two) each way. You can take the bus, but by the time you do that, you’re €5 poorer and it takes about 3x the time. Just pay the extra €2 and save yourself a headache.
Overall, I had a great time! I was really happy to be surfing again, even if it was in a wetsuit. The one thing I would say is that I was not physically prepared! If you’re planning a surf trip, start going to the swimming pool and exercising. My back and shoulders were dead for the first few days!
I wasn’t working so I was really able to enjoy myself and indulge in the finer things in life. Which to me means drinking wine and trying new food. I like to eat out and Tom prefers to cook at home so to compromise we ate lunch in (lovingly prepared by Tom) and had dinners out. But things were so cheap, I had a lot of snacks: a charcuterie plate with a glass of wine was only €5!
For Tom and me, this was our first “real” vacation as a couple. I mean, we’ve travelled plenty and lived abroad, but this was a proper holiday doing something we both enjoy while constantly being all up in each other’s kool-aid. I’m really glad we got to do this together, especially since it might be our last trip before I go back to Canada–and because I got to see him like this: