Just stand up and take some waves
Would-be surf boarder Abi King takes the plunge with lessons – and a touch of luxury – in Portugal
HALF an hour into my first ever surfing lesson, and I am nailing it! Marlene, our teacher, has been showing us how to get from lying on the board to standing up, breaking it down into three steps – pushing up with the hands, getting on your feet, then finally stepping one leg forwards into the full standing position – and I’m sailing through.
Granted, we haven’t actually got into the sea yet – you learn the basics on sand first – but how different can it be?
I’d really hoped I’d be a natural. You see, I’ve always secretly fantasised about being a surfer, so it seemed like fate when I finally got the opportunity to learn, on a long weekend-break at the new and achingly dreamy Surfers Lodge Peniche in Portugal.
‘You’ve got this,’ I tell myself, lugging my board and smug grin into the water. After a few goes, getting used to clambering on the board, paddling, then pushing up, we’re ready to try and stand up.
But, as my classmates somehow manage to get up straight away, I rapidly come crashing into the choppy Atlantic Ocean, over and over again At the end of our three-hour lesson, I’m not sure what’s taken the biggest battering: my pride or my body.
But despite all that, another wave is washing over me, and this time, believe it or not, it’s not wet and salty. It is the blissful backwash of satisfaction. The euphoria of being a grown-up, who’s spent the morning playing in the sea, finally doing something I’ve always dreamt of, and learning (or at least attempting to) a new skill. How cool is that?!
On day two, I’m determined to crack it, but still aching and stiff from the first lesson, it’s even harder. I manage to get on my feet for about three-quarters of a second – not exactly the life-changing eureka moment I’d been hoping for, but it’s a start, right?
“It was months before I could properly stand up,” Marlene tells me. Coming from somebody who eventually quit her day job to live the Charm and cool at the Surfers Lodge Peniche surfer dream, it’s reassuring.
Still, in the cinema room at the Lodge later – where we watch video footage of our lessons to see where we’re going right and wrong – I can’t help wondering if I’d have more luck sending the film into You’ve Been Framed...
Digging these digs
Nestled on the outskirts of the Peniche peninsular on Portugal’s mid-west coast, about 100km north of Lisbon, Surfers Lodge Peniche opened last year. It’s founded by John Malmqvist, a former Swedish surf champ (and if that sounds like an anomaly – it is; John jokes that he’s surfing’s answer to the Jamaican national bobsled team), whose vision was to create surf holidays with a touch of comfort and luxury, combined with bohemian cool.
There are other surf schools dotted nearby, but, when it comes to sleeping arrangements and hospitality, standards tend to be basic.
“But there are plenty of people who’ve reached a point where they want to surf, but they also want somewhere nice and relaxing to stay, and good food and wine,” says John.
The team’s done a great job making this a reality. With a stylish, boutique feel, upcycled boat parts, flotsam, vintage surf boards and old sepia photos, it’s homely too, and the ambience is what makes it a real winner; despite the luxuries – the power showers, fluffy towels and rooftop pool and jacuzzi – that sense of ultra laid-back surfer cool remains.
There are 15 en-suite bedrooms; nine twins and six doubles. Plus, two 12-sleeper dormitories mean big groups are catered for too.
Portugal has long attracted surfers and this region is ideal for both beginners and pros – the famous Supertubos beach, where numerous World Championships have been held, is just down the road. The two beaches a ten-minute walk from the Lodge are perfect for intermediate learners and total beginners.
Beyond the surf
Surfing is the main appeal, but there are lots of other things to do here too. Two golf courses, stand-up paddle boarding, tennis courts and scuba diving can all be found nearby, while the Lodge also offers yoga, massage, plus skate and bike rental – I had a lovely afternoon pedalling around. There are walking trails too or a tour of the local Fatum surf board factory or visit the Quinta do Sanguinhal vineyards. It’s a 45-minute or so drive from the Lodge, but it’s utterly charming and they do a superb rosé
It doesn’t have to be action-packed – the Lodge’s roof terrace, complete with giant cushions and hippie-style rugs, was made for lounging. Snuggle up with a book or take a snooze in the afternoon sunshine.
Wine and dine
Quality grub is what the Lodge’s kitchen’s striving for; a mix of gourmet burgers, hearty salads and melt-inyour-mouth chocolate desserts. But if you’d like to venture out to eat as well, cafes dotted along the beaches are ideal for laid-back lunches, while, for a special dinner, check out Restaurante Nau dos Corvos – which is built right on the edge of the nearby Carvoeiro Cape cliffs – for top-notch seafood served with stunning views.
Left – Abi Jackson learning the moves and, above, a fellow studenton the water during a Surfers Lodge Peniche surf lesson