THE OTHER CAVE

THE AL­GARVE NUBBIN OF POR­TU­GAL IS A WIN­TER BOLTHOLE FOR SURF­ING BRITS, GIV­ING RESPITE AS IT DOES FROM THE COLD TEN­DRILS OF OUR LONG WIN­TER. EMPTY BEACHES, AWE­SOME SEAFOOD AND UN­FET­TERED AC­CESS TO THAT GLOW­ING BALL OF FIRE IN THE SKY ARE ALL PLUS POINTS.

Carve - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOS TOBY BUT­LER/O'NEILL WORDS SHARPY

Skin­dog never thought he'd surf in an ac­tual cave. Then again nei­ther did we. Ran­dom go­ings on down Por­tu­gal way.

he jet stream had been hug­ging the UK like an overly amorous wet dog so shoot­ing a sunny, sum­mery, bunch of shots for a cer­tain wetsuit com­pany in Corn­wall, Devon or Wales was a big ask. If the brief was 'drowned rat chic with a hint of flash flood' then we'd have had no prob­lem. But it wasn't and Mama Na­ture has got her gears stuck in 'like win­ter, but about 5˚C warmer' grey funk mode. So we had to hit Plan B. Which was to go sarf, so to speak. Chas­ing the sun. Which with Europe lit­er­ally cook­ing in a heat­wave on the flip side of er­rant jet stream wasn't too much of a stress.

Only is­sue was be­ing sum­mer hols in Europe means get­ting ac­com­mo­da­tion at short no­tice for a de­cent sized crew was a tad tricky. So bereft was the en­tire Al­garve of a place to suit we ended up in Por­ti­mao. Where that you say? Well it's in that bit of the Al­garve you drive past blindly from Faro air­port to get to the good bit of the Al­garve from La­gos west­wards. Plus side Port' has very big

su­per­mar­kets, a De­cathlon and some fine food joints. Not to men­tion an 11th floor pent­house apart­ment big enough for our mob.

I got there ear­ly­ish with Peony Knight and Nel­son Cloarec, so we bag­gsied good rooms, and as folks drifted in on var­i­ous flights from dis­tant cor­ners of Europe the crew as­sem­bled. Only Skin­dog and Lukas were miss­ing, but their flight di­rect from Newquay (who knew?!) got in late. One thing we didn't think of: 11th floor pent­house apart­ments are all well and good when you're board bag fits in a lift. If it don't, and Ben's 10-foot cof­fin sure as shit didn't, it means that some bug­ger has to carry the thing up 11 flights of stairs ... Even bet­ter when it's still 30C plus at mid­night.

Crew as­sem­bled we be­gan our mis­sion, ex­plor­ing the dusty tracks and re­mote beaches of the west. The empty beaches we know and love in the Al­garve are a dif­fer­ent beast in the sum­mer. Park­ing is an is­sue. Get there for the dawnie and it's no bother. Any­thing past ten a.m. and you're strug­gling. Es­pe­cially on the pret­tier south coast stretch. In the wa­ter it's still quiet, sure there are a mil­lion surf schools, but out back is mel­low. So far so good.

After a few days of fun surfs, toste mis­tas and galaos we had to get some funky life­style shots. That thing that all surfers hate. So we did some Goog­leris­ing and Noah Bier­sack came up with a fruity look­ing cave that you could only ac­cess from the ocean. Sounded like an op­tion. A huge nat­u­ral space with a sky­light that you had to get a boat to; un­less you were a very strong swim­mer. Ev­ery­thing we read re­in­forced the 'ooh pards its a tricky old swim un­less you're a reet good ocean swim­mer' kinda vibe. So we fig­ured pad­dling it on boards would be no is­sue. Us pho­togs could just risk the swim...

The pho­tos all showed a vir­ginal cav­ern, empty apart from the photographer cap­tur­ing it's glory hole. They didn't quite pre­pare us for the re­al­ity.

On one of the few days the al­ways re­li­able west coast waves were a bit shit we gave up goose chas­ing and called a cave mis­sion on. Think­ing we'd rock up, pad­dle round, shoot some stuff and be home in time for tea. As we de­scended the

A huge nat­u­ral space with a sky­light that you had to get a boat to; un­less you were a very strong swim­mer.

nar­row val­ley to the beach near­est the cave it was ob­vi­ous we'd mis­judged. It was rammed. And the near­est carpark was on top of the next head­land... It was also about 40C. Some smart arse thought we could get to the cave from the next beach, so off we wan­dered, ill-ad­vis­ably in our wet­ties. Of course the next beach was sur­rounded by 80foot cliffs. On the up­per limit of ac­cept­able cliff jumps. So by the time we'd re­traced our steps and got down to the right beach we were, let's just say, a "bit" sweaty. The lit­tle beach was packed. Much like I imag­ine an af­ter­noon in Ibiza would be, lots of beau­ti­ful peo­ple crammed to­gether. They gave us funny looks walk­ing through with surf­boards and cam­era hous­ings.

We jumped in and be­gan the long, ar­du­ous pad­dle/swim to the cave, after all they do boat trips to the cave from the beach so it must be some fair old dis­tance...

After a solid 45-sec­onds swim to the tip of the cliff we could see the cave en­trance. Yep. Couldn't have been more 'just round the cor­ner' if it tried. Still good ruse the lo­cals have got go­ing with the 20 euro a pop boat trips. You could ac­tu­ally float round to it with­out too much stress. Some five year olds had man­aged to do it on their in­flat­a­bles so it was not the chal­leng­ing cross­ing it was re­peat­edly made out to be.

The cave it­self, was of course, not empty and serene. It wasn't a cathe­dral to ge­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses fit for re­flec­tion on the majesty of the planet. It was busy with peo­ple and thanks to the two sea side holes the boat tours could drive in and out. Which also made it stink a bit of boat en­gine fumes. Like most much hyped nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena it was the vic­tim of it's own beauty. But and here's the kicker, amongst the sum­mer tourist hell on the surf free part of the Al­garve coast there was a lit­tle wave break­ing.

The small wind swell would pe­ri­od­i­cally wedge off the wall and zip across the grav­elly bank in a

After a solid 45-sec­onds swim to the tip of the cliff we could see the cave en­trance. Yep. Couldn't have been more 'just round the cor­ner' if it tried.

vir­tual shore break. The tide was com­ing in and we didn't have any­where else to be so we hung out to see if a bit more wa­ter on the bank would make it a ran­dom but ride­able lil run­ner. Sure it was a mis­sion on a short­board but those ruddy an­noy­ing logs that were caus­ing Ben so much ex­er­cise on a daily ba­sis fi­nally came in use­ful...

With a bit more wa­ter on the bank Ben quickly fig­ured out the right ones. Wait for the wedge, few strokes and he'd launch and off cross step­ping and hang­ing five across lit­tle green gems in a totes fa­mous tourist cave. It was one of the most sur­real sights I've seen in surf­ing. But we'd not quite seen it all...

The tourist boats from the beach that fer­ried folks (gen­er­ally whing­ing about be­ing stung for €20) in so they could raise the phones in sync and nail the In­sty shot be­fore be­ing driven out 15 sec­onds later were small fry. Mas­sive party boats rocked up as well. So big they couldn't do the drive thru so they'd just stick their beaks in. Which ended up with the very bizarre situ of a party boat full of nu­bile youths cheer­ing as Ben, Nel­son, Noah or young Por­tuguese rip­per Guil­herme Ribeiro took off in the wave cave.

This was in sum­mer with a lit­tle wind swell ... What the hell hap­pens in win­ter in there re­mains to be seen?!

cross step­ping and hang­ing five across lit­tle green gems in a totes fa­mous tourist cave

Left: Lukas Skin­ner and ar­guably one of the world's weird­est surf spots. The mind bog­gles as to what hap­pens in here with a proper win­ter swell. Right: Ruddy great party boats kinda ruin the chill cave vibes a bit.

Left: Noah Bier­sack get­ting the crowd froth on. Yes it was as bizarre as it looks. Right: Wouldn't want to have been stood up on top when the lid fell in.

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