AN OPEN MIND IN Gali­cia

Many pil­grims have fol­lowed this route through the ages. Slowly inch­ing their way, by foot, to the me­dieval city of San­ti­ago de Com­postela.

Carve - - TRIPPERS - WORDS BY PETE GEALL

Granted, not many have done so in such com­fort. Rid­ing high on life, sprint­ing along the well ap­pointed mo­tor­way that skirts be­tween the Span­ish moun­tains of Pico de Europas and the North At­lantic. We sunk a tepid service sta­tion ceveja an hour from our des­ti­na­tion, served by a grin­ning, gap-toothed at­ten­dant who recog­nised in us the un­quench­able thirst that travel af­fords; forg­ing on­wards to San­ti­ago we fired spent pepita husks out of the van win­dow onto the rain lashed road, an of­fer­ing of sorts.

We had found, in our brief so­journ through north­ern Spain, that the rain had not fell ‘mainly on the plains’ but mainly on top us. A sod­den dark cloud had ac­com­pa­nied us on the lengthy drive, hav­ing that morn­ing de­cided to aban­don a sim­i­larly wet, yet fa­mil­iar spring time Hossegor scene for the un­known path. A path which de­spite be­ing well trod­den for those with re­li­gious in­cli­na­tions, is of­ten ig­nored by surfers who favour the well plun­dered, but guar­an­teed surf riches of South West France and the Basque coun­try.

The North West re­gion of Spain known as Gali­cia, is af­flicted with that unique kind of sweep­ing write off that surfers love to be­stow on cer­tain lo­cales around the world. Ask a friend, even some­one who hasn’t vis­ited and they will of­ten re­peat a well­versed opin­ion, gar­nered from group think and patchy state­ments from the first edi­tion Storm­rider guide. ‘It is wet’ they pro­claim, ‘You have to wear a 4/3 steamer and boots - In the sum­mer! they ex­claim. But so of­ten is the case with any hard-held sen­ti­ments, if you crawl be­neath the half-truths then a dif­fer­ent pic­ture can emerge.

A cou­ple of my Cor­nish friends had vis­ited the pre­vi­ous sum­mer and told me first-hand of quiet, river mouths flanked by gran­ite cliffs and ex­cel­lent free-camp­ing spots. They spoke of Estrel­las so cold they would gel in the glass and menu del dias com­pris­ing of crispy, fried Oc­to­pus served with soft, fresh bread. They said they had even met ‘friendly Span­ish surfers’ some­thing I

have rarely en­coun­tered on my past, ex­ten­sive tra­vails through the Basque and as­sorted Ca­nary Is­lands.

I liked the sound of all of th­ese things and was able to eas­ily re­cruit my friend Harry to tag along for the ride. I had prob­a­bly laid on a cou­ple of ex­ag­ger­a­tions to seal the deal, be­cause halfway through our warm service sta­tion beer on the out­skirts of Gali­cia, Harry called me out on the ‘beer so cold, it would gel in the glass’ claim. We looked out­side into the rain swashed fore­court, now brightly il­lu­mi­nated by flick­er­ing in­can­des­cent light. It was as if this sod­den April af­ter­noon had sim­ply given up and dis­solved into evening. Hav­ing cho­sen to leave the fa­mil­iar­ity of Hossegor for an un­known en­tity, I now feared we were stum­blingly into an­other washed out scene.

San­ti­ago de Com­postela is said to be the burial place for the pa­tron saint of Spain ‘St James’. Through­out the mid­dle ages it be­came the fo­cal point for huge move­ments of peo­ple through­out Europe, all seek­ing eman­ci­pa­tion from their sins; a suc­cess­fully com­pleted pil­grim­age or Camino was said to re­duce the time spent in pur­ga­tory. Nowa­days the Camino has mor­phed into a tourism jug­ger­naut, that hav­ing shaken off some of its re­li­gious fer­vour now dic­tates and de­fines the travel

con­ver­sa­tion in Gali­cia. Every shop proudly dis­play­ing their scal­lop shelled trin­kets, the adopted em­blem of St James.

We ar­rived late on a Fri­day night, the per­sis­tent rain thank­fully lift­ing as we hastily parked our van on a quiet back street and made our way to the city cen­tre by foot. “El Caminooo!” The ju­bi­lant shouts of pil­grims, bat­tered and bruised after their gru­elling multi-week hikes, rung out through the war­ren like streets, also packed with week­end rev­ellers. We found a com­mon­al­ity down those lanes and small back­lit bode­gas, the shared ex­pe­ri­ence of a jour­ney’s cul­mi­na­tion and the free­dom of a night out in a new town. It dawned on me that I hadn’t had that feel­ing when ar­riv­ing in Hossegor the week be­fore, seek­ing out the old, fa­mil­iar haunts down the same well trod­den path: the favoured patis­serie, an old friends café and cur­rent sand­bar du jour.

Thank­fully tick­ing off the icy beers on our to-do-list that evening in the city we made a bee­line at dawn for the most west­erly point of Gali­cia. The Ro­mans dubbed this ex­trem­ity Cape Finisterre or the ‘End of the Land’. We lucked upon a scenic beachbreak in the lee of the Cape which of­fered an empty hour of rights zip­ping down the bar be­fore the tide had other ideas. Rein­vig­o­rated by the un­ex­pect­edly pleas­ant wa­ter tem­per­a­tures, we changed in the early spring sun whilst watch­ing a fish­er­man set about mer­ci­lessly smash­ing a oc­to­pus against bare rock, its limp body slap­ping wetly round the gran­ite slab. We dis­cussed over lunch at the lo­cal Oc­to­pus joint or ‘Pulpe­ria’ if such bru­tal­ity can ever be jus­ti­fied, whilst guiltily chow­ing down.

Gali­cia is open to a stag­ger­ing ar­ray of swell di­rec­tions from NW right round to the SW. Swells orig­i­nat­ing from parts of the At­lantic that we will never see or hear about in the U.K, will meet an quiet end on the south fac­ing beaches down here. We never saw an­other surfer south of the Cape. Later that week, dur­ing a flat spell, we trav­elled fur­ther north in search of a surf spot de­scribed as ‘the most ex­posed in Spain’. I can safely say that never have two men ex­panded so much ef­fort in fruit­less pur­suit of a spot de­scribed, at best as ‘dis­tinctly av­er­age’ in the Storm­rider guide.

Those seek­ing world-class set­ups, will prob­a­bly leave Gali­cia dis­ap­pointed. Yet, If you de­cide to drive away from the clas­sic dots on the Euro­pean surf trail you may be pleas­antly sur­prised what you find at the ‘end of the road’. A Celtic land not dis­sim­i­lar to Corn­wall, lit­tered with fun beaches and low-key camp­ing spots; wel­com­ing but not cloy­ingly so.

As surfer’s we are in­her­ently wary of a jour­ney’s end, favour­ing in­stead to al­ways look be­yond than in the rear view mir­ror. The re­cent pass­ing of John Sev­er­son, founder of Surfer mag­a­zine, made me re­visit his epoch defin­ing and now im­mor­tal words from the first Surfer mag­a­zine in 1960:

“In this crowded world, the surfer can still seek and find the per­fect day, the per­fect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.”

As fresh as the day it was penned, it con­tin­ues to de­fine our com­mon wan­der­lust by pos­ing surfers like you and me with a ‘call-toarms’ to seek per­fec­tion in a clearly non-per­fect world. In this in­creas­ingly well mapped surf world it can be­come eas­ier to rely on the tried and trusted, the guar­an­teed score mi ssion. De­spite our ten­den­cies to be­come crea­tures of habit, we should never for­get surf­ing’s power to re­lease us from the rig­maroles of a stan­dard life. Ul­ti­mately, it doesn’t mat­ter if you make the jour­ney to the ‘end of the world’ or sim­ply choose to pad­dle away from the crowd on your lo­cal beach. An open mind is all you need.

Pete trav­elled to Spain with the nice folks at Brit­tany Fer­ries your go to op­er­a­tor for any Euro surf mis­sion.

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