FOUR ISLANDS IN FOUR DAYS
Laurent Masurel went off the charts in the islands with Vince Duvi' and Justine Dupont. They got waves but found so much more.
Up to now most stuff you've seen from the Cape Verde archipelago is from one island: Sal, and almost all one spot: Ponta Preta. This long right catches plenty of winter swell and is constantly offshore or near as damn it. Easy access from the airport is another big plus.
Justine Dupont and Vincent Duvignac accepted my challenge, to explore for other spots in the archipelago's magnificent wild landscapes and to seek adventure. With a search spirit rewards will always equate to the level of the challenges. Not only this we could live the Cape Verdean way among the locals, far from flat, monotonous, touristy Sal.
Surfing four islands within four days on one swell... Strictly speaking, we don’t advise you to try the same because, in the Verde you'd better take your time. According to the relaxed local state of mind, naturally adopted by surf communities, between happy and hippy riders. Frankly, we surfed only three islands, we only slept at the airport of the fourth one! Just time to lose my luggage, my credit card in the bugged ATM and to realise that Justine had missed her flight!
Our challenge was to show that, beyond the world-class Ponta Preta, other kind of waves exist: pointbreaks, A-frames, slabs and even beachies. several difficulties are to be overcome however. Cabo Verde is a less obvious exploration destination than the Canaries. For example: getting spot info, travel times, swell specifics and of course an efficient and cheap logistical set-up.
Info gathering was the first difficulty. Internet or not, the spots of Sal are the only listed accurately. Even the Storm rider Guides have only described Sal. So, the accuracy of info on such spots is particularly important: a mistake of 10° degrees and swell passes away or is blocked by another island. If the swell isn't big enough and energy doesn’t manage to wrap around a cape … you need accurate swell forecasts and then to cross the info with the working of each spot. Then there's the wind. Yes, the trade winds are easily foreseen but they could be stronger than forecast and/or strengthen by very local conditions (Venturi Effect with mountains). Surprises or even disappointments could happen! You need a plan B to avoid building castles in the air.
You could get some help from the local riders. But there are no local riders. The Sal riders don’t move at all and the rest of archipelago is Terra Incognita! That’s why it was so important to meet Carlos Elias, our guide with Stefano, he's a surf/ windsurf teacher in the surf school. Impossible to be in the right place without Carlos. For example, you'd never guess you can catch a north-west swell on a south-west coast. Limited time to make mistakes, given that the transition between two spots, two coasts or even two islands. You risk being late with an already passed swell, or with a bad timing for the tide (less than the UK, but enough to disturb these shallow rocky spots).
Getting around takes time. Apart from Sal, the islands are mountainous, the roads are full of potholes. It took two hours to go 25 miles from one spot to another. Going through a mountain pass at around 5000 feet, without seeing any other vehicles, only some sheep is standard. A four-wheel vehicle is compulsory, and if possible with a local driver. You need to take into account that spots could be far from the roads and you need to walk in the desert to reach them. Justine and Vincent even spoke in terms of base camps one and two, like a Himalayan expedition!
It’s cool to have a final goal to surf surprising spots in the middle of nowhere. But you need to deserve it and to be philosophical. Reaching the spot is already a mission and unforgettable experiment. Even if it’s not a world-class session, you can take advantage of all the other things: you're alone with your friends in a dream landscape.
'To get all the waves you want up to exhaustion,' said Vincent. Then coming back to a remote village, drinking some beers, eating some fresh tropical fruits in a middle of a local fiesta. It’s a luxury to be almost the only tourist, ready to understand the local ecosystem and you turn into a socio-ethnologist.
Maybe you won’t get ten foot hollow waves with 300 metre walls, but six feet is OK. And small days work your fantasy machine to come back on classic conditions. You need to avoid frustration and turn it into motivation for the next time. Without motivation you can’t discover such an authentic, remote area. Surf trips make you discover the real world far from the usual tourist areas.
One pitfall to avoid: budget Rootsy missions can mean a cheap trip. But when you add flights, four wheeler rental and local ferries/flights…
Food and accommodation at guesthouses are cheap, but efficient means of transport can be expensive. You have to rely on local guides who
“DURING THIS KIND OF TRIP, YOU REALLY FEEL THAT SURFING IS SO MUCH MORE THAN MOST SPORTS.”
can choose the right options (ferry-boat/boat/ plane/four wheel car…) and can negotiate the best price.
Sure it will be cheaper than a Sal trip. Sal is European prices! It’s the beginning of the mass tourism with the huge Riu complex in Santa Maria, which I guess is the inevitable future of Sal.so, paradoxically, on some other islands, luxury is in the simplicity and environment... not in the price. Last moment flights for a swell, can be steep: £600-800. If you can book in advance with flexible dates it could be £400-500. Same rule for internal flights. Last moment it's not so cheap. Board bags are accepted but come early to increase your chance to get your board bag on the same flight as your body!
Ferry connections are possible between some islands. Prices are really local and fair! Some small islands are only reachable by fishermen's boats so world-class spots could be a ride away.
Justine and Vincent are among the best European free surfers. Justine made her name at big Nazaré and Aileens. Vincent styles through barrels in Hossegor or Indonesia. It’s their job now: to stimulate your desire to move, to discover. They want to fulfil their free surfer soul with these kind of trips: forecast, transport and timing challenges to be mastered. Effort and satisfaction are not only in the action of surfing but also in the actions needed to achieve it.
'It's another way to go beyond the comfort zone other than a Nazaré session,' said Justine, who wants to come back with her charger boyfriend Fred David.
The world is a playground. During this kind of trip, you really feel that surfing is so much more than most sports. Surfing shows you the way, you only have to choose the path and share it with your best mates. You can share info as well because these spots require so much energy to reach that they won’t ever be packed.
Carlos Elias, charismatic founder of Sabura Surf Academy (only surf adventure school on this group of islands), was an indispensable guide. The Lisbon surfer fell in love with Sao Vicente and his local wife seven years ago. Fond of kiting and surfing, he instantly understood the surf potential of this island and the others. It’s simple, nobody came to surf here. Why not to create a surf school because there's always at least one spot working (including beach breaks for beginners, well exposed to north and south swells). And why not suggest exploration for experienced, adventurous surfers on the technical remote reefs and pointbreaks. Moreover water temperature is ideal and so clear: 23°C in winter and 27°C in summer. Moreover, you can't be bored on this island. Mindelo, is actually the cultural capital for the whole archipelago, a competition ground for painters, sculptors, dancers and musicians. Without Carlos, who lived our adventure with us, we would have never been able to find the Sao Vicente nuggets.
Vincent couldn't have chose a better board colour to complement the turquoise walls. Nice feng shui...
Justine enjoying the welcome warmth of the less cold bit of the Atlantic