I’ve not long come back from my fourth visit to the surf and adventure island of Lanzarote, Las Palmas, Isla de Canarias, Espana. This time I went with my mate Rob Sparrow and erstwhile local/expat Rob Small came to the party for the last couple of days, plus new-friend Luca Guidori and his sehr schoen German accent who added some Euro colour. Although I’m becoming more familiar with the island, the thing that always stands out for me is that Lanzarote is, as per the cliche, a land of contrasts.
Just try taking a photograph there, you’ll see what I mean. Bright sky, dark landscape. White sand, black rock. Pale face, black wetsuit. It goes on. The best time for photos is early in the morning, that’s when La Santa is front lit and the sun isn’t glaring into your eyes. Earth, sky. Rocks, water. Hostile surfing conditions, welcoming people on land. Lanzarote is an intimidating place to surf at times. Nothing is straightfoward; even the work-a-day spots require a scramble over slippery lava, peppered with black urchins, before timing a leap into the water and a frantic scrabble to dodge the inevitable sneaker set that wants to wash you in. A wipeout here seems often to result in taking a good few waves on the head and bit of a rinse cycle in the impact zone. The thrill of riding quality waves juxtaposed with the comedown of the drubbing.
After you’ve had your adrenaline charged session at sea, depending on what time you started, you’ll be back on land ready for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can expect welcoming, relaxed service, light banter and lots of decent food and drink. It feels great to pick your way through several rounds of tapas, steadily supping away at a series of Tropical or Dorado beers, watching people come and go, all the while reflecting on the heaven and hell that unfolded just half an hour before.
The forecast for our trip wasn’t ideal – strong NE trade winds and lots of northerly swell. Ideally you’d have a NW swell and light south winds to get all the spots between La Santa and Famara pumping. This stretch of coastline can do a pretty good approximation of Oahu’s North Shore on its day; whilst the crowds won’t be there the heavy vibe at some spots will be and it’s not just the surf and reef you need to factor. Still, the meagre outlook meant less surfers than usual were mobilised and we surfed each morning on our own on waves that had they been in Cornwall, would probably have had around thirty blokes hassling for them.
Unlike the UK, the Canary Islands to not have a continental shelf and so even the most ordinary swells hit the reef with a wallop. We surfed on a howling onshore day out in front of a breakwater but the wind couldn’t stop the swell from hitting the reef and spinning down the line giving us some cracking lefthanders that from the beach looked to be about 2ft and crumbling, if that. There’s a lesson in that: in Lanzarote, it’s always bigger than it looks from the beach.
On Rob Sparrow’s last day, we paddled out at an empty low tide La Santa after waiting about five minutes for a break in the sets. I was on my Peanut board, a great wave catcher, but as I’d been discovering in the Canaries not that great at holding in when it gets over four foot. After a spooky spell of paddling and waiting around, a good set came through and I stroked the Peanut towards the peak and into a pretty easy take off. Woah this was a good wave; maybe double overhead Rob and Luca (ashore, with the camera) would tell me afterwards. I was aware that the Peanut wanted to slide out in the bottom turns, scrubbing away valuable speed so I had to baby it along this beast. One cutback I had to take so cautiously I wondered if I’d get back down from the lip but I managed to hang on as the wave rattled all the way through to the inside. There I kicked out before the wave went inside out and looking towards the horizon I could see the whole place had turned into a cauldron. I saw Rob Sparrow catch one that shut down and then we motioned to eachother to turn tail and belly board back into the safety of El Centro. The morning was done; waves were under the belt and I had no desire to become fatigued and find myself drifting to where I did not wish to be. Alas there is no photo of this wave, Luca was changing lenses, my fault that he had to, I’d given him the 200mm and he needed a 400mm to spot us – like I said it’s always bigger than it looks from the beach.
I deliberately didn’t bring kites this time as it was a two-man surf trip and when one of you buggers off kiting it doesn’t do much for group dynamics. But, there was not one day where I did not feel that surfing was 100% the right decision. We surfed 14 times in a week, around nine or ten times completely on our own, and every session yielded at least one memorable wave or turn.