Surfing quieter corners of the Canary Islands
“VOLCANO WARNING: Panic on Tenerife amid fears huge Mount Teide is about to BLOW”
Fantastic, I thought as I read the dramatic Daily Express headline on my phone. Thank goodness we’re not hiking it today. Oh wait…
The 3,718 metre summit of Tenerife’s formidable volcano stood aloof and silent as we wound our way slowly up its steep slopes. “Don’t you dare” I thought looking at the summit, “dormant since 1909 and today’s the day you start rumbling?”. With each hairpin bend the view of little swell lines off the south coast’s beaches grew less and less visible 2,000 metres below. “Get me back in the water” I muttered.
The last two days had passed in a blur of waves, laughs and caffeine fuelled early mornings as we’d driven around Tenerife’s volcanic coastline looking for the best breaks to jump into. As the largest island in the Spanish Archipelago, Tenerife’s volcanic beginnings make for 2,034 km² of varied and stunning terrain. Its capacity to host a variety of adventure activities is extensive, so when the opportunity to explore, surf and report back with Thomas Cook Airlines arose, I was well and truly in.
From our base in the south of the island it was easy to understand why Tenerife’s adventure sports network is somewhat underrated. The southern coastline is an urbanised metropolis of Vegas style resorts and hotels, each with the capacity to host the population of a large Cornish town. This mix of luxury, relaxation, sunshine and a great pool makes for a safe and lavish holiday. But the island is evolving to expand its visitor demographic and become a destination known for different activities, including surfing.
With a small, south westerly swell forecasted, we armed ourselves with two foamies and one inflatable board, and drove eastwards with our guide Sofia from her Windsurfing School at Playa de la Jaquita. A constant breeze blows North from the equator to the Canary Islands, making its south coast a veritable playgrounds for wind and kite surfers. A professional herself, this was Sofia’s stomping ground.
Punta del Camello
Windy it was indeed, but sadly groundswell was lacking. 15 minutes east of Jaquita is Punta del Camello, home that day to a small choppy wave which broke over an invisibly boulder strewn seabed. Sand extended just below the water line and our overeager feet slid quickly on the concealed rocks. Clad in cropped wetsuits we ploughed on ahead of our foolish wade-out and paddled around for an unpredictable peak.
Sets rolled in with a record wave period of 20minutes between them and the session didn’t improve, but the sun was out and the refreshment of seawater after our late night arrival the night before had us all beaming. Over a lunch of fresh fish, steak and salads we talked to Sofia about the area, and then watched as mid- sentence, she froze, colour draining from her face, and sprinted away. Sofia was petrified of pigeons. “Never visit Trafalgar Square Sofia!” shouted my new friend Sam as the bewildered bird stood motionless beside the table, an unexpected member of our group.
Playa de las Américas
“Diego, is there any surf at Las Américas?” Sofia asked down the phone, having fully recovered from the pigeon trauma earlier that day. The rocky coves visible from our hotel rooms had been channelling waves in that morning, with 10 people sat in the line up by 7am. Hanging on Diego’s assurance that there was, we drove back to where we’d started from and watched steep 6ft faces get shredded by locals riding toothpicks. This peak wasn’t foamy friendly. We climbed barefoot over the exposed tidal reef into a line-up 100m along from Las Americas and were rewarded with a crowded but reliable wave to play on.
Playa del Socorro
In contrast to the dessert-like terrain of the south, the north of Tenerife has a refreshingly tropical landscape. Driving down through banana plantations we reached the black sands of Playa del Socorro, an hour’s drive from our base on the south coast. Clean 3ft sets were rolling in and we had them to ourselves until hunger pangs pulled us out in search of food.
The locals at this spot can be territorial; we experienced it that afternoon. Be respectful, surf well and don’t hog waves. Localism can be tough and be sure to assess your situation realistically (you don’t want your windscreen smashed) but if you keep your cool and stay out the way, you’re not doing any harm.
That afternoon we reluctantly continued along the coast to the cove of El Arenisco, a large swathe of narrow beach flanked by a 60ft cliff in Tenerife’s North East. On the right day, a left hand point-break hits the western corner of the bay and the reef underneath can hold swells of up to 6ft. We checked the surf from the cliff top road and decided against the climb down. With a rising tide it was too much with a foamy for our already jellied arms. We headed back to Playa del Socorro and ended the day sharing right-handed peelers.
Just two days before this trip I was staring into my cupboard, deliberating whether or not to put on the winter wetsuit hung up inside. Autumn and its chills were drawing into Cornwall and despite the sea’s residual summer warmth, the twinges of brain freeze during a duck-dive were becoming more and more frequent. This change of seasons is exciting, as winter brings bigger and better surf, but it also requires more neoprene. I equally relish and begrudge this.
Having 72hrs in Tenerife was an intensely invigorating and welcome escape. Travel to the island is relatively low cost, air temperature stays in the mid 20’s year round and you can surf in bikinis and bordies without problems until November. A summer suit will suffice for the winter months of the year. Its reefs also make for scenic diving spots and the trails that wind up and down the volcanic landscape can be hiked or cycled by adventurers of varying capabilities. Including its infamous volcano.
It was whilst we stood on the old lava flow of Mt Teide on this third and final day, directly in the path of its next predicted eruption, that Tenerife really became a place of awe for me. Adventures aren’t just to be found in the surf along its coastline; they’re everywhere.
Thanks to Thomas Cook Airlines.