Surfing in Barcelona is not an oxymoron. As most dedicated surfers know well, the Mediterranean produces some great waves when all the elements come together.
Up and down its shores there’s a growing number of keen surfers waiting for these elusive moments of joy and that includes the Catalonian coastline, home of Barcelona. How sad it is then that the waves of one of the most cosmopolitan capitals of southern Europe are being jeopardized by the myopia of its City Council!
Surfing in Barcelona
Barcelona has many things going for it: it’s large but not huge, it enjoys a balmy Mediterranean climate and it has been at the forefront of fashion and design in Europe thanks to artists such as Gaudí, Miró and Picasso, who are closely linked with the town’s past. It is also the capital of Catalunya, an autonomous region within Spain that has its own language and traditions. The ‘92 Summer Olympic Games put Barcelona under the spotlight and the subsequent arrival of low-cost airlines has made Barcelona a town where many foreigners come for a weekend… or for a lifetime.
Then there’s the sea and the beaches: the majority of current beaches are artificial. Get any historic map and you’ll notice that there was only water where the Barceloneta –the neighbourhood by the fishing harbour- is today. Because of its geography, a necessary part of the city expansion has come from reclaiming land from the sea. Such is the case of the Barceloneta and its 1.3 km long expanse of sand comprising two beaches: Sant Sebastià (south end) and Barceloneta (north end). These two beaches protrude from the coastline and face East; a curse and a blessing.
Barceloneta on a classic day. How’s that within a 15m. walk from Las Ramblas!! Photo courtesy of Joan Funkysurfing.
Surfing in Barcelona started in the mid eighties. Only a few pioneers surfed the Catalan coast before windsurfing, and especially funboarding (the most extreme type of windsurfing), became popular in the Med. The latter involves heavy winds and strong seas, normally associated with winter conditions. After only a couple of winters many young funboarders realized that the Med could also offer good surfing conditions and began riding –without sails- its waves regularly; a new tribe was formed.
The coast of central Catalunya -from 40kms south of Barcelona to 40kms north – offers many different orientations for a wide range of different swell directions. This means up to 130 days of surf per year, mostly during the non-summer months. The best and bigger swells, though, come from the East/North East and it’s in these conditions when the beachbreaks of La Barceloneta get going. Besides, the sea platform gets fairly deep just offshore Barcelona which translates into seriously powerful waves. All this within a 15 minute underground, bus or bicycle ride from the city center and Las Ramblas.
Occasionally one of those 130 days happens during summer. Photo courtesy of Joan Funkysurfing.
SOS SURF BCN
The ’92 Olympic Games brought a total facelift to Barcelona. In a matter of months the rail track that hindered access to La Barceloneta from the city centre was buried, and the Olympic village was built by the long beach north of it. This was later split into several smaller beaches, with piers, and a marina was built. A lot of land was reclaimed from the sea… and the sea didn’t like it.
Pretty soon Barceloneta’s existing erosion problems got much worse. Some winters were so bad -or so good from the surfer’s point of view- that come spring there was very little sand left, and the City Council had to fill the beaches up again. This prompted the Barcelona City Council and Spain’s Ministry of Environment to design an extensive project of off-shore and underwater structures, intended to block the swell on all Barcelona beaches; Barceloneta included.
Upon discovering this worrying news, several surfers formed the Associació Catalana de Surf (A.C.S.), which would end up having 500 paying members. In 2003 the A.C.S. approached the City Council to find out more about the project.
In spite of the piers – and the illegal hotels being built on public property-, the waves keep rolling in. Photo courtesy of Joan Funkysurfing.
The surfers were worried that the structures being planned might not accommodate their needs (some 3,000 in Catalunya, of whom 80% live in greater Barcelona). The A.C.S. maintained that the needs of the city and those of the surfers were easily compatible. Their proposed solution –a series of artificial reefs- would also highlight Barcelona’s reputation as a forward thinking town. After all, it is one of the very few European cities with waves.