We should have seen the individual events as omens, portents of the approaching storm, nature’s way of warning there’s trouble ahead. First a flip lost its flop, rendering it useless except as a fly swat, whilst in the background Neil’s fridge was petering out.
Hurtling into Portugal, making use of the first – and admittedly unplanned – toll-road we’ve savoured we heard a loud crash-scrap-bang. Scanning windows and mirrors for the source I saw the blue taurpalin that once perched comfortably on the rear roof-rack swinging behind the back doors and immediately feared that it had spilled its contents – a bike, a fire-pit, wood and charcoal – over the motorway behind us. At this speed the results could have been disastrous, but once we pulled over to the hard-shoulder to inspect the damage we could see the reassuringly bulging tarpaulin clinging to the remaining roof-rack bar by one precarious bungee, with the others tangled up around the cargo and the broken roof bars. A close scrape, but a few minutes later we were on our way and nothing more sinister was read into it.
Pulling into Praia Baleal car park just north of Peniche, the surf looked uninspiring and prohibitively busy so we decided on lunch before a surf-scout further afield. Pouring over my Stormrider for likely quarry the calm was broken, first by the sight of boiled eggs, pan and accompanying water sailing out of the back doors onto the tarmac, followed closely by loud yelps from Sofie as she ran round the van pulling her trousers down.
Now we’re a broad-minded couple, but this was extraordinary behaviour even by our standards. I’m ashamed to admit my first instinct was to rescue lunch and I leapt after the eggs until Sofie’s mantra of “Cold water, cold water, cold water…” alerted me to her predicament. Cold water followed by the application of a burn-sooth pad from our first-aid kit gave a little respite from the pain and as the day passed so did the worst of it. So once the patient was comfortable Dr Templeton went for a little surf. And what a surf!
A little north of Peniche, near Ferrel, are lots of beaches down winding, rutted red-earth tracks and we stumbled upon one with some rocks shaping two A-Frame head-and-a-bit-high peaks and a mixed crowd of locals and traveling surfers. I spent the first hour watching great waves come and go with better, hungrier, more aggressive surfers aboard until high-tide flattened the peaks and everyone left the water. I hung around looking to snag a few small ones before trudging back up the cliff to tend the sick, and to my surprise 15 minutes later the wave started working again and it took another 30 minutes before everyone cottoned on and flooded the water again, in which time I had the best surf of the trip so far, carving fast across the open faces, cutting back toward the curl to gather more of the waves’ energy before racing the feathering crest ahead, finishing with a do-or-die off the lip re-entry and a quick paddle out to do it all again, but this time on my backhand.
That night the heavens opened and our lazy night-time preparations resulted in a drenched, muddy boardbag and chairs. Another harbinger of doom? Or just a bit of rain? We opted for the latter and headed in to town to dry off and stock-up on provisions. Pulling out of our beloved InterMarche, just as we approached a pedestrian crossing, the van lost power and ground to a halt. And wouldn’t start. And there we were, stuck in the worst possible place on a busy town centre crossing with angry locals, beeping, shouting, swearing and at one point trying to run over the silly foreigners who’d parked in the wrong place. Whilst contemplating our current plight the previous three days’ pickles began to press home: are we having a run of bad luck or is there something more to it? Finally some friendly faces helped push us out of harm’s way and my hard-fought (for a ’91 Nissan) breakdown cover kicked into gear. Within three hours we were on our way with something-that-we-couldn’t-quite-work-out-in-translation having been cleaned and still time for a little surf before dark. And another great surf it was too. Buoyed by the previous day’s blockbuster I charged the Baleal beach break with a new vigour and scored my fair share of waves and then some, taking off on and handling the monster wave of the session, as a new-found friend described it.
We drank the evening away with the new-found friend and his girlfriend, corraling our vans together against the wind. We woke, bleary eyed, hung-over and drained to find the carpark buzzing with excitement. The storm we had disregarded, that had been building these last few days, had hit… And BOOM! It really hit.
The carpark we called home was coincidentally also home to the travelling World Pro Surfing circus for a couple of weeks as the world’s best surfers earned their transient livings, and when I stumbled to the loo the breaking news was that Fanning and Knox were readying the jet-skis to tow-in to the huge waves lashing the headlands around the crescent shaped bay. I don’t really follow the pro-surfer thing, but the excitement was palpable and we gulped coffee and rushed to the headland to join the throng watching the spectacle. It really was amazing for these guys to not only survive, but to feel so comfortable amidst the power, fury and energy of the storm, energy created and stored at the epicentre of a storm thousands of miles away, transferred across the ocean and unleashed on our beach for us to watch and for them to tussle with.
It felt like the previous day’s crosses to bear had been building toward this moment, as if nature was communing with us in abstract ways… or we’d had a bit of bad luck. Either way, the release of the storm energy spread a lightness over us. Our moods lifted, the bad luck petered out and we headed south again.