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Stormrider Guide to surfing Sao Miguel

Azores, EUROPE


Azores surf at Rabo de Peixe, Dan Haylock

Summary

+ Very consistent swells - Changeable conditions
+ Uncrowded quality waves - Scary reefbreaks
+ Good pointbreaks - Cool, wet climate
+ Nearby islands for futher exploration - Hard access to many spots

Azores surf centres on Sao Miguel which is open to most swells and wind patterns, with the only N-facing beachbreaks in the chain, which have become a regular contest site for the world's pros.

Despite holding Portugal’s highest peak, sailors referred to The Azores as 'The Disappearing Isles' because huge swells would obscure them from view. This kind of reputation is attracting the seasoned surf traveller to these wave-drenched shores.


When to Go

The Azores High is the major meteorological factor and if strongly established will hold off any storms from swinging straight over the top of the islands. This means 4-15ft winter swells usually arrive from the W-NW and slowly shift to N and then NE, before the next system moves through. Summer can see freak long-distance S swells all the way from the southern hemisphere or lined-up hurricane swell from the SW, along with localised windswells from just about any direction. Being so close to the systems means winds can be strong and variable, veering SW-W in winter and W-NW in summer. Swells are a bit raw and disorganised, jumping in size with little warning. Tides shift between 1.4m to 1.9m, but will affect many of the shallow reefs, while the beaches and points are generally unfazed.

Surf Spots

Serious big wave peak Baixa de Viola jacks up over a wind-exposed bombora reef, then rumbles along for a good distance. Big boards and experience needed. Santa Iria’s long, left pointbreak can be powerful with wrapping, bowly sections, but can also be easier performance walls suitable for beginner/improvers. Sectiony at low tide and at high tide access is blocked. Quality, black sand beachbreak at Monte Verte picks up a huge range of swells, but best on a NW. Can be powerful with various peaks and a semi-permanent right at the western end. Next door, Santa Barbara’s excellent beachbreaks are fast, hollow and bowly with wedging refracted peaks. Semi-pointbreak almost inside Rabo de Peixe harbour wall that destroyed a better wave outside the wall. Only breaks at lower tides and very close to the rocks. Vertical take-offs, powerful pockets and fast sections can change into easier drops and cutback shoulders depending on size, direction and tide. Fun, workable pointbreak Mosteiros Right is open to 180º of swell directions and lines-up best in W swell. Can be long, intermediate-friendly rides but dry rocks can pop up in the face below mid tide. Mosteiros Left is another rock strewn line-up holding average lefts that can be fast and hollow when the conditions come together. Cruisey righthander Praia dos Mosteiros starts with an easy take-off into steep performance walls with plenty of power in the pocket. A very big S, SW or W swell is needed to awaken Santa Clara, a heavy righthand reef with critical take-offs and high speed barrel sections for experts only. Extremely flexible city beachbreak Populo can be small and junky in the regular SW and W windswells with crumbly faces in the onshore breezes. Due S swells hit the rock-anchored sandbanks just right and line up powerful, hollow peaks in the long period swell. The most crowded spot in the Azores with both beginners and experts. Santa Cruz/Lagoa is a rocky left in the middle of town that needs a strong, clean S-SW swell for a short, fast and tubular ride over shallow reef. Agua de Alto’s south-facing beachbreak is the second option if Populo is too crowded. Has the same generous swell window, even picking up NE swells, with lots of peaks and plenty of room for beginners. The reef peak at Vila Franca is punchy and sucky at sub-mid tides, then fuller on the face and much more ripable at high. East of the town of Ponta Garca is a stretch of rocky beaches below cliffs. Usually mellow and unchallenging, it’s a good place for learners who aren’t afraid of a few rocks. Heavy Ribeira Quente Left peels down the side of a large jetty construction and ends in the beachbreak when it’s big. Best on high tide and a S, SE or wrapping E-NE swell. Chunky, vertical walls at Ribeira Quente Right breaks down the seawall on the other side of town. Needs a strong swell to clear the boulders and strong S-W swell. Faja do Araujo is the only east coast wave and needs a huge NW swell of at least 15ft to start breaking at half that size as it refracts through 90º. Serious big water drops lead into cavernous barrels over tricky slabs of rock. When it is on, it’s a world-class freight train for hundreds of metres and the best wave on the island. Extremely isolated requiring a half hour walk up the rocky shoreline, then difficult entry and exit to the water from the rocks 15 minutes paddle south of the point. Low tide, low consistency, high risk wave.

Statistics

J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
S
O
N
D
dominant swell NW -N NW -N NW -N NW -N NW -N NW -N
swell size (ft) 6 5-6 4-5 3 5 6
consistency (%) 70 60 60 50 70 60
dominant wind S -NW S -NW SW -N W -NE SW -N S -NW
average force F5 F5 F4 F3 F4 F4
consistency (%) 65 63 61 59 56 53
water temp (C) 16 17 18 22 22 19
wetsuit 3/2 3/2 3/2 springsuit springsuit 3/2

Travel Information

Weather
The Azores high is a bit of a misnomer, as the weather here is anything but settled and stable. It is more accurate to refer to a warm season and a cool season when almost every day sees some rain. Summer is mainly sunny and warm, winter is usually cool, windy and wet. Autumn, is the best time with ample swell and reasonable weather. Water temps stay above 14°C and below 25ºC (58-77°F). Light fullsuit or a springsuit for June-Oct.

Lodging and Food
The Azores are not a budget destination; Ponta Delgada has plenty of hotels ranging from 4-star ($150/db) to 2-star ($46/db) or try Rabo de Peixe and Ribeira Grande (fr $32/n). Expect to pay about $20 for a meal.

Nature and Culture
Most tourists come to trek around the Sete Cidades Caldeira, (volcanic lake), bathe in the Furnas hot springs or watch whales. Ponta Delgada is a laid-back city - don’t expect great nightlife.