PORTUGAL FREERIDE SPOT – LAGOON OF OBIDOS
Reader Martin Bayryamov from Bulgaria tells us about a beautiful freeride destination in Portugal.
Words : Martin Bayryamov
Photos : Martin Bayryamov & Eline Schenk
Let me tell you about the lagoon of Obidos, a beautiful, fascinating place, filled with charm, peacefulness and local atmosphere.
We traveled from Sagres, Algarve in the direction of Foz do Arelho, where I was expected to work as windsurf and sailing instructor for the upcoming summer season. As we had no rush we decided to take the non paid roads, which is much more exciting and more you can enjoy a lot more see sights. For the Portuguese standard of living and the quality of the roads I consider the toll roads extremely expensive. But driving through the second class roads between the small villages is like a story with unexpected end. You never know what would rush out after the next turn. Avoiding the holes on the road is like slaloming in choppy conditions. Sometimes is like getting out on a beach break with strong onshore winds. The driving habits of the Portuguese are a little bit strange. Most of them are thinking that they are on the F1 circuit and Fernando Alonso is chasing them.
We started driving early in the morning and everything was going ok, till my navigation decided that it doesn’t want to work anymore. It happened just before Lisbon. I downloaded some free application on my phone before we go. As the free stuff had some bugs and stopped working. We simply turned it off and on. Wrong. After we restarted it the application was crying for updates. It was a very stubborn application for smart phones and didn’t want to keep working without those updates. Well I wasn’t even thinking to look for a place with internet to update it…Rambling around we ended up lost in the road jungle of Portugal. For me was more important that I DO NOT GET INTO Lisbon. Driving there without any clue where I have to go is not what I would like to do. Driving in a big city which you don’t know, without map or navigation is in my top 10 extreme adventures. Of course the other drivers will notice the foreign number plates and might be more patient with you.
Anyway, no internet (as well no charger for the car and almost dead battery). By mistake I went on the paid high way. I drove till the first exit (about 1-2 km) and I paid for it 2.50 euro. That’s pricy I think. After another half hour driving blind (Foz do arelho neither Caldas da raihna or Peniche is on any road sign around Lisbon) I found a gas station where we stopped and bought a map. The good old school map. You open it on the dashboard, looking at it until you find the destination, and then try to find where you are. This could be a challenge – the map was not full and some of the small villages were not there. And the roads had another numeration system. So there was another struggle but after we found ourselves on this map everything went good. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon we saw Caldas da Raihna on one road sign. And another 10 minutes later was the turn. After another 15-20 minutes we were driving along the coast of the lagoon of Obidos. Here or there some lucky people had a house just next to the water. It was green everywhere. The trees are surrounding it from all sides and I started to wonder if actually there is wind over here. Soon we saw the roof of the sailing school which is situated around 3 km from Foz do Arelho, a little village on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. There is a parking area next to the school and this is the place where many locals (and tourists) go in the water for a kite or windsurf session. I have seen people kiting in the other part of the lagoon next to Foz, but those were local guys, good friends with the marine police officer. I assume. During the summer season for safety reasons it’s not allowed to do watersports in the area of the beaches around the village.
The sailing school has rental service of wind, kite, SUP, canoes and hobie cats and it’s quite cheap compared to most of the places I have been. The choice of sails is not big, as they have from RRD by 2 sails each size but they don’t need so many anyway. And they are very nice people. There is also a restaurant with amazing cook.
Now, about the wind…the so called Nortada wind is coming from the village Foz, which is the entrance of the lagoon to the ocean. In the mornings it is very, very still but it starts picking up around midday. It is side shore coming from the right. Could get up to 20-25 knots and is relatively consistent. In good days you can count up to 30 kiters and windsurfers. 20 of them tourists and the rest just local guys. The lagoon is not so large. Maybe 1-1.5 km wide and about 3-4 km long. There is not big chop which makes it ideal for freestyle and slalom. When it is low tide the waterline goes about 50 meters inside and the coast is full with so called BCA (brigada culos al aire) –team ass in the air. They are collecting mussels and shells from the sandy bottom to boil and eat them. Slalom riders with long fins have to be careful and jibe before is too shallow. No offense but I saw many people catapulting after the fin stuck in the sand. The lagoon is pretty shallow and you can stand like 100-150 meters away from the beach. In the middle is maybe 4-5 meters. Closer to the village is deeper I believe. The bottom is sand, mud, small stones and shells. The water is very muddy in the shallow part and especially when is windy you can’t see more than 30 cm further. Next to the village where is deeper looks green and nice. The temperature is around 20-22 in the summer – it is warming up very fast. But with the high tide fresh water from the Atlantic is pouring into it and you can feel how it is a bit cooler. Especially in the middle part of the lagoon.
Of course wind is wind. And if it happen that the stars are not in the same line and the cloud which is hanging above Liubliana in Serbia is too grey and the water temperature is with 0.3 degrees colder…well then the Nortada might not come. For days like those there are alternatives. The beach of Foz do Arelho offers beach break with left and right waves for surfers and SUPers. The best time is mid tide, takes swells from west, north and south. One of the most famous surf beaches – Super tubos in Peniche is just half hour drive. Strong swell from west will turn the beach break into a beautiful barreling wave. You might meet some local guys who believe that the wave belongs just to them. The beach is overcrowded to be honest, I saw in one summer day like 200 surfers (including the schools) in the water. Foz is getting crowdy as well. Let me remind you something. Portugal has around 1000 kilometers of coast line. Trust me. You can always find a break with not many people. On the other side of the lagoon is also not very known surf spot (sorry but I forgot the name). Of course you won’t be alone in good day, but won’t wait for a wave competing with another 20 guys on the line up. In Peniche you can go to a reef break just 10 min further north from supertubos, called Concalacao which is not very crowded. North of Foz is located Nazare, with the North beach. This spot Garrett McNamara put on the spotlight few years ago by riding those 100 feet waves. I spoke to some locals. The beach was very unknown and the waves were ridden mostly from the surfers living around. Nowadays could get crowded in nice summer day. But there are plenty of spots where you can be just by yourself. As most beautiful places, you will need to exert some efforts to find it. On the other side of the lagoon is a golf course.
In the middle ages this lagoon reached all the way till the walls of the castle in Obidos. Which sounds a bit weird but it’s fact. In the summer Obidos has the chocolate festival. As well as a medieval festival where everybody is dressed as the people dressed centuries ago.
Foz do Arelho itself is like a little kid, dressed up for the Sunday liturgy. It looks small and insignificant, but it is not always as it looks. This village is full with life. And lust for it. At least in the summer. The alley along the beach is full with bars and restaurants. Night life can’t be compared with the clubs in London, but for a person who likes to have a few pints, good time and meet nice people can’t be better. Weekends is even more crowded – Portuguese people run away from the dirty cities and like to spend their time around the ocean. Definitely you have to try the local Bacalhau – catfish. Probably the most popular dish and for sure every Portuguese granny knows how to cook it in 57 different ways.
10 min away is Caldas da Raihna – there is a surf shop if the dog has eaten your wax. There is a big supermarket to do your weekly groceries. As well as some more concerts and maybe art events. Caldas is hosting art school, which you can notice from the graffiti all around the town. As I said earlier Peniche is also near by, a bit further south are Ericeira – the surf reserve. Sintra worth visit if you have a car. And Lisbon is less than 1 hour on the highways.
The people from Foz (can’t say for all the Portuguese) are very hospitable, nice and open to meet new people. They will try to help you with what they can and will not ask anything as compensation.
The wind was not every day in Foz, but I can say we had wind at least 3-4 days a week in june and july. August maybe a bit less. In September even more. The local guys told me that this summer had actually a lot less windy days than other summers. In days with lighter wind suitable board would be 120 liters with 7.5 sail. The weather forecast on windguru was correct all the time. In the morning mostly is flat, but the wind start picking after 11-12 o’clock and when it is blowing – it does it all day long.
Last summer in Foz I brought my fanatic skate 99 liters and it was perfect for the local conditions. I used mostly 5.3 on this board which was perfect with my 75 kilos. In lighter wind days I used the schools RRD 107 twin tip. I mastered my Vulcan and I manage to rotate 2 spocks over there.
I had my 84 litres wave board with me, but never used it. In Baleal (peniche) you may get not bad days of wave riding, but I never made it. Further down to the south is another popular wave spot – Guincho, with strong thermal side on shore winds coming from right. With the wave combination is good for very high back loops or wave riding. This spot very often you would need 4.0 m2 sail.
I felt so much attracted to this place that I decided to go next summer again and work again in the school in the lagoon www.escoladeveladalagoa.com/en. For this Winter my girlfriend, Eline Schenk and I will organise windsurf and yoga camps in Fuerteventura – www.windsurfyoga.eu.
About the author
I am 35 years old originally coming from Bulgaria. I grow up on the beach and my brother pulled me onto a windsurf board aged 9. Few years later I joined the local windsurf club where I competed on the Olympic class boards which were Mistral One design. As the club didn’t have enough money I needed to use (until 95) the old Lechner board, which was the Olympic class till 92 I believe. Black sea is not very windy in the summer, and sailing on 7.4 m2 and huge racing board was ok.
I spend around 10 years working in office in the logistic area. Until March 2011 when I went to Tarifa to join a vdws windsurf instructor course and in May I moved to Fuerteventura. Over there I started a job in one of the local windsurf schools. I wanted to experience riding ocean waves and the north shore of Fuerte was the best choice for me. In the summer the waves are not so often, so I bought as well freestyle board for the flat days.