One sail, one windSUP and the simple beauty of Sagres – Franz Orsi gives us a guide to this beautiful corner of the southern Algarve in Portugal and reflects on why windSUP is one of his preferred modes of travel.
Words Franz Orsi // Photos Vania Marques
Looking for an easy, uncomplicated windsurf trip somewhere close to home? A weekend of genuine discovery and pure fun on the water? For me, escaping for a weekend to a close to home hidden paradise meant driving to the most southwesterly point of Portugal and mainland Europe – Sagres, a place where the land ends and the ocean starts. This rugged and forbidding coast has long been considered sacred ground. The Romans called it ‘Promontorium Sacrum’ (‘Holy Promontory’), and is the Latin origin of its name ‘Sagres’ (from Sacrum). For them, this was the ‘Edge of the World’, a supernatural vortex where the setting sun was dramatically submerged by the immense, unknown ocean. Sagres, home to wide open beaches, nooks and crannies, beaten paths and not-so-beaten paths, where the winds are consistent all year round and cater for all abilities: this is where I was heading. From my home in Lisbon it was only a 3 hour drive. I was travelling light as for me the beauty of windsurfing lies not only in high-performance gear, but also in the simplicity of an inflatable board and a Dacron one-batten sail. So, equipped with my beloved Starboard Touring 12’6” inflatable and super simplistic Starboard compact sail, I hit the road, direction south!
THE SAGRES AREA
Located on the southwest tip of Europe, Sagres is one of the few spots on the Portuguese coast where you can still find wild places and remote beaches. Sagres is like no other destination in southern Portugal. It is a region for the adventurous, with empty beaches, amazing landscapes and friendly people. Overlooking some of the Algarve’s most dramatic scenery, the small, elongated town of Sagres has an end-of-the-world feel, with its sea-carved cliffs rising high above the ocean and wind-whipped fortresses that tie it to Portugal’s rich nautical past. It was from here that the Portuguese started their voyages of discovery of the seven oceans. Even now this place carries an undeniable allure that connects visitors with its glorious past.
WHEN TO GO
When to visit Sagres partly depends on what you’re after, and what sports are you most interested in as it is a year-round destination. The benefit of having a windSUP board in Sagres is you can keep your options open and either go sailing or take advantage of the great paddling spots on offer too. Rainy days are a rarity around Sagres so you can count on warm weather and lots of sun, even when the rest of Europe is freezing. In the summer, from May to August, you will find incredibly reliable north winds, but still plenty of ‘surfable’ beach breaks if you prefer surfing over windsurfing. But be warned, in July and August, you’ll need to make your accommodation reservations early or you’ll be sleeping on the beach! In winter, on the contrary, you will find yourself mostly alone in the water, but with incredible waves!
Sagres is one of the most consistent spots for windsurfing in Portugal. The summer ‘Nortada’ north wind blows strongest and most reliably in this part of the Algarve and it’s only a short drive to the south or west coasts. That means with the summer ‘Nortada winds’ you can choose to go for a flat water session on the south coast or a wave session on the west coast. In Sagres you can surf almost any swell and go windsurfing – or windSUP’ing – on almost any given day. If there’s a small swell from the north or west, you can venture to the west coast for some windSUPing in small waves and when big swells come from those same directions, you can find more sheltered spots on the south coast.
Sagres gets especially good for windsurfing during the summer because the ‘Nortada’ winds hit Portugal on a regular basis and the thermic effect created by the nearby headland of Cabo de São Vicente adds quite a few knots to the Sagres area. So you can expect to sail almost every day in summer. And if you’re up for some surfing, you will definitely have plenty of time in the water.
There are many spots to choose from in Sagres, from ones right in town to lots more just 10 to 30 minutes away by car and covering freeride to beginner spots, right up to classic wave sailing spots. The varied coastline means you’re always able to find a spot that suits your windsurfing skills. The standard of rider required will be in general higher on the west facing spots (with the north winds of summer), while the south facing spots are in the main more suitable for beginners, intermediates or flat water lovers, the only hazard being the strong offshore winds here – so keep this in mind before you find yourself struggling to get back to shore.
From May to August the wind is quite consistent. So if you’re up for some freeride or slalom blasting, a 7.8 sail and a 115 litre board should do the job. While if you’re into waves, sails from 3.7 to 5.3 should cover it. Even in summer, the average temperatures in Sagres due to windchill and the cold water are not as high as the rest of the Algarve, so a good shorty wetsuit or even a 3/2 full length can be handy. Bring some warm clothes for evenings as it can get chilly here, even in summer. You can hire windsurfing or SUP kit at Praia do Martinhal, where you will be warmly welcomed by Joel at his windsurfing centre Wind4all (wind4all.pt), where he offers a whole range of options for the entire family, from windsurfing lessons to SUP coastal safaris. The Sagres area is a paradise for nature lovers, meaning that even on those rare no wind days, there are lots of alternative activities on offer. You can explore the rugged coastline and see amazing sea caves with Jean-Luis of SupSagres who has a good range of equipment and is extremely knowledgeable about the different SUP spots around Sagres for either a flat water paddle or a proper wave riding session. Alternatively you can also rent mountain bikes and discover the dramatic coast on two wheels.
Praia do Tonel
Tonel is a very good wave sailing spot, one of the best in Portugal and has a reputation for radical action. The spot is set against rugged cliffs and can have some impressive waves with clean sets rolling in – perfect for jumping and frontside riding. It offers really consistent conditions in the summer, and it’s also highly accessible from Sagres, being just a few hundred metres from the town centre. The cross-shore ‘Nortada’ is often strong enough for small sails, yet it can be pretty gusty. Surrounded by cliffs, medium to strong currents also affect this small beach. The biggest problem though is the rocks as they’re easily missed! Ask a local to point them out before launching. The best conditions are mid to low tide when you can ride a bit further away from the rocks!
It can get very good with strong north winds and a good summer swell. But even in light winds it can be a lot of fun (especially on a windSUP board!). In light wind conditions however, watch out for the good number of surfers that you will probably find around you!
Praia do Martinhal
This spot, with its hyper-flat waters and strong offshore winds can be really perfect for freeride and slalom blasting, as much as for taking some lessons at the local windsurf school – Wind4all.
This long sandy beach is truly a speed sailing and freestyle nirvana. The ‘Nortada’ is bolt offshore here, flattening every ripple. The wind is a little gusty inshore, but can get a little rough just a few hundred metres outside. The beach is very flat and you can stand up quite a way out on lower tides, making it great for learning and for picture perfect jibes in shallow turquoise water. This place can get busy on the beach in high season – although when it’s windy the swimmers and sunbathers will run away! During winter, with prevailing south winds, Martinhal transforms into a chaotic beach break with strong currents. With southeasterly Levante winds, it stays sailable for a couple of days before the seas get too rough.
Praia do Beliche
Praia do Beliche is 3 kms. northwest of Sagres and is one of the most scenic beaches in the whole Algarve with huge cliffs overlooking a perfect golden beach. This place can become an exciting and challenging beach break during winter. But in the summer you will find it perfect for an easy paddle or an impromptu windSUP session in flat water. Be aware of shifting winds though as the surrounding cliffs can greatly affect the direction of north winds here. The only other downside for windSUP here is the long walk down to the beach, just look on it as part of the adventure!
Although Sagres was considered the ‘Edge of the World’ in ancient times, it is now pretty easy to get to. Flights from the UK to Faro, the nearest airport, take under three hours and it’s around a 1 hour 40 minute drive from the airport. Faro is well serviced with lots of flights from major airlines and plenty of hire car options.
After so many years of performance-oriented windsurfing, I sometimes feel the need of a more genuine approach to my windsurfing. Especially after I started stand up paddling and made it an integral part of my life. The simplicity and exploration side of SUP were two elements that I felt were missing from my performance windsurfing experiences. Luckily when windSUPs came out, that element of pure enjoyment and exploration came back into play. With a windSUP I can discover places either by paddling or sailing, or just blast on the water having fun just appreciating the simplicity of it all. For me, it is great to feel the wind in my hands and get back to those days where windsurfing was just a summer game – a longboard and Dacron sail and spending all afternoon cruising around the bay in front of my family’s house in Italy.
Windsurfing has took me so far in life since those early days on the water, but getting back to that feeling of effortless gliding and returning to my roots in the sport is one of the coolest things I have experienced over the last few years. One sail, one windSUP – roll on the rest of this long, sunny, Portuguese summer!
“Having fun just appreciating the simplicity of it all.”