Its beautiful coastline is of no news to most, but its unique surf spots might still be unknown to those more used to dreaming of Hawaii, Indonesia or South Africa in the search for good waves.
From the giant waves in Nazare in western Portugal where Garrett McNamara broke a world record in 2011 – to Peniche in central Portugal with the ASP World Championship – surfers are putting Portugal on the map.
The waves keep coming and the money flowing.
In 2009 Supertubos beach in Peniche hosted one of the key stops of the Professional Surfing Championship, and this has bolstered the area’s fortunes bringing thousands of surfers to its sand and surf.
The mayor of Peniche, Antonio Jose Correia says to be included alongside Hawaii as a surf destination is a huge honor:
“To be included in this elite of world surf – it is the ‘formula one’ of surf – to be on this circuit, and be one of the (Supertubos) two stops in Europe and to precede Hawaii, which is such a reference, we all dream about going one day to Hawaii – even if now some already say ‘one day I will go to Supertubos’ – so to be part of all this is very positive for us.”
Peniche authorities conducted a joint-study with the local College of Tourism and Maritime technologies and found that surfing is bringing millions of euros of revenue to the area.
“I can say that the total and direct (economical) impact (of the event) has been within the range of the 7 million -8 million (euros) (USD $85.5 – 97 million),” explains Professor Joao Paulo Jorge, in charge of the study.
Professor Jorge says he expects much more to come in the long-term as new surfing businesses are flourishing.
And it’s not just the Portuguese who say that the waves are a big hit.
Surfers are coming from across Europe, and further afield.
Oscar Araus is from Spain, “It’s a great place. Look, I’m Spanish and lately we prefer to come to Portugal for surfing, rather then to stay in Spain. This says it all, I think.”
And surfing has attracted the attention of the Portuguese government too.
Adolfo Mesquita Nunes, Secretary of State of Tourism says he wants Portugal to become a world class destination.
“Today we are already known and renowned as a surf destination, but we need to achieve the level in which the first thing that comes up in the mind of a surfer who is starting out or of one that is already established to be – ‘we need to go to Portugal to surf!'”
Legendary big waves surfer, Garrett McNamara has newly discovered Portugal’s waves.
“I’m very blessed and lucky to have ventured all around the world and Portugal was not a destination, because I didn’t know. And now that I know, I just feel it is my duty to let the world know how amazing it is, just because of my experience finding out how amazing it is. And it is literally the California of Europe, without the sharks,” he says.
After the American professional surfer broke a world record for the biggest wave ever surfed in North Beach, Nazare in 2011 he stayed around, becoming almost a local.
Recently, McNamara was chosen by the Portuguese government to become the face of an international tourism campaign promoting Portugal as a year-round premium destination for surfers.
50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital, Lisbon is another surfing hotspot, Ericeira.
It was named as a world-class surfing reserve by the World Surfing Reserves organization in 2011.
Ericeira joined Santa Cruz and Malibu in the United States, Manly in Australia and Huanchaco in Peru as a top surfing destination.
Ericeira was named for its high density of surf breaks, and the quality and consistency of the waves, and unique environment.
Surf schools, and surfboard shops are flourishing in the area thanks to the big waves.
Californian surfboard shaper Nick Uricchio is the founder of Semente, a Portuguese brand of surfboards.
He established himself in the area back in 1982 but he says that he is riding better economic waves these days:
“There’s more cash flowing through the area on a more annual basis as apposed to what it used to be.”
“Tourism generated towards surfers has made a big difference in our business, because there’s a lot of people around a lot longer, whereas there were very long winters here, back in the day. Where you had a very short summer period, sales were only during summer periods, and then it was just one long winter. We had to kind of guard your chestnuts like a squirrel for the next coming summer.”
He says surfing could have a major influence on Portugal’s economy:
“Surfing and the organization of the whole ‘what we do with surfing’ in the future is gonna make a big difference, it’s gonna have a huge impact. I think it’s having a huge impact already on the economy and the tourism part of it, the economy of Portugal and I think it can do a lot more.”
For Portugal, surf is not just about good waves anymore, it’s about good business.