Posted by Mark : Feb 06
This Atlantic jewel is a foreboding place in every sense of the
word. A solid island which juts for the most part vertically up
out of the Atlantic, it is hard to get to, and harder to surf.
Even the airport is a so-called Category 5 landing ie: hairy.
They’ve just built an extension to the runway in the capital
Funchal, and it's truly impressive. It’s built on pillars
into the fresh air. Most surfers would agree about Madeira, that
you must be prepared to “go big or go home”. For many,
the famous Jardim do Mar is a European top ten wave. It certainly
has the reputation as a brute. And its close neighbour Paul do
Mar, is not far behind.
On the downside, apart from package tours in the busy times,
it's expensive to get to Madeira, with most surfers flying from
the UK on TAP airlines. They charge more for boards than any other
airline I’ve travelled with, but there you go. The difficulty
for surfers in Madeira is getting in and out of the water in the
first place. Imagine all that swell suddenly colliding into an
island which has few if any beaches, and is not surrounded (and
tamed) by an Atlantic Shelf the way we are. It’s like a
head on car crash. When waves break against the rocky coast, the
resulting white water races up and down the coast in a wild torrent.
Like one massive rip current. At 90% of the places to surf, it’s
a rocky entry, and your heart is in your mouth as you clamber
out trying to beat the shore break.
Getting into the water at all, even in a moderate Madeiran swell,
requires courage and commitment. Getting out is the same, for
if you miss your exit point at places like Jardim - a small jetty
and four skimpy palm trees at the south end of the village -you
simply have to clamber out over jagged rocks or get washed up
on down the coast. We didn’t see one sandy beach the entire
time we were there – everywhere is rocky and forboding.
Personally I’ve never been as afraid in the water as sitting
in the Jardim do Mar lineup. It's huge. I caught one wave in the
middle of a black winter squall. The next set just snapped my
precious Nev board like a twig. I call it a lineup, but it was
just us three. If I hadn’t been with 2 experienced Aussie
mates, I wouldn’t have even wet my toes at Jardim or Paul
do Mar. The fact that we were together meant that I could get
out of the water on my snapped in half board. We went in autumn
and only met two other (one German, one local) surfers there the
On the upside...
Madeira is stunning, but the surf is truly not for the faint
Elsewhere there are any amount of points, reefs, and a lot of
harbour wall breaks. We found lots of un-named places at the side
of the road. Nearly all rocky, but incredible on the learning
curve of things. Some breaks even have cable cars for the summer
tourists, which double as a real adventure for surfers.
The local beer is a pittance (6 pack for less than €3, and
really nice), and the place is like an Atlantic garden of eden.
Madeira is a perfect autumn or winter getaway, Funchal is a cool
city, couples love it, nice market, and the tunnels all over the
island are jawdropping for their extreme road engineering …
but for surfers, Madeira is certainly not for beginners. Travel
with all your surf needs with you – spare fins, ding kit,
etc. Proceed to the water with extreme caution. Get good insurance.
And bring a quiver of spare boards.
Surf shops: didn’t
find a single one
Breaks: mostly extreme
and very rocky.
Gear: summer suit
and booties for the rocky spots
Anything to add? If you've surfed overseas and would like to
us an email.
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