With the surf season just starting in Portugal, and in honour of their 25th year of operations, we’ve decided to republish this review of the Surf Experience from two seasons ago. Our writer – and wannabe surfer – Paul, visited the legendary surf school to learn to surf in Lagos.
I can’t really remember the first time I rode a bicycle without stabilisers but if the cinematic cliché is correct, I gawped in disbelief at my new-found ability to balance independently and looked around at my dad for a knowing nod of approval and encouragement.
In fact, this must be exactly what happened and I know this because of the few days I’ve just spent learning to surf. This review of The Surf Experience will explain what I mean.
Situated on the very southern coast of Portugal’s Algarve, in the small town of Lagos, The Surf Experience established itself as the first surf school in the area way back in 1992. And it seems like over the course of the last 22 years, they’ve learned a thing or two about how to create fun, relaxed and ever so slightly bonkers surfing experiences.
Prior to arriving in Lagos, my previous surfing experience consisted of a couple of hours getting battered around in the water, whilst trying to cling on to board during a day’s surfing excursion. In short, I was a complete beginner, and was ready to place my life in The Surf Experience’s hands. I needn’t have worried, as it turned out it was all going to be more than fine.
As a starting point for a review of any surf camp experience, you’ve got to start with the lessons. After all, despite all the other fun and frolics you might have (keep reading) this is the real reason you’re here.
The surfing day with The Surf Experience cranks into gear just before 9am (depending on what happened the night before). It’s a good idea to fill up on the free breakfasts in the surf house because when you’re going out surfing, calories are definitely your friend.
Your surf instructors for the day (generally beautiful, bushy-tailed types) bounce into the hostel and make you feel like a close family friend, and before you know it you’re loading surf boards onto a Land Rover and clutching a wetsuit.
On my first day’s surfing, we drove about 25 minutes out to one of the western Algarve beaches called Cordoama. Your surfing destination for the day changes according to the conditions, but as far as beaches go, this one was pretty beautiful.
Having poured myself into my wetsuit as best I could and carried my board down to the beach, there was a quick warm up (invaluable as I was soon to be using muscles i had forgotten about years ago) before the lesson starts.
There were about ten people in my group, with two instructors. The Surf Experience likes to keep groups smaller and looking around at the other surf schools we were sharing a beach with, it’s a good thing too. You can’t really get much one-on-one time when there’s a ratio of 30 students to one instructor.
Our instructors talked us through the basics of catching waves and controlling the board while lying on it before sending us out into the water to have a go. When we had mastered this (or at least tried) we then came back on to the beach to learn the next step in the process. This kind of progressive tuition was great for building confidence, and attempting too much more in one go might have been a bit overwhelming.
Before long, I found myself getting to grips with catching waves, although popping up and standing was proving to be a little elusive. However, after a good couple of sessions in the water on day one, I was totally knackered and having trouble standing up on the land, so it wasn’t really that surprising.
The next day, refreshed from a very good night’s sleep, we headed back to Cordoama for day two of lessons (seeing as conditions here were still the best). Putting into practice what I’d learned the day before I set about trying again to get to my feet. Suddenly, without really knowing what had happened, I found myself standing.
God knows what it must have looked like from the shore (akin a foal taking its first few steps I imagine), but standing I was. And that’s how I know what it must have felt like to ride a bike for this first time. I almost felt like screaming ‘Look dad, I’m doing it’, except it wasn’t my dad smiling back this time, it was a blond surf instructor called Griff.
Pretty much from that moment on, I was totally hooked, and with some occasional advice and help from the shore when needed, my confidence and ability levels started to grow and grow.
Of course, as the name might suggest, The Surf Experience is more than about just what happens on the water. As much fun as that is, there’s also plenty of time when you’re not on the beach. But there’s definitely a more complete surfing holiday experience on offer here.
The Surf Experience’s surf house is situated right in the middle of the old town of Lagos. It’s a colourful and very friendly place – more like staying with some good friends than in a conventional hostel. All the staff and instructors make you feel like part of the family, with everyone introducing themselves and making you feel right at home. Within a few hours of arriving, it already felt like we had our own little gang.
It’s a surfing holiday, so if you’re expecting the Ritz then you’re probably in the wrong place but that being said, rooms are spot on, the shared bathrooms spotless sand communal areas very comfortable. In short, it’s a very well run surf house with everything you would expect, including a couple of relaxing roof terraces for chilling out after a big day on the waves.
You can also choose to stay in a ‘pensao’ (small guest house) just around the corner, a double studio or in a boutique apartment if communal living isn’t your thing.
Lagos itself is something of a party town, overflowing with bars and clubs yet managing to stay well the right side of tacky resort. There’s clearly plenty of fun to be had but this isn’t the kind of lad and laddette booze-cruise destination you’ve seen on the telly. It still retains much of it’s Portuguese small fishing town charm, with restaurant-lined squares and a peaceful harbour.
As I mentioned above – and as anyone who’s been surfing before knows – it’s exhausting stuff so you need to stay well fuelled. Breakfasts are included, so fill up on cereals, fruit and whatever else is going.
Lunch on your surf days is also provided. It was good and there was plenty of it. Filling chicken wraps, potato salads, fruit, cold cuts – nothing spectacular but tasty and exactly the kind of stuff you need for extra energy.
One evening during my stay (and a regular occurrence I’m led to believe) there was a barbecue cooked up back in the surf house’s roof terrace. For €15 it was all you could eat and all the sangria you could drink, and a great night with my new surfing chums.
As a complete novice surfer, my experience of surf camps is a little limited, but I can only speak from my experience. The Surf Experience clearly know what they’re doing and, judging by some of the pictures on the walls, how to throw a party too.
The welcome couldn’t have been warmer from all the staff, and not in a fake of faux hospitality way (no nailed on smiles here). It would be very easy for these surf boys and girls to look down their noses at clueless beginners like myself but they all seemed to have a genuine interest and desire to see us all having a good time.
And when I did manage to get standing and start surfing, they all seemed pleased. Maybe not as much as my dad would have been when I first rode a bike, but it was the next best thing. All in all an amazing time was had and I couldn’t recommend The Surf Experience highly enough.
We hope you found this review of the Surf Experience useful? If you want to learn to surf in Lagos or fancy a surf holiday with the Surf Experience then check out: www.surf-experience.com