Bilbao may not be the first place you think of for a surfing vacation.
However, Bilbao belongs to the Basque Coast, which also includes the towns of Mundaka, Menakoz, and San Sebastian. Each of these towns near Bilbao are known in the surfing world, and make their own unique mark on the surfing landscape. Some highlights:
Mundaka: About a 40 minute drive Northeast of downtown Bilbao, Mundaka plays host to the Billabong Pro Mundaka World Tour competition. This is the biggest approval stamp for surfing on the Basque Coast. Mundaka is famous for its’ long left-breaking wave, which allows experienced surfers to travel well along the coastline. It is known for having some of the longest “tube rides” in the world.
Menakoz: Beaches at Menakoz are tougher to access, and rockier than other Basque Coast surf towns. But if you can get there, you’ll find the biggest waves in Europe. Waves of 20-ft in height are common at Menakoz, and it’s only about a 20-minute drive from downtown Bilbao. Menakoz is known as an “expert only” surf location.
San Sebastian: San Sebastian is the best choice along the Basque Coast for beginning surfers. It has the best combination of beginner-friendly atmosphere, and a sandy ocean bottom. Falling off your surfboard into a rocky bottom (like in Menakoz) can hurt your feet (or more) and cut your recreation time short. San Sebastian also maintains some focus on surrounding activity and nightlife. 10€ ($12 U.S) per day for unlimited drinks, anyone?
Another highlight: You get all of these things along one convenient coast, rather than hopping around different islands.
Regarding surf vacation timing: surf season on the Basque Coast runs from September to April. The Gulf Stream helps keep the Basque Coast warmer throughout this time. Water temperature dips to around 60F in December, which is pretty warm considering.
If you are in fact new to surfing, it may be best to start at Wellentime surf school. Wellentime, a 30-minute drive North from downtown Bilbao, has instructors that are trained lifeguards and registered with the local Surf Federation. Like tourists spots in Hawaii or Australia, Wellentime teaches in small groups of five or six people. Classes begin on the sand, and spend considerable time on the sand introducing you to the surfboard. You’ll need to know how to paddle, how to stand up, where to stand, how to stand, and how you’ll be anchored to the surfboard.
Note: you need to wear a shirt when surfing. The tops of surfboards are like sandpaper to help grip your feet. As you paddle out into the water, you are basically laying on sandpaper.
Balancing on the surfboard is up to you once you catch a wave. Instructors suggest getting in surfing shape with some balancing and strengthening exercises for a few weeks before you hit the water.
Surfing classes at Wellentime range from one day in length, up to six days. To give you an idea of pricing, a four-day course will be around 180€ ($225 U.S). Surfboard rental will be 20€ ($25 U.S.) per day.
After you fall in love with surfing, you’ll need your own surfboard. Central Bilbao has several shops that sell surfboards alongside skateboarding and snowboarding gear. Plan on spending around 720€ ($900 U.S.) for a decent surfboard.