I awake suddenly from a deep sleep to the sound of that familiar ‘crack’ a lip makes when it connects with the flat bottom of a wave, sleep clogs my eyes and I struggle to focus on my watch. It’s not long gone 5am and I work out I have had only about 3 hours sleep.
The plan was to get to bed early, set the alarm and check the surf at 6am then head in for a surf before breakfast just as the new swell was hitting, a Portuguese bar might have got in the way of those plans.
I get out of bed, pull on my board shorts and a t’shirt as I tip toe quietly down the corridor and into the kitchen trying not to wake the others. As I enter the kitchen my phone pings, it’s the mop of blonde hair and boundless energy that is my friend Brian. He is up and headed across the street from his house, ‘you up?’. We wait for a coffee to brew and giggle like school kids as we lean out the kitchen door watching as the leaves on the palm tree in the garden fail to move, there is no wind.
The morning stroll up the main street of Praia Da Tocha today is filled with more anticipation than usual. Has it arrived? Is the 12 - 14 foot, 20 second period swell we have been tracking for a week finally here?
We reach the top steps onto the beach road and take our first look at the ocean. It’s solid 4 – 5 foot, clean, very light off shores and pealing waves from the Fisherman’s hut to the Love bar are ruler straight. Not quite the 6 – 8 foot we were expecting. Sound travels better in the dark, it sounded bigger. We slurp at our coffees, scope the set ups and are a little disappointed to be honest, Magic Seaweed as usual was over scoring.
After 10 minutes watching the waves, loads of lines but nothing epic, we turn to leave and as we cross the road, coffee cups empty we hear that CRACK again. Brian stops, grabs my shoulder and we slowly turn around before sprinting back across the road ‘YEEW-ing’. A set unloads at Fisherman’s, solid 6 foot, hollow as you like right hander, top to bottom down the line, then another of the set peals the same and the ocean drops back… Brian can’t contain himself and is jumping up and down, “Matty did you see that, did you see that! It’s here, yes, yew!” We wait for the next set to come through and count, 16 second period @ 6 foot, the next set was a bit bigger again and was 17 second period…
No one out, stunning sunrise and beautiful weather. By the end of the day we had surfed clean, at least double overhead waves with 6 other guys, I was under-gunned with only a 6’2” as my biggest board on this trip and scared shitless with the power of some of the clean-up sets we didn’t quite make it through. This is why we came to Portugal in September. It’s was on!
Location, Location, Location
Brian Wirtz and Claudia Pereira are the amazing husband and wife team behind Ticket2Surf, a surf hostel and surf school based in the traditional fishing village of Praia Da Tocha, central Portgual coastline.
The village is a sleepy little town made up of traditional houses, a few beach cafés and restaurants, home to the world famous Piolho bar and a stretch of sand that runs from Mira to the north to Praia Quiaios in the South. Whilst Peniche, Ericeira and Sagres are the well know centres of surfing on many Portugal bound surfers hit lists, step a few 100 km’s North and things get decidedly less touristy, less hassle filled water with spots where often you’ll find yourself the only one out or sharing with a few locals. The main town of Tocha is a 15 minute drive away through the pine forest with all the usual shops and services you’d expect.
The closest airport to fly into is Porto, Lisbon is a 3 hr drive and has a better public transport connection if you are not hiring a car. Both are serviced by all major airlines, we fly Easy Jet from Bristol on a Saturday Night returning the following Saturday night to maximise surf time and the airports are usually quieter as the stag / hen weekenders have already gone on ahead and are in the bars at their destinations.
Traveling with a triple 10 foot board bag, and a triple 7 foot bag we have always arrived with boards intact and the flights are mostly on time. There is an oversized baggage drop at both airports and if you use the Special Reservations desks with Easy Jet, you rarely have to que to check in at either end of the flights. Just make sure your board bags and under the weight limit or use the knee-under technique and hold them still while they weight them, it’s good core strength training.
A Word of advice, the airport doors at Porto are revolving and if traveling with longboards, as I often do, you have to get the timing right, lift the boardbag as high as you can one end and leave it on the floor at the other, shuffle in on your own, wait for it to jam, stop, restart and let you move forwards, repeat and then eventually out the other end. You can fit a 10 foot triple bag in just!!! I have perfected the art over the years with it and can get through in one hit now.
Porto airport is a city airport so easy to access, we hired with Guerin Car hire, based at the airport they are surfer friendly. They used to get pretty bad reviews online but over the past few years have worked hard to sort out the problems and we have always found them to be great to deal with have never had a problem and can’t recommend them enough.
It’s wise to bring your own soft racks if you plan on hiring a smaller car with them or have multiple boards with you but they do estates and 4x4 options. We have used Guerin for the past 4 trips out and have always found them well priced with good quality new cars, helpful and professional staff who understand that surfers often travel with their boards and have offered to up graded us free of charge when seeing we have board bags. As a top tip we always give the car a quick hoover out before dropping it off to make sure the sand is out of the foot wells so any deposits are fully reimbursed and they continue to welcome surfers.
Driving in Portugal once outside the manic roads of Porto is great, well maintained quiet roads and well signed posted. Although the main National roads have tolls, you can either pay as you go, use the automatic electronic boxes in the car which you pay at the end of your trip (taken off your deposit amount at the car hire) or use the smaller local non toll roads which take a lot longer to get to where you are going, but go through quiet towns and traditional villages with some beautiful countryside. Porto is an hour and 20 mins drive to Praia Da Tocha.
Ticket2Surf was founded after Brian, who hails from Netherlands and Claudia, a Portuguese local, traveled the coast north from the Algarve looking for quiet spots to surf, explore and set up their surf school and surf camp. They ended up scoring great waves and loved the quiet traditional atmosphere and put their roots down in the sleepy beach town. Their surf house (it is definitely way more than your usual surf hostel!) is modern looking but has furniture that has evolved from old wooden pallets and drift wood into incredibly beautiful works of art at Brian’s skilled hands. It welcomes all ages and abilities, individuals looking for a stop off or groups of surfers or surf clubs wanting somewhere away from the madding crowds and is cheaper than a lot of surf houses down south.
A mix of dorm style bunk rooms, family rooms and a couple of En suites all suitable named after the spots that are Brian’s favourites, Pavones, Pipeline, etc. Claudia works tirelessly to keep them clean and tide and they are adorned with surf artwork, have comfy beds, hot showers, board storage, outdoor sofas and hammocks under palm trees to relax on post surf or to soak up the evening sun. The front area of Ticket2Surf is great to chill out in, dry your wetsuits, relax and watch the world go by, eat as a group and enjoy the towns relaxed atmosphere.
The vibe is very chilled, family friendly and relaxed. Free wifi, a music system to plug in to, fresh coffee whenever you want it and although it is self-catering, Brian is a deft hand at the BBQ where local fresh caught seafood straight from the nets of the Tocha fisherman is the choice of fare and Claudia cooks up a mean traditional soup and Tapas!
The couple have evolved feeling about the place that is more family than paying guest and no matter your age, whether traveling alone or with others, everyone arrives as guests and leaves as friends. It is more of a culture of inclusivity and friendship than anything else and many of their guests return year on year or keep in touch and try to arrange to get back together at the house on their next trip.
Eating and Drinking
Often folks decide or rather end up eating together at the end of the day, either in the surf house for that family feel, in the garden or out the front of the house or together at one of Tocha’s café’s, restaurants or bars.
The hands down favourite of many guests is the beach bar of Vida Boa run by Alberto and his incredible mustache! They offer everything from cocktails to traditional dishes, Tapas & healthy fresh Smoothies to Sagres beers and awesome G&T’s right on the beach overlooking the peaks at the north end of town. His little bar is one of the go to spots to watch the amazing sunsets or have a post surf smoothie!
If you would like something a little more traditional Portuguese, then there is ‘The cat lady’s’, as it is fondly known by the locals and is justifiably very popular! Serving fresh locally caught seafood and meat dishes with fine local wines whilst being surrounded by a thousand plus cat statues, cat pictures and cat sculptures, it has to be on your bucket list to do at least one night if your surfing and staying there.
For the meat eaters among you ‘Simple Rest’ is your go to spot with their famous steak on a stone. A huge slab of steak on a hot slate stone is brought out for you to cook to your liking coupled with a massive bowl of fries!
There is a fantastic ice cream and coffee shop on the beach front for those post surf morning coffee’s and a traditional Pizzeria and Italian with it’s huge terracotta pizza oven in the middle of the floor and a burger joint that has the best burgers I think I have ever eaten! (go for the fiery double tower if you hungry!).
Morning surf checks are often coupled with popping into the mini market of Sophia Andreas. Known simply as Sophia’s to everyone. You can buy your fresh veggies, fruit, breads, meats and grab anything you might want to eat or need for your stay. Sophia always has a smile, speaks perfect English and is like many of the locals here, welcoming and helpful.
For anything else you could ever think you might need whilst out there, the China Shop has all sorts of everything and it’s cheap! The nearest Surf shops can be found in Figuera Da Foz but Brian can do small ding repairs or organise for a local ding repair.
Piohlo and Vida Boa are the two locals’ bars. Piohlo hosting many a session from dusk till dawn and often stays open until the last person falls out the door be it 1 or 7am! Legendary for its live Jazz music, DJ sessions (get up and have a go if you know what you’re doing) and has been family run for over 70 years. Once a green grocers, selling liquor filled cabbages and carrots during the Portuguese Prohibition, it transformed into a bar the very next day the prohibition ended and has been world famous ever since for its hospitality and music! It is also tiny!!!
Whilst the waves have the usual power of the European Atlantic coastline, the water is clean, not as warm as the UK in summer or south of France so a 3/2mm wetsuit is advisable until late August. September see’s many of the famous spots wake up and the surf can be big and clean with light offshores.
Praia Da Tocha is a beach break with 4 or 5 main peaks from the river mouth to the north and the bowl to the south of town all with a 5 minute walk or less from the house. The bowl when it is working is one of my favorite surf spots in the world and if it’s not quite working then there are 3 peaks in front of the town to choose from and Fisherman’s a little further up to the North end. Beyond that is a small river mouth that is rarely flat.
I have never needed to walk further but empty peaks can be seen up and down the beach either side of town that are very rarely surfed, you simply don’t need to head down to them unless you want total solitude or feel like exploring. The beach works most states of the tide but high tide can be a shorter wave and back washy if the sand berm is steep after the big winter swells, If it is breaking over 5 foot and then the outer banks start kicking off with the bigger swell drawing off them. Mid tide can be epic fun and even at low tide the banks can be all time as it pushes in with the tide. Like anywhere it can be world class when it’s on with overhead right hand barrels and hollow A frames in the Bowl.
Tocha has a small local surf club and surf community but the level of those surfers who live in the town is high. But with it being off the beaten track often you can surf a peak to yourself or join Brian for some waves and laugh at his antics in the water. When the surf tops over head there are some rips and channels that can be used but it can be like most Atlantic beach breaks, intimidating for novice surfers and other spots up or down the coast can be more manageable. If you can handle the size, some memorable rides are there for the taking.
The beach is great for all levels of surfer, hence why Brian and Claudia decided to call it home. We travel out every year and whilst I am happy in pretty much most size waves and have a lot of experience, my other half Ems is still at the novice end of the scale and we can often surf the same spots together. Lefts are rarer than the rights in this part of the country but seek and you will find some absolute gems if the banks are working and it’s not unfamiliar to find some A frame beach breaks with only a couple of others out or to yourself.
Coaching and Lessons
The beach is suitable for total beginners and experienced surfers alike. Lifeguard patrolled from May to September and with the expert tuition from Brian who is a highly qualified FPS level 2 coach and holds, the surf lessons are held either at the beach in Tocha, 300m’s walk from Ticket2Surf, or a short drive away in Brian’s mini-van to other local spots, depending on where is working best for the ability and needs of the guests.
Brian offers group instruction for beginner and novices and coaching for more experienced surfers, video analysis can be arranged. They use high quality equipment with wetsuits from Janga and a mix of high quality Soft tops and BIC surfboards. Experienced surfers are welcome to bring their own boards of course and there is secure board storage in the rear garden of the house.
Having traveled, surfed and explored the area extensively for the past 15 years, Brian has a wealth of knowledge and has the inside edge on what will be working in what conditions are like in the local area and further afield. Surf trips can be arranged from day trips down to Peniche or up to Barra or multi day surfari traveling the coast from Porto to Peniche or the Algarve.
For the experienced surfer it is a regular or back hand surfers paradise, with many fabled points in the area. Buarcos, home to Janga wetsuits and the longest right point break in Europe, is 20 mins drive to the south and can hold double overhead plus and J Bay like rides if the banks are right. Mira, a pealing point and beach break to the north and the world famous big wave spot of Nazare is a little over an hours drive away and well worth taking the Estrada Atlantica to get to it. With the chance to discover many hidden gems along the coastline and your fair share of empty and secret spots that are more manageable if mother nature is doing her thing. It’s well worth exploring. If you take a walk from the car over the dunes or through the forest that backs the coastline there are countless unridden peaks to discover.
The Nearest city south of Porto, Figueira De Foz, has the usual bright lights and more than a handful of classic surf spots, with the focus around Cabeldelo an ex WCT contest site and the town beaches of Fig Foz. Only 20 mins drive from Tocha it’s perfect for some shelter if the north winds blow or if you fancy surfing somewhere else, being a coastal city the waves here often have crowds when on although nowhere near as big as the ones down south. The water has a friendly vibe and there is always a spot to get to yourself with little effort.
On the day of the big September swell last year we rode the town breaks of Fig Foz with Rob Bain and Glen ‘Mr X’ Winton, double over head Buarcos watched over by non other than Buzzy Kerbox and Cabedelo saw a visit from Tommy Curren, some bloke called Shaun (Thomson) and Mason Ho joined the locals for a few and put on an airshow. Stopping off from the WSL Azores master’s event, many of the old Pro’s stopped at Cabedelo for a surf for old time sake before heading to Peniche for the Pro Tours penultimate stop before Pipeline. If your looking for some amazing seafood after your surf then head to the Forte Sta Catarina restaurant at the Fig Foz tennis club, their seafood platter is the stuff of legends, you might see the odd Pro surfer tucking in there too!
If it’s flat?
Claudia is a qualified Yoga teacher and holds regular sessions you can join in on or can host sessions for Ticket2Surfs guests. You can hire kayaks at the Mira lake or a sailing dingy, T2S has several SUPS that you can take out on the ocean or on river or the Lake at Mira. There is mountain biking trails, loads of forest trails to explore for spots that might be holding a small swell or take a drive up to the look out at Monumento Natural do Cabo Mondego, high above the region for stunning view of the forest and the coastline.
Nazare is worth a trip even if flat to see the Big Wave Museum there and stroll around the cliff top old town or take a drive to the old town of Cantenhede for a walk around the market.
The beach at Tocha has volleyball and beach soccer nets, the beach bar’s and of course you could just snooze the day away in a hammock back at the house or head down to help the fisherman pull the nets in and buy your dinner straight out the nets.
If you are looking for a surf holiday to Europe, off the beaten track and away from the crowds and don’t want the hectic nightlife culture then Ticket2Surf has to be the most chilled out and friendly surf house we have ever been to. Fantastic hosts, great waves, a traditional and unspoilt village with friendly locals, dozens of quality spots to surf, a very chilled out atmosphere and cheap healthy living, then you can’t get better place to head to than Ticket2Surf.
Flights: Bristol to Porto takes about 1hr 30 and is a little over and hours drive from Praia Da Tocha, Board bags currently cost £45 each way, Easy Jet will take 10 foot triple bags. We booked the 6.40pm Saturday night flight and will get to Ticket2Surf around 11pm. The return flight to Bristol leaves Porto around 9pm and gets into Bristol about 10.40pm
Ticket2Surf can do pick up and drop off if arranged before hand at extra cost. There is a train from Porto to Aveiro where Ticket2Surf can collect you from the bus station in Tocha and drop off ready to for your onward journeys.
Car Hire: Guerin Porto are well recommended and are surfer friendly, a 5 door medium size car such as a Renault Captur will cost approximately 310 euro for the week.
Accommodation prices: Bunkroom for 6 nights will cost approx. 75euro per night or 380euro for the week on the surf and stay package including daily lessons, surf rental and more. Bunkroom accommodation only is 18euro a night.
Family room surf and stay will cost you approx. 415 euro for two people for the week or 80 euro a night with shared bathroom and 450 euro with own bathroom for two people sharing.