Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meanwhile in Mundaka...

Harbour Hop Off, Mundaka.

Spectating Spaniard, as some surfer gets slotted.

High tide, and it still looks better than your local spot on it's best day.

It's autumn in Europe and the migration's on. Just like the birds, as soon as the wind starts to blow the leaves off the trees wayfaring surfers based in Northern Europe start to work their way south down through France and Spain and then onto Portugal, Morocco and the Canaries for the Winter, following the weather and the waves.
The WCT is in France at the moment along with a fair few of my friends who keep telling me how sunny and nice it is, and my mind has been cast back across all of the trips that I've done down to the Basque country over the years.

All that I can think of is Mundaka.

The rivermouth sand bar that sits just outside the entrance to the harbour of this small Basque fishing village can, on the right day, produce some of the best left handers ever to happen to moving water from any of the seven seas. Tom Curren reckons so (Surfer magazine 52.8, The 100 Best Waves) and I won't argue.
I've made the two hour dash there from South West France a few times when it's looked like it might be on and only lucked in once but that once made up for all of the other failed attempts. The swell has to be coming from just the right direction out of the North West and needs to be a good groundswell, it needs the right tide, sand in the rivermouth, the sand bar needs to have settled into just the right shape over a calm summer, and you have to be on it before the secret gets out and every other European surfer arrives. That's a lot of stars that have to align to get good waves here.

But when those stars align you find yourself paddling into a wave that funnels along the sandbar, locking you in and drawing up like a drainpipe being wrung out, completely mesmerising you as you battle with the decision to stall and grab rail or try to stay out front in relative safety clipping swooping turns off the top.

I lucked into all-time Mundaka with my good friend Krede Wright from West Australia back in 2008 when we were driving (slowly) around Europe in a Westfalia named Turtle. We got two days of great uncrowded swell, double overhead on the sets and overhead on the friendlier ones. A local ex-pat claimed that in the fourteen years that he'd lived there working for Billabong it didn't get much better very often. I watched Krede weave through some big tubes on his backhand whilst I sniffed around for some more manageable ones. It still ranks as the only wave to leave me spitting blood without hitting the bottom or my board, just the sheer force that the water smacked my face was enough. I decided that my hair needed cutting to get it out of my eyes when surfing and shaved my head with beard clippers which took almost an hour. Our van broke down and we spent three nights sleeping on a garage forecourt. None of it mattered after the waves we'd got. Just look at the photos: That's after we got out, at high tide when it had filled in and got "a bit rubbish" compared to earlier.

Over the years various factors have conspired to result in the WCT no longer holding an event here; the Prestige oil spill left globs of heavy tar buried just beneath a thin layer of sand (the soles of my feet were stained black for a week after wading in the waveless shallows in Mundaka in 2002), the sandbar was starved of sediment for a few years in the middle of the decade and almost disappeared and the fickle nature of the wave meant that too many of the professional surfing events scheduled to be surfed here had to held at the rubbish beachbreak around the corner.
How fortunate.
The eyes of the world are elsewhere and still this quiet fishing village sits here, sleepily waiting for a swell to light up the rivermouth and keep the fishing boats in the harbour for the day. If it happens and you're anywhere nearby, you have to drop what you're doing and get yourself there before everybody else gets on it.
Just trust me on this one.

There's other good stuff in Spain too; Flamenco Feet, Barcelona.

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