July 8: Ericeira - The Ocean Surfed Me

Not My Photo...Ribeira D’ilhas. -  Source

Not My Photo...Ribeira D’ilhas. - Source

Martha had to leave early in the morning for a wedding. I drove to Ribeira D’ilhas Beach to meet Chico and the other students for the surf lesson.

The grey sky loomed over me as I pulled off the main road and into the beach lot.

I was a little early went inside the café on the beach to borrow their phone. Chico said they were on their way. Luckily, we bumped into each other in the parking lot.

There was a huge group of students from the surf camp and we were split into groups.

I was put into the more advanced group.

(This is the part where you laugh.)

I brought my own wetsuit but we were also provided with surf booties to put on our feet.

I hated them.

We carried our boards to the beach and then Chico pulled me aside,

“Are they waves okay for you?”

They looked fine to me and it wasn’t until we were out in the ocean that I remembered one of the many surf rules.

Rule #9 of Surfing: The waves are always bigger than they look.
My group practiced our take offs on the beach and then carried our boards over large slippery slates of rock.

The dark slate continued straight into the ocean and we had to paddle hard to get out to the line-up as huge waves roared against us.

Then it occurred to me, oh my God, I think this is a reef break.

Turns out, it is. Ribeira D’ilhas is an exposed reef break.  

There are three types of breaks: shore/beach breaks, point breaks, and reef breaks.

I was used to surfing shore/beach breaks which can be better for beginning because you are less likely to get injured when you wipe out and crash. This is because the breaks are being created by a sand bar. However, the waves are usually inconsistent because the sand bar and move over time.

Reef breaks can create nice, consistent waves because have reefs underneath them. They are usually coral but in this case were large jagged rocks. Either way, they tend to be more dangerous for beginners because you’ll hit rock or coral instead of sand when you crash.

I was lucky to catch one wave on my knees but otherwise I was constantly wiping out. The current was incredibly tight and the wave sets were super close together.

Plus, those stupid booties added resistance to my feet when I was trying to pull my front foot up onto my board.

It took so much effort and energy just to get back to the lineup. Every time I was on shore, I saw and felt the sharp rock underneath me. No sand, just rock. It was intimidating but I kept paddling out each time I crashed.

After an hour and a half of the ocean surfing me, I demoted myself to the beginner group.

However, that was more dangerous because there were multiple surf schools in the water at the same time and we were all so close together.


At one point, I was on my board and Chico, the surf instructor and a local Ericeira guy, was holding on to the tail of my board right as I was about to paddle for a wave.


“Is it normally wave crash this wave crash intense wave crash here?!”

I asked in a loud voice attempting to outdo the noise of the ocean swell.

“This is a wave crash calm day,” Chico responded back.


I proceeded to wipe out again after that conversation.

Soon after that, one of the other students lost control of his board and it hit me in my left rib. Luckily, it was a soft board.

This is why Julika was always careful about us not surfing too close together.

There were a few times I thought about quitting but I kept trying…and utterly failing or flailing seems like a better word.

Soon after that, Chico yelled,

“Last five minutes!”

It was the happiest moment of my life.

I partnered with another one of the surf students and we carried our boards together over the rocks, across the beach, and back to the van.

Food….I need food…and a hot shower.

Nothing makes you hungrier than getting your ass kicked by the ocean for hours.

The group of us teamed up to help each other peel off our wetsuits and booties.

Then Chico told me about a good place for lunch and said he’d meet me at 2:30.

I drove back to the house incredibly excited to shower.

Surf and surrender? More like surf and survive.