There's more to rugged Northern Spain then just Mundaka, you know. Of course, that rivermouth marvel is arguably one of the greatest waves in Europe and maybe even the world - but when the wind swings onshore and the largest swell pulse in years threatens to stack off the coast, it's high time to find some shelter a little further down the way.
Over the weekend, Europe was kissed by Storm Amelie, a strong system that ripped across the Atlantic and is continuing to wreak havoc on some coastal communities. In fact, we wrote about it here and although those numbers were jacking to eye-watering levels, it had a somewhat nuanced trajectory that skunked a few spots. But the Basque Country warriors know (almost) exactly where to head in Spain when a beast like this is rifling in.
Maybe it was the pressure of performing at home, or just the sheer heaviness of how this was beginning to pan out, but Natxo Gonzalez says these numbers made him a touch nervous - and you can see why from the numbers towards the end of this feature. But it's words that make you really stop and think, especially as this young gun's charged some of the most intense looking slabs on the face of the planet. And well, those initial belly flutters didn't stop him doing step offs in to huge perfect barrels, though.
“This was the first massive swell of the year. I was really nervous looking at the forecast. It was really big – numbers we hadn't seen in forever. Crazy wind,” Natxo relays to MSW.
“We were thinking somewhere around the coast, but the wind came onshore. The buoys were looking pretty big and the peak of the swell was at 10am. At 4am, they were reading about 7 metres (22ft) at Galicia at 15 seconds, quite big for here.
“We were excited. We had the skis, team, everyone was there and it wasn't as big as we thought it would be. We were waiting for the swell to hit and 30 mins later, solid sets were coming through and it was getting bigger – and we were like, ok, fuck, this is on now and it's going to be heavy. Like a hurricane, extreme offshore winds, hard to paddle, so we thought it's good for the ski and step offs.
“When we got out and were like, oh, it's actually massive. The swell was hitting straight. After the session I checked the buoys and it had grown to 10 metres (32ft) at 15 seconds, I've rarely seen that in my life. The session was crazy. Perfect huge barrels, offshore wind, good friends, a great day of surfing. We were stoked, after that we had dinner and celebrated the first day of the season.”
Jon Aspuru was pointing the lens as this session rolled through. “The west wind dominated during the first day of the swell,” he said. “Winds of up to 170km per hour. There are very few surfing places, so the options were reduced.
“We arrived at one spot early, after an interesting road trip dodging branches, trees, garbage containers that had been moved by the wind. When seeing the sea, the nerves were firing. Peaks of two-to-three metres with a beastly offshore, breaking on the beach.
“It was a five hour surf session sharing bombs in good vibes with a good team of locals and surfers from the Basque Country. A crazy day and a show for all the people who came to see it.”
And those who turned up for this wild few hours? Natxo, of course, with tow partner Adrian Fernandez. Aritza Saratxaga and Eukeni Masa. From Mundaka, Guillermo Lekumberri and Andy, and the local crew of Dani Pablos and Valentin Pana. The best thing; the season's only just getting under way.