The Basque Country’s crazy pointbreak at Roka Puta finally woke up, as most of the rest of western Europe was blasted by the first XL swell of the season last week. Plus, there was enough swell around for Mundaka to dazzle, as the Old Continent’s most idolised lefthander often does in NNW swells. “We’ve been waiting for a swell like this,” said Adur Amatriain, an 18-year-old talented Basque surfer.
For Adur, Roka Puta is more than just scoring at the local — it’s in his blood. “My father was the first person who ever surfed at this pointbreak,” he said. (Adur’s father Ibor is one of the standout pioneers of big-wave surfing in Europe.) “So now, I feel like I have to take his place at Roka Puta.”
As the tide ebbed to low around 9:30am last Monday, a tight-knit crew made their way into the lineup — including Adur’s brother Iker, Aritz Aranburu, Ruben Vittoria, Xabi Lopez and Indar Unanue. “Had a couple wipeouts at the start,” said Adur. “I got one sick barrel which made everyone on the road and beach scream. Definitely made this day even more special.”
After a while though, the crowd thickened and the waves tightened. Time for a change of plans. “We paddled to the next big wave in the area further out than Roka Puta,” said Lopez, another young Basque gun. “Indar and Ruben got the bombs of the day and I got seriously pounded by a big set on the head.”
“That session, we were thinking about taking it easy,” said Unanue. “You’re waiting between 30 and 50 minutes for sets. I got a couple medium-sized waves, then Xabi came over with a ski and picked us up. But as we were driving back, I saw a set coming and jumped off the back for one more wave. I paddled into the first of the set. But there were some huge bumps on it, due to the southeast wind that started coming up, and I fell and got dragged around for a long time. Had to pull the vest, took three or four waves on the head and headed straight to the rocks. Got out safely, hugged my girlfriend on the beach. Just a scare.”
“Felt a bit under-gunned out there,” said Vitoria. “I had an 8’6” and put myself right under the lip and it kinda paid off.”
The next day, the swell dropped considerably. Roka Puta’s 12-hour rampage was over. But when one big wave dies, other more manageable spots start to power up from the residual swell still in the water. Mundaka may not have been all-time on Tuesday — and there’s sand currently in the end section of the wave — but it doesn’t have to be crazy-good to have fun out there.
“The best left in Europe didn’t disappoint,” said photographer Gorka Gurdi. “Some tubes out there were incredible. Then as the tide came up, it got better.”
“Yeah, there were some fun ones out there,” added Aritz. “Lots of people, but that’s how it is at three-to-four foot.”
Some 400 kilometres west, Portugal-based photographer To Mane was on a mission with pals Salvador Couto and Elohe Ali Alvarez. The plan was to escape the pounding surf of Portugal’s west coast and find sheltered more manageable conditions. “We drove north from home,” said Mane. “I’ve hurt my back, so was happy to be on photo duty, especially along such a jagged coastline. Along northern Spain, there’s a bunch of spots that offer shelter and you can find a few diamonds in the rough. The locals were super welcoming — thanks to them.”
“It was sick to have those guys up here,” says Spanish ripper and friend of Elohe, Crispi Iglesias. “I’ve actually been living in France the past few years and moved back home up here recently, so to get a swell like this so soon was really special. As the tide went out, it got hollower.”
UK-based MSW forecaster Jamie Bateman said: “The same long-period XL, WNW/NW swell that stirred big waves breaks in Ireland and Portugal on Sunday and Monday also brought Northern Spain to life; deep water reefs and pointbreaks were going off as the swell peaked late-to-mid-morning.
“A weather front, associated with the same swell-producing storm, did not present the wind complications along the north facing shores of the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, it was most welcomed, switching the wind offshore and keeping it that way all day. Couple that with blue skies and warm, late autumn temperatures, conditions were optimum just about everywhere.
“The swell halved by Tuesday but it was still solid, providing 2-3 foot overhead to double overhead surf at exposed locations, that ever encroaching weather front meant stronger, offshore, SW wind but anywhere tucked away behind those stunning coastal hills was still producing the goods.”
Cover shot Ruben Vitoria by Victor Gonzalez