Few sports as are intertwined with motor vehicle journeys as surfing. For most of us, true liberty comes pretty much when the driving licence is obtained, from which point, the surf possibilities are endless.
Whether you enjoy the road trip as for its own sake (some people just like driving), perhaps embracing the golden age of motoring (boiled sweets, driving gloves, panama hat & tartan blanket on parcel shelf) or whether you’ve decided in our ever-warming Anthropocene era that flying is way too carbon-guzzling and irresponsible, the road trip remains the everysurfer’s ticket to (relatively) exotic shores.
Sure, petty is pricey, but pack in enough of you, and it becomes a reasonable financial burden versus waves surfed and best life lived. If you have access to a van (or just reclining seats) your transport also becomes your accommodation, your centre of shred excellence and above all, enlightenment.
What is worthy as a vehicle depends on the requirements (diva-ness) of the shredders. You can kip in almost any vehicle if you really need to; three of us once slept in 2-door Polo from Devon to Spain and back after our tent got stolen. I’ve done Plymouth-Thurso-Hebrides and in a 2 seater Fiesta van called The Pecker Bus…
“When I was a lad…” etc, etc.
On the flipside, I done an en masse luxury RV convoy up through France for the O’Neill Mission (sharing with photogs Timo Jarvinen and Carlos Pinto), slowing down on purpose through towns just to watch the steam come out of the ears of angry little men in cars behind (usually me).
Whatever your vehicle, whatever your vibe, the open road beckons and beguiles.
Here are some of Europe’s time-honoured roadies, and what to expect both en route, and when you get there.
“Whatever your vehicle, whatever your vibe, the open road beckons and beguiles”
South West England >>> Thurso
Time: 12hrs 46mins
Distance: 748miles / 12o3km
Cost: As well as fuel, you might need to budget in 3 points and 90 quid speed awareness course, from the average speed checks in Scotland.
Difficulty rating: We got lost in the Pecker Bus in Glasgow once, but other than that, pretty straightforward really, other than the fact that once you’ve been driving in Scotland for a while, you realise there’s still 4 hours to go.
Must do: Tebay Services, obvs
Shred en route: Not really. There’s the NE, but that’s fairly wishful thinking.
Scotland is beautiful with exceptionally good waves, so a well considered, well timed swell strike is not only every UK surfer’s right, it’s also your responsibility.
However, when things go wrong north of the wall, they go wrong more and worse. On the occasion that you’re buffeted by endless shit winds, waves and weather, spent considerably more dough than you’d hoped, it’s hard not to let dissenting, mutinous thoughts creep in, like, ‘Why the fuck didn’t we just go France?’
S England >>> Hossegor
Time: 14hrs 31mins
Distance: 700 miles / 1150 km approx depending on which ferry
Cost: Ferry canny pricey, tolls to cross France will be about 100 euro
Difficulty rating: Easy.
Must do: Lower your expectations for services in terms of refreshments en route. Starbucks/M&S or Costa/Waitrose combo is unique to the UK. Provision for the journey south before you leave.
Shred en route: You could, but you also sorta just could not.
Ferry choice or even Channel Tunnel is much of a muchness really, there’s less in it than you’d think looking at a map. The Roscoff Ferry is favoured by for SW based crew, otherwise take your pic from Cherbourg, Le Harve etc. Nobody in France has ever heard of Roscoff, btw. It’s the secret ferry port.
The route is largely untroublesome, except maybe some Rennes/Nantes ringroad fuckups, if not overly scenic.
There is shred along the way, but nothing really worth stopping for as it’s a bit of a deviation, if you’re stopping for a beachie it’s probably more similar to what you surf at home than anything classically French and thumping.
once you negotiate the Bordeaux rocade you’re ‘downhilling’ and so close you can actually smell it for about an hour before you arrive (well the pines at least). Beach car park van life has been a bit more Babylon’d these days by the PoPo, you might get moved on, fined, have height restrictions etc, it’s a bit of a cluster. But still, in terms of chances of tubes and revelry, it’s still pretty hard to beat.
Hossegor >>> Portugal via Burgos
Time: 9 hrs 34mind
Cost: You’re gonna do about 100 euros on tolls
Difficulty rating: Dead easy, traffic-wise, directions fairly straightforward too.
Must do: Fill up on the Spanish side before crossing the border
Shred en route: Nope
A boring, if relatively easy drive. It’s pretty scenic each end, not so much over the top of Spain, where it’s mostly windblown services with little framed pics of Moto GP’s from 1998 on the walls and sad looking tapas being breathed/coughed/farted on all day.
Slater is rumoured to have done Peniche to Hossegor in about 6 hours in an Audi Q6, and there are plenty of other colourful tales of French pros refusing to pay the tolls and sneaking under the barrier with the car in front. In more recent toll news, they’ve taken the big one out near Burgos, and on the Portuguese side, well there aren’t barriers anymore, only number plate recognition.
Hossegor >>> Portugal Coast Route
Time: 16hrs driving if you did it non-stop, which you’d be mad to.
Cost: Similar toll wise to the inland, 100 euros ish.
Difficulty rating: More traffic issues and some navigational puzzles. You’re not doing this for ease, you’re doing it for shred
Must do: Use full quiver of wetsuits. You could be surfing in boardies in France, a shorty in Asturias and a 4/3 in Pantin…
Shred en route: Claro que si! The only reason you’d go this route.
The coastal route is much longer but very, very shreddable. In fact, this route, along the north and west shores of Iberian Peninsula taking in the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia and then into Portugal is easily the longest stretch of consistently surfable coast anywhere in Europe.
I once saw a France based Aussie loose canon in Peniche I knew who said he’s gone the coast route because he “Had to go national roads, got no brakes…” He did the 1500km journey in a small van with no brakes, using the gears/handbrakes to stop instead.
Best not to do that.
SW >>> Ireland
Distance: 489 miles
Cost: Ferry is pricier than you might think.
Difficulty rating: The hardest part is wrestling with the fact that the journey is only about 300 as the crow flies, but other than that, she’s sweet as.
Shred en route: Did this in Surfing Life’s Mercedes Vito back in ’99, when a wicked run of E wind and SW swell blessed us with Glamorgan reefs en route, then epic Lahinch.
Your ferry depends on where you’re starting, but if you’re coming from SW England and headed to say, Clare, the Pembroke – Rosslare is likely the go. Driving in Ireland – off the man roads at least – is a bit of a throwback to happier, more cordial times on planet earth, where motorists waved at each other/pedestrians/cyclists rather than locked in a to the death struggle for primacy. Where ever you head to in Ireland, going from east to west or vice versa is about a 3 hour schlep.
For the more ambitious:
- Kepa Acero drove from Bilbao to Guinea in a Nissan Patrol in the ‘Hercules’ winter of 2014.
- Hossegor to Lofoten: A crew of Aussies drove from SW France to the Arctic Circle in the early 2000’s, a 8000km round trip in a Ford Mondeo. Of the trip, which took in breathtaking scenery, cultures and landmarks they said, ‘Faaaark…. Wish we’d flown‘
- Euroglass shaper and all round legend Phil Grace did a roadie from London to Calcutta in 1970. He was supposed to be going to the Canaries but ‘turned left at Madrid’ and hitched to India via Turkey, Afghanistan, etc from where he flew to Australia. Mainly in an Opel Kadett, but also buses.
- A group of Porthleven surfers fashioned a ‘wank booth’ with boardbags and towels for their Hossegor trip in the early 2000’s. Two words that should never be used together.
- Returning from a magazine swell chase to the Med, we didn’t properly secure boards to our borrowed Jeep, losing one of Alain Riou’s (who’d flown home early) Arakawas. The first we knew about it was when Traffic Info on the radio said “Delays after reports of a surfboard on the carriageway near Toulouse’. D’oh!
- Carwyn Williams did a road trip to Morocco with only one tape, stuck in the tape deck, playing non-stop (kids look it up, it’s like a wallet sized bit of plastic with 12 songs on). The album was Right Said Fred’s ‘Up’.
- A Welsh mate blew up his Lada while surfing La Nord, in the good ol days when you could rock up and park/live right in front of the wave on that little one way. He’d made a cup of tea, forgot to turn off the camping stove… don’t fuck with gas.