Lanzarote is a lesson in surfing minimalism, a restorative sensory retreat with waves to whip yourself back into shape after the indulgences of Christmas. If you are in need of a warm winter break, why not go surfari style and explore Lanzarote.
Far enough to feel adventurous but close enough for a long weekend, the volcanic chain of seven Canary islands has earned itself the notorious nickname as the Hawaii of Europe, just with a more achievable price tag. Waves like Pipe twin, El Quemao and an illusive outer reef that resembled XXL Waimea in 2016 have drawn specific parallels between Lanzarote and it’s Pacific Ocean sisters.
Lanzarote’s volcanically charged landscape is a beautiful lunar expanse, widely undeveloped for kilometers at a time but with new roads connecting the old-world villages. It’s a daydreamers heaven, a backdrop onto which western gunfights, moon landings and star wars creatures could all be imagined. You feel ‘off the beaten track’ whilst unburdened by the worry of busting your hire car’s suspension.
An enduring aesthetic of whitewashed houses, black Picón stone, bright green cacti and rich, dark wood can be found all over the island. For this, we must largely thank César Manrique, an artist and passionate environmental activist who campaigned to preserve the best parts of an untouched Lanzarote whilst it transitioned into modernisation. He fought for minimal tourist development and its resulting confinement to three main centers in the South has left the majority of the island unchanged. Lanzarote is a nature-art exhibition balancing its unique architecture and intriguing natural formations with a contemporary, curated infrastructure. It keeps the traditional island ticking over with modern regulation.
Escape the tourist traps of the south and take the road up from Arrecife to the wave-rich northwest coastline, a 30minute journey.
With a short detour from the main road you will pass Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park, a geologically young area having only emerged 180 years ago. It’s a constant hotpot of volcanic activity and a recommended novelty is their lava-grilled chicken. Along the route you can glimpse the black soil vineyards where each horseshoe shaped hollow shelters just a single vine.
Where to stay
I suggest you triangulate yourself between two of the best breaks on the island, advanced-only El Quemao and the beginner-intermediate beach breaks of Famara. Oasis Surf House sits in the quiet town of Sóo on the cliffs that flank the coastline. From the pool you can watch Atlantic swell stack up, exploding skywards as it wraps around the bay and hits the La Santa stretch of volcanic reef.
“I chose Lanzarote because of the surf, sun and Spanish language,” says Lydia, owner of Oasis. “It’s the Canary Island with the most surf spots and has off-the-beaten-track qualities of a proper wave adventure.”
Originally from England, Lydia bought the guesthouse in 2014 and set about transforming it into an adventurer’s basecamp. She met her husband, Mark from California not long after and the pair now base themselves between the Canary Islands and the US. Gear hire is available if you didn’t fly with kit and accommodation ranges from luxury private rooms to shared dorms. There’s a global community moving through Lanzarote.
Lydia said: “Localism used to be a big thing here but as younger surfers start to travel and want to be accepted into other surf spots, it’s become a friendlier place in the water. Time and respect of locals will earn you a fair turn.”
Like almost everywhere else on the east side of the Atlantic, Lanzarote’s optimum swell window lies between October and April. NE trade winds blow across from the Western Sahara, giving its coastlines a year round cross-shore wind and constantly warm temperatures in the high twenties, only varying slightly during the winter months. The winds can be brutal however so look for sheltered spots on smaller swells and a 3’2 wetsuit will maximize your water-time on colder days.
This is a fickle, fast and hollow wave that breaks as a split peak over shallow reef. On bigger swells the right resembles Backdoor but closes out over lava, leaving the left a more hollow and realistic exit. It’s one of the most notorious but underrated waves in Europe and is the annual host of the Quemao Class Invitational in memory of David “El Fula” Infante, able to hold swells up to 15ft. On even bigger days, keep your eyes peeled for an outer reef visible from La Santa to rear its XXL head.
There is a softer reform wave in front of the Bridge to La Santa, which appears in the mouth of the bay. A lot of paddling and duck diving is required to stay in position but the wave is a fun, mellow option if El Quemao is looking messy or just plain sketchy. Watch your entry into the water with the rocks and rips.
This 3km stretch of sand is flanked by imposing copper cliffs and offers some of the most forgiving waves on the island. Though Famara is the most well known surfing beach in Lanzarote, its vast length makes the odd surf school easy to avoid. Rocky reefs at either end create more challenging waves and there are multiple options to choose from in the north but a 4×4 is recommended to access these. Take a left behind the SOS tower and follow the road up around the outskirts of the bungalows. You will reach a wide, unbroken view and drop down to the Northern end of the beach. Caleta de Famara is the ideal place for stocking up on food and beers.
Jameous del Agua
Jameous Del Agua on the northeast coast can be the longest wave on the island on a NW swell. The left-hand point break is found just below one of Lanzarote’s biggest attractions, subterranean volcanic caves, restaurants and tunnels but there are quieter paths straight down to the water if you don’t fancy the crowds. For the more advanced surfer, this spot get really, really good and is a favourite of the locals.
Also on the northeast coast, Arrieta is an easily accessible option with regular swell despite having the prevailing onshore winds to contend with. A popular left breaks off the broken bridge at the north end of the beach but there are peaks to be found right the way along. As a lifeguarded spot, it makes a great place for beginners to intermediates and is a haven for post-surf food options. Try some of Lanzarote’s specialty dishes; such as freshly grilled octopus and papas arrugadas, new potatoes cooked in salt water with the island’s famous red and green mojo sauces.
There may be closer waves to the UK for a post new year surf trip but there’s something satisfying about the volcanic, adventurous nature of searching for waves in Lanzarote.
Off the coast of Africa but only a four-hour flight away, Lanzarote has better infrastructure and less pollution than Morocco, it is warmer year-round than France and Spain and a similar price to fly to as Portugal. So if you’re looking for an alternative European escapade, stick Lanzarote at the top of your list, you wont regret it.
Cover Photo Andrea Carminati