Shop Talk: Extreme Algarve
With its pristine coastline, clear water, rivers, and caves, Portugal’s Algarve region is a paddling paradise. Sebastian Wolff of Extreme Algarve, is giving both tourists and locals a different view of the region with paddle trips, while also spreading the SUP bug with startup clubs and multiple events.
SUP mag: Tell us about your background.
Wolff: I was born in South Africa, nowhere near the ocean. After spending 11 years in the big smog of London I decided that London life was not for me. My better half, Michaela, recommended that I do something I love.
As a result, I enrolled in a surf coach course and went on holiday to Morocco. After deciding that was what Michaela and I wanted to do, we went back to work, gave notice, and the following January were driving down the French coast with surf guide in hand, looking for somewhere to set up. We inadvertently ended up in the Algarve, as for me being African, the weather was a major issue and I couldn’t handle the terrible winters of the UK, France and northern Spain.
SUP mag: How'd you get into the SUP market?
Wolff: The purists will hate me for this, but I guess I really added SUP as a time-filler for when there's no wind, or, for clients who might want a less exhausting option to surfing. We also wanted to be the first real provider of SUP in the Lagos area, so it was a kind of business move too.
After doing a lot of research, I hooked up with Tina from Starboard in Lisbon and she helped me choose boards for our school. I had no experience in the sport, so I booked an ASI accredited SUP instructor course and flew out Steve West and his lovely wife Mandy.
SUP mag: Tell us about the SUP scene in Portugal.
Wolff: The Portuguese scene is growing rapidly. Everyone involved is super enthusiastic and keen to promote the sport. Joao Maya, Tiago Silva, and Tina Sahl, as well as Rui and Nuno from SET clothing are great ambassadors and are putting their heart and soul into promoting SUP throughout the country.
Look out for the Berlenga Ocean Challenge, a 15-km downwinder from the Berlenga islands to the mainland—it’s a brilliant event, even if you’re not competing. There's also a great race across the Tagus River, and a circuit of six or seven competitions nationwide. We’ve had big names such as Steve West, Sean Poynter, and Susanne Lier all doing courses and clinics, and this year we look forward to having Will Anido from downunder doing courses in Peniche.
Last year we got two new SUP schools just in Lagos. Locals like Anne de Jong and Tiago are doing great things through SUP as a way for a healthier lifestyle, along with nutrition and SUP yoga and I believe Tiago is actually training Sean Poynter for this year’s events.
Tina from Starboard is also awesome and set up the Beyond Boards team, which I will be competing with this year.
SUP mag: Tell us about your location.
Wolff: The Algarve is one huge outdoor playground and a paradise for paddling. Our lodge is a few minutes from the town center and 20 seconds from Praia Porto de Mos Beach, where we paddle in the summer, and Meia Praia beach, the town's main beach.
Lagos is surrounded by grottos and caves, so, our clients get lessons in perfect conditions with absolutely stunning scenery. All lessons include a trip through the caves and stops at secluded beaches for snorkeling, sun bathing and exploring. If we get a bit of swell, no problems, we drive 10 minutes down to the kite lagoon for glassy, flat water with different scenery.
One of our favorite trips is the west coast river trip. We make our way through extremely dense vegetation. Otters, wild ducks, huge fish, and an ancient water mill are a few visual treats along the way. We also do a sunset snorkel trip at this huge cave on the south coast.
SUP mag: What type of customers do you have?
Wolff: Our clients are mostly beginners that have never been on a board before. We're slowly starting to see people book only SUP holidays and it's awesome to be able to give someone a complete SUP experience.
SUP mag: Tell us about the services or classes do you offer.
Wolff: We offer one-on-one and group classes, and a solid lesson covering everything from safety to turning. Prior to any of our tours I'll make sure the guys at least get a lesson. The surf lessons are a lot more advanced and I'll never take anyone who hasn't had at least a day of paddling flat water—there’s a lot of things to take into account, and we take safety seriously.
SUP mag: What other events are you involved with?
Wolff: This September we're arranging a BOP-style race and long distance event. As far as I know, we don’t have anything like this in Portugal, so we're hoping it’ll be popular. The long distance race participants might encounter our famous Nortada (northerly wind) on the return journey, so it could be quite spicy.
Myself and a couple of surf schools have set up a not-for-profit surf club for local kids, called Algarve Nippers, and we'd love to tie a SUP club in with this. As well as taking local kids surfing for a nominal fee, Algarve Nippers also take disadvantaged kids surfing for free.
SUP mag: Tell us about the shop’s plans for this year.
Wolff: Tania Nesbitt from the ASI has helped us with a lot of surf school-related issues, and through the ASI, we'll run two SUP instructor courses a year at our lodge.
Our association, Algarve Surf Maritime Activity Association (ASMAA), has come a long way in creating a fair surf license for surf schools in the Algarve. We've been working closely with the Maritime police, who issue the licenses, and are pretty close on getting a proper license for SUP schools.
Tom Longhurst and myself are looking at paddling the length of the Algarve for charity, and to make people aware of the proposed oilrigs going up along the coast. The real bad news is that they're looking at fracking. With the Algarve being a sustainable energy provider's dream come true, we do not want our country and coastline ruined.