From The Mag | Premium Portugal
How to paddle while you travel
There are few things in life more fulfilling than travel. Seeing the world. Learning to understand different cultures in all their beauty and mystique. And if traveling in itself is a joy, then SUP travel is that much more special, where we not only get to experience the beautiful people, but the landscape and the waters of the places they live as well.
Last fall, I was invited to paddle in Portugal by Adrienne Ruderman and Dan Ketner, who partner with SUPXscape—a SUP Tour group based in Peniche, Portugal owned and operated by Jason and Sally Pereira. Adrienne and Dan are working to bring more Americans over to this surf and paddling hub, an outdoor mecca really, with some of the best waves in Europe—including the famous Supertubos—incredible downwind paddling, mountain biking, kayaking and even whitewater. And Peniche is an underdeveloped beach town with old world charm—something very difficult to find in today’s mess of high-rise condos and timeshares.
SUPXscape hosted a weeklong paddling clinic with a group of paddlers from Utah and Hood River, Oregon, all of whom were connected by their outdoor pursuits. I was invited to watch and observe the clinic and have fun paddling with the attendees. The group was a total riot and I didn’t just learn about Portugal, but about people, and how fun they can be when they’re sharing moments out of their element. We all bonded with one another, as paddlers and as people in pursuit of new experiences.
Every standup devotee should travel, whether near or far. If you’re ready to make the leap or just considering it, let me share a few do’s and don’ts of paddling travel.
Do: Leap before you look
Often, when you’re thrown into random social situations where you know absolutely no one, you’ll be surprised how much you grow and how inclined you are to actually listen to your fellow man. When Adrienne and Dan picked me up at the airport I was about 10 sleepless hours into a horrendous travel itinerary.
This duo, who’ve been married for 20 years, have a pretty cool life: together they run Alta Chalets, a small hotel near Alta Ski Resort outside Salt Lake City, Utah. They ski all winter and in the spring, head to Hood River, Oregon, where they’re part of a group of good friends that have built their lives around windsurfing (the Gorge also boasts the most consistent downwind paddling in the Pacific Northwest).
We zoomed off down the wide-open freeway towards Peniche and I couldn’t help but notice how empty the hills were. There was no development. No mass apartment complexes, just open spaces and beautiful pine nut and cork trees lining the hillsides. We talked about paddling (Dan loves to surf the Oregon coast), surfing and skiing.
Arriving in Peniche, the beaches seemed mellow. Europeans gathered in the coffee shops as the afternoon wind ruffled the surface of the sea. We all bunked up with Jason and Sally in the hills above Peniche in a quiet, European village with stone streets and old world homes, many over a century old. Grandfathers in tweed caps and sweaters watched after grandchildren on bikes with training wheels as we drove up to their place.
Do: Get the Proper Gear
If nothing else Portugal’s Atlantic Ocean is windy and cold and you’re sure to feel the pure, brunt force of one of Earth’s most powerful bodies of water at some point paddling this part of the ocean. Nazare, the latest gigantic prize in big wave surfing is just 45 minutes north and regularly breaks at 60-feet with winter storms.
It was September for us, and the season was changing. The air was crisp with big, blue sunny days—a fall treat regardless of where you are on the planet. Our first paddling session with the group was on a small saltwater inlet, a two or three-mile inland pond and a simple place to learn. Jason and Sally, the super-friendly English couple who own and operate SUPxscape (and my hosts) hustled around, getting everyone organized, pulling gear out of the van and boards off the trailer. They went over the forward stroke in an inviting, easy-going London style that they sustained throughout the trip, no matter the situation, an admirable trait for any teacher. They were joined by their students, Larry and Sue Luther, their daughter Rachel, along with their friend, Kristi Vaughn. Adrienne was there too. They’re all are connected to Hood River and windsurfing, so everyone who attended the camp understood the water and how the elements worked with it.
But other than Rachel and the teachers, they hadn’t paddled much. Casual bedlam ensued as everyone played with their stroke and tried pivot turns in the small inlet. The waterway went from flatwater in the morning to beginner downwind conditions in the afternoon when the wind came up. That wind had a serious nip to it. I brought a rash guard, lightweight hoody, three pairs of board shorts and a 4/3 wetsuit. I used the lighter stuff when I was downwinding or paddling on flatwater, usually keeping long sleeves on. I’m cold blooded and the water was chilly too. The 4/3 offered the most versatility, even though it was a little thick: when I prone surfed I didn’t get cold and I just got a little sweatier when SUP surfing.
Even though I didn’t quite have the right kit, I still stayed warm, which is of the utmost importance. And the cool thing about the SUP world today is that almost every center of ocean play in the world from Pavones to Peniche has a rental outlet for boards, meaning you don’t have to travel with yours. No, they might not be exactly what you’re looking for but you can easily pick up a longboard or a racier downwind shape almost anywhere (I personally like to travel with my own paddle). That gives you the option to travel light and fast but still be prepared for any escapades you may stumble across.
Don’t: Be Afraid to use Tour Guides
Some people are afraid to use tour groups or guides, simply because they don’t want to look like, well, tourists. If you’re out for adventure travel, and SUP specifically, it’s indispensable to have somebody on the inside if you want to find the best spots for downwind paddling, surfing, flatwater, and info on the tides and winds that affect them.
If you do have the money, it’s definitely easier to pay to have things lined up, the places you’re going to paddle outlined and the eats all squared away. It’ll be easier to score good conditions and have a more relaxing trip.
One morning, our van of paddle travelers pulled up to a small cove, nestled between buildings on the outskirts of Peniche, one of the many locales Sally and Jason had dialed. We all piled out and grabbed our weapons—inflatable SUPs that were actually stiff thanks to a removable metal rod running up the rails—and pushed off into the Atlantic. The city rolled out to the south of us, with beautiful older developments stretching along the coastline. In town, the castle walls of the Fort of Peniche are built relative to the cliffs, essentially extending the walls down to the water. Those cliffs are some 30-40 feet high, so strategically, the fort, built in the 17th century, was a strong defense against sea-faring enemies. We paddled into large canyons set back in the sandstone where beautiful buildings lined almost every wall. This part of town grew out and surrounded the military stronghold, which is now central Portugal’s tourism mini-machine. Steep staircases led up to town from small spits of sand. Unfortunately, fisherman along the cliffs had dropped garbage into the sea here and it was floating everywhere. We all did a bit of picking up, collecting lumps of bottles and trash on our boards.
We paddled back to the put in and headed to lunch at a small café overlooking the ocean where we ordered sandwiches and salads. “I think I’ll have a beer. Will you have a beer with me Kristi,” Sue Luther asked her blonde, curly-haired friend. “I think we’ve earned it.”
Do: Bring Your Kids
Young Rachel Luther is a fluid athlete. At 15, she has a nice paddling stroke and is quiet but not shy. She paddles with Hood River’s Big Winds team and is taller, fit, knows how to windsurf and paddle and is pretty resilient: her family would drag her from Snowbird, in Utah’s Little Cottonwood, Canyon, down the Baja Coast each spring as a kid to escape the winter (Sue and Larry are a story unto themselves, having been guides on Mt. Rainier too). Rachel can speak rough Spanish. And she can probably paddle better than all of us. That’s because her parents are nomads and love to play. And Rachel certainly seemed better for it.
The Luther’s aren’t wealthy. They just spend their money well. Sue—who’s a ski patroller and guide while Larry does construction—told me they pay cash for pretty much everything. Larry is building their new home in Hood River on the Washington side of the Columbia, near White Salmon.
Having kids myself, there’s obviously certain situations you don’t want to put them in that you may have experienced in your youth while traveling—like riding for hours on the roofs of public buses in Asia—but there are plenty of options. With airline tickets, you set a goal of where you’d like to travel and when, then scour your favorite travel sites daily like CheapTickets.com or Orbitz for deals. You may have to buy at weird times but you can make it happen. And there really are affordable places for families to stay, like renting a house through one of the Airbnb-type services, or working with your SUP tour people—like SUPXscape—to find good deals on house or apartment sublets. Your little people will surely be better adults if they travel when they’re young.
Don’t: Forget Your Surroundings
Ocean, rivers and water in general can be wild, able to humble us in an instant. A place like Portugal has a well-entrenched surf culture, with surf schools and established surf breaks. As with any locale, I try my best not to charge out into a known lineup with my SUP at a place like Supertubos, a burly, barreling beach break not unlike Blacks Beach or Puerto Escondido. Of course it’s a personal choice—if you’re capable of waiting your turn and controlling your board, then it’s up to you. Otherwise, there are so many places to surf, the little nooks and crannies that SUP allows us easy access to, why not explore?
One day, Dan and I snuck off down a long open bay where swell was filling in at several different angles, providing plenty of waves for all takers. We paddled a half mile down the beach to a relatively empty break and picked off clean, shoulder-high waves for a couple of hours before paddling back.
Similarly, the group was thankful to have Jason and Sally’s knowledge when we paddled up the coast from Peniche to the Lighthouse of Cape Carvoeiro. The seas were rough and the boat traffic was not insignificant and suddenly the wind picked up—plus we’d reached a point where the coast guard no longer allowed non-motorized vessels. Jason, who knew this, turned everyone around and we started home.
That local knowledge is key. Jason and Sally established their business in Portugal in 2010 and have everything mapped out, from different waterways and rivers we could access to protected coves along the coast where the group could easily get in and out with shelter from the elements. If you can’t afford to hire a guide, Google maps, web searches, Facebook and forums are great ways to do your own research. Knowledge is power when you’re traveling.
Do: Make New Friends (and Try New Food)
On our final evening in Portugal, a Friday, Jason and Sally drove us up into the hills of a nearby town to a small café along a side street. It was dark as we slipped in the front door. Handmade purses, hats and other trinkets adorned the entryway. We walked back through an endless maze of tables where families were already enjoying the end of the workweek.
We sat down and Jason ordered us all wine—which runs like water in Portugal—and the appetizers started coming in strong, with different meat dishes prepared in savory sauces that my palate had never met. Portugal is definitely a culinary delight—especially if you like meat—with uniquely cooked delicacies like carne de porco à Alentajana, a pork dish where the meat is marinated in wine and served with clams, or cozido à Portuguesa, a sort of hotpot with rice, veggies and an assortment of meats.
As the evening wore on we all enjoyed each other’s company: Rachel talked about her applications to Ivy League schools (her grades are ridiculously good) while Dan spoke of the upcoming winter and Larry told me about the house he’s building. Before I knew it, someone had notified the waitress it was my birthday–Sue was celebrating hers as well—and suddenly the whole restaurant was singing to us in celebration (Adrienne must have done it). Although it’s not unusual to be sung to at your local eatery anywhere in the world, something about the raised glasses, the accents, the dim light and the new friends made it special.
Which leads me to the final Do on the list. Do go to Portugal. I know I’ll do it again.
For a list of upcoming trips to Portugal, go to Allezadventures.com or SUPxscape.com