Drifting along

A trip to the waves, to the sun, good living, cod, churches, faith and Lusitanian colours. Bruno and Layla journeyed far from the mountains until there was nothing but sea before them.

 

For lots of surfers, Portugal remains a first-class destination and it’s a country where a great many navigators and intrepid explorers hail from. Bucolic landscapes abruptly end in wild beaches off the muddy tracks that intertwine through cauliflower and leek fields prospering under the indifferent eye of egrets. Welcome to the land of fado and cod for a drifter’s autumnal trip to the heart of nature.

Layla Jean Kerley

The ideal thing would be to have a camper van but ideal is a bit like the horizon, something that tends to reveal itself along the way…At the end of September we debated between buying a plane ticket for South America or loading up my old Panda with a whole load of crap and going surfing in southern Europe, passing through the Basque Country and Galicia.

A Ferrino tent, two duvets and an old gas cooker, a 6’8 on the roof bars and a stop at the Spanish border to get back into the warm water and to seek Frankie’s advice, an old friend running a surf school in Hendaye. He recommended we head straight for Peniche, the epicentre of Portuguese surfing.

The night before we left we had a huge blow out in Guétary, a beautiful fishing village I had avoided for some years because of a certain kind of gentrification. It was a nice surprise to bump into Manu who used to run the Cantina in Chamonix, he has spent years catching waves in Parlementia and working in an eclectic restaurant. Then we really started to knock them back with the girls, I hardly remember meeting Yorgo, our art director…Layla was sick on the way back but she was the one who was going to drive. I barely took the time to take my clothes off.

Castles in Spain

Just after crossing the border, we stopped at a service station and bought a bottle of cider to tackle the brutal hangover that had hitched a ride with us since the morning.

Layla Jean Kerley

The miles ticked by to a rhythm that only the Spanish radio considers music. In the distance, the sun was dipping down onto the vast plains that extend out from the gentle hills of Basque Country. In this arid landscape, on either side of the autovia, there’s hardly anything of interest apart from service stations and cockeyed hotels with loud neon signs and clubs stuck onto them (these are houses of ill repute).

China

I was having a go at Layla who was putting up resistance in front of some magnificent little peaks running right to left for the simple reason that an armada of surfers were engaged and on the attack. We had arrived at around 2 in the morning and had gone to sleep an hour later. In other words, the lack of sleep had put me in a bad mood and that did nothing to motivate my other half to jump into water that looked like it should be in an animal documentary about penguins.

On the way back to the car to get into my wetsuit and wax my board, I suggested she get a plane ticket to go back to Chamonix because there being lots of people in the surf had become a sad reality. This is something you have to accept if you want to ride them. I should add that behind my cool airs and mountain man beard there’s sometimes a real dickhead hiding.

Layla Jean Kerley

We finally got into the water together and we even managed to catch a few waves, avoiding boards, beginners and guys on SUPs under the racket of surf coaches shouting encouragement and advice to their students in Portuguese-sounding English.

At the end of the morning, we returned to the car, happy and confident for the future. The waves had washed away my anger and put a smile back on Layla’s face. I told her that just like in skiing, we’ll have to adapt and that it’s just part of it, that tomorrow instead of arriving at peak time, we’d get up at dawn, also that we can go and explore the coast to look for quieter beaches. Famished, we headed to town to sample some cod and boiled potatoes bathing in a good 2 centimetres of olive oil.

A tough learning curve

In the sixties, surfing came out of the shadows and emerged as a popular sport for the masses. It quickly became unbearable because everyone wanted a slice of the pie. Waves became well known and regularly surfed by more and more people and I can understand how the locals felt. There’s nothing you can do apart from adapt and stay positive. Otherwise you might as well throw in the towel.

I’ve been trying to catch waves for over twenty years now with an unwavering passion and drive. From the very start I took on board the fact that sometimes I’d get out of the water frustrated and disheartened…Because of a wave, the current, the people or the attitude of a good surfer with a pea-sized brain between his ears…I accepted it because sometimes I could catch a wave on my 6’6 and surf it like a louse on an onion bringing me immense pleasure. I remember that satisfied feeling when I get out of the water and I’m able to revisit it for years afterwards. I absolutely love the tough, pure side of learning, when buying an expensive board is not going to make you surf better and where ultimately it’s only your commitment to practising that’s going to help you get better.

During this trip, I’d watched Layla improve in the water. At the start I thought she was doing it to be with me, in the name of love and I didn’t think she would manage. Then I watched her fight in the line-up, paddle and then move away to get into a quieter spot. After a bad night in the tent, at the break of day she’d don her wet, stinky wetsuit and get back into the water on a crisp autumn morning.

Layla Jean Kerley

I’d seen her getting smashed and although I was a bit worried, I was too absorbed in my selfish pursuit of pleasure to stay with her. The memory of her face covered in blood on a remote beach in the Canaries before heading to A&E in Lanzarote the day before getting the plane back remains a strong one…And then, early one morning after a nice wave that I surfed from the peak to the beach, I turned around to catch her eye to see if she saw me. I heard her right next to me shouting:
“I’m right here!”
-She had caught the same wave and followed me in…that’s when I knew that we were away.
Two months of traveling and sleeping in a tent, reading, drinking coffee in the mornings and wine at night. Our skin was tanned and our muscles toned…

Layla Jean Kerley

-A few days before hitting the road back home we finally found our dream beach where we shared an amazing session, just the two of us.
-Since our final runs at the Aiguille, I’ve felt the call of the ocean, the call of the road.

Translation : Paul MCKeen

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