Madeira is the closest thing to Jurassic park in Europe. There are huge cliffs, lush sub tropical vegetation and an LA glow to the islands infrastructure. We ditched the van in Lisbon for a week and stayed in a cushy apartment overlooking an epic point break.
Despite its awesomeness there is a sad story behind Jardim do Mar, our balcony point break. At best it can only be surfed for one hour at low tide. This is because in 2013 the governor of Madeira decided to build a promenade there which, degraded the wave and made it unsafe in most conditions. Sadly many other renowned spots had similar fates, in one instance a €50+ million marina was built which, no boat touches as its dangerously exposed. The story continues as sea wall extensions have been proposed at the remaining point breaks like Paul Do Mar.
The construction addicts at the top did not deter the great time we had, we'd love to come back for more. The waves were unforgettable, it's like the European version of Hawaii.
The first surf was at Paul Do Mar. Getting out to the surf across the lizard strewn rocks is a challenge. Many sessions result in minor cuts from the volcanic stones or their urchin allies. The point break was looking quite good but empty, the tide was low and the rocks protruding. The myriad of hazards makes surfing these new spots alone a daunting prospect. Along came Bastien, a surf friend made on the premise of 'if you surf it, I will too.' Together they popped their Madeiran cherries, but it was a session of constant paranoia and positional checks, and yet they survived.
After the first surf we explored the island, it's beauty speaks for itself. The Ponta de Sao Lourenco hike was popular due to its breathtaking terrain.
Levada walks are common, the ancient water ways connect the whole island. We journeyed to the top of the island above the clouds on a dour day for a swim in some waterfalls.
Most people turn back after the first waterfall, the path becomes vague and overgrown. We hacked on alone and emerged somewhere beautiful and isolated. Duncan risked the freezing water and surprised some fishes.
In the north, where mornings break in the shadows of mountainous cliffs, the Madeiran surf community stood out. Duncan and Basiten surfed Faja da Areia with a group of chatty locals, by the end they were sharing waves, pictures and post surf coffee. A proliferation of island friendship unheard of in the rest of Portugal.
On a rainy day we toured some caves formed by Volcanic lava. The guided tour and gimmicky photos at the end was lame but we learnt something about shield volcanoes.
We saw lots of sights in our 1.0 litre rental car, but it literally couldn't make it up some of the steep narrow lanes. It's knackered clutch made for some anxious hill starts.
We returned to Paul Do Mar on a cleaner swell and the results speak for themselves. Duncan paddled out as the third person in the line up, but spent a lot of the time with the spot to himself.
Post surf we splashed about in sea pools at the islands northern most tip. We left with cuts and bruises from trying to stand in the breaking waves.
We got stuck attempting to reach Pico do Arieiro, a hike between the two highest peaks on the island. The car said NO so we turned our backs on her and crept up the hill by foot to nearby Monte Palace gardens. It was a pricey tourist trap along with its associated gondolier and not our thing for a few decades at least. We waved at the oldies getting their kicks from a 2K wicker basket descent, then left for Funchal city centre.
There was just enough time before our flight for one more surf. Revisiting Paul Do Mar was a no-brainier. This time the waves were a bit bigger but still the crowds were non existent. Another significant period of this session was surfed solo. It was pretty much as good as it gets.