Words: Tim Hadler
Photos: Laura Dee
The Algarve has been a haven for tourists since the sixties, offering varied water sports opportunities along the way – surfing, kayaking and diving have long had their numerous providers in Portugal’s most popular tourist region.
The new kid on the block is of course stand up paddle boarding and, over the past few years, companies providing lessons, tours and board hire have started appearing to cater for the growing number of tourists looking for sun, sea and SUP.
The Algarve region
offers paddle boarders many different spots and conditions to choose from – the flat, crystal clear waters of the south coast with its breath taking coastline of caves, stacks and tunnels carved into the cliffs, through to wave spots for all abilities on the south west coast.
There are dams, rivers and, not far from the airport in Faro, the Ria Formosa – a 60km long wetland made up of canals, islands, marshland and sandy beaches all perfect for stand up paddle boarding.
So with a week in Portugal booked I convinced my better half to let me have a few days paddling in between looking at some of the historic villages, chapels and pretty castle towns the Algarve also has to offer.
My first SUP stop was the ancient maritime town of Lagos, the one time centre of the European slave trade and the historical centre of Portugal’s age of discovery. A vibrant town with pretty cobbled alleyways and squares with enough shops, cafés and historical buildings to keep non-supping partners happy.
Hiring kit is easy enough as most of the surf shops in Lagos offer board hire for as little as 20 Euros for half a day. The nearest launching point is Praia da Batata, known locally as ‘town beach’, a sheltered beach divided into smaller coves accessible by holes in the rocks. Fairly easy to find: a short walk down through town towards the marina, look for Forte Ponta Banderia, the old fortress, which over looks the beach. A great place to paddle in crystal clear calm water where I discovered hidden coves, private beaches, caves, tunnels and pillars, all with board side views of the majestic coastal scenery.
However, I was a little concerned that, with not many questions asked, no leash and not much safety advise given apart from “it gets windy past the point,” I was off to the beach for a solo paddle – it seemed safe as there were plenty of kayakers and tourists out on boats touring the caves and grottos in the cliffs, but I would recommend a tour if you are inexperienced, as there are shallow rocks in deep water all along the cliff line.
Walking back through town to return my board I was approached by two American girls with hired SUPs asking if it was safe – “do we just go out?”
Time to check out a guided tour!
One company I discovered who are catering for the growing Algarve SUP tourist market is Algarve SUP.
I met my partner in the company Nick Robinson (ASI instructor and guide) for a paddle in Armação de Pêra. A resident in the Algarve for 15 years he is a friendly, knowledgable guy who has had experience working as a river guide and game ranger in Africa – he immediately struck me as being the type of person you would be safe on the water with.
Keen to impress and with my GoPro hastily tied to my loudest tourist board shorts, I made it out through a couple of small waves with no problems only to find nerves see me in the drink once in open water within the first few minutes!
However, Nick was a very professional guide constantly checking everybody was ok, assessing and warning of the changing conditions which were a little rougher than the previous day’s paddle, meaning access to the cliff caves was limited.
I would definitely recommend a guide if you are new to the area. Getting local knowledge of all potential hazards before supping at any location is essential – but having a guide is a much safer option!
Some time was also spent chasing waves near Sagres and along the south west coast but unfortunately it was too windy for any decent SUP wave action. If you are planning on finding beaches with waves be aware that some of the breaks can become crowded, we went to Amado last summer and there were at least 50 people in the line up!
I read a review recently that said the Algarve is just a big tourist village that’s rough around the edges, this it might be. But if you can look past the usual tourist trap of sprawling hotel complexes, bland holiday villas and strips of bars and shops selling the same tat then the Algarve is a great place.
For paddle boarders of any ability there are some fantastic spots to get on the water to paddle and with the pound strong against the euro at the moment and regular cheap flights from the UK, it’s well worth a visit!