When I initially signed up with Worldpackers, my main objective was to travel on a budget and do work exchanges in Portugal and Brazil in order to improve my Portuguese. At the time, I didn't know that Worldpackers would end up helping me learn how to surf, too!
Learning how to surf can be an expensive process because lessons and rentals don't come cheap, and buying a wetsuit and board is a big commitment as a beginner. What better way to practice surfing and have an incredible ocean experience than to volunteer at a surf camp and exchange work for surf lessons and equipment?
Portugal, along with being an amazing place in terms of culture, gastronomy and geography, is one of the best places in the world to surf. The country's long coastline offers a variety of surf spots to suit all levels and some locations provide great, consistent waves all year round.
There's Espinho in the far-north and Sagres in the far-south, and in-between you have the renowned spots of Peniche, Ericeira (also the world's first designated surf reserve), Carcavelos, Costa da Caparica and Arrifana. And that's just the mainland... you can also surf in the Azores and on the island of Madeira. There are so many amazing places to choose from!
Portugal also happens to be blessed with a lot of sunshine so you can work on your tan while learning how to surf (do wear sunscreen though; the sun is powerful!) That's not to say that you need good weather to surf though... whatever the weather you'll find people grabbing their boards and getting into the ocean.
The best time to learn how to surf is April — October as the waves tend to be smaller and more beginner-friendly. Autumn and winter bring big swells, much to the delight of more experienced surfers. This is the time when the Big Wave World Tour comes to Nazaré and you can witness great feats of human accomplishment as big waves surfers take on Praia do Norte's giant waves.
The Portuguese have always had a very close connection with the ocean historically, culturally and economically, and surfing is taken very seriously here. Surf schools and camps can be found up and down the country but one of the best has got to be Gota D’Água in Costa da Caparica, close to Lisbon.
My Worldpackers Portugal surf camp experience
Gota D’Água is where I'm currently doing a work exchange and having an absolute blast! The surf camp was set up by a group of friends united by a passion for surfing and motivation to share this passion with others. Together, they have created not only a thriving business but also a close-knit community of surfers, travelers, volunteers, friends and tourists.
I can't imagine a better place, or way, to stay and learn how to surf.
The first thing that attracted me to Gota D’Água as I was browsing on the Worldpackers website was the attention-grabbing photos on their profile. Then, after I had read the rave reviews about how volunteers left the place feeling like part of a family, I knew I had to apply.
I've now been here for just over two weeks and I am definitely feeling at home; the guys that run the place and give surf lessons are lovely and I'm having a great time with my fellow volunteers. What's more, I really enjoy the work, which includes booking lessons and renting out equipment at the surf shop and helping out at meal times.
Another factor that influenced my decision to apply here was the opportunity to volunteer in exchange for surf lessons and free use of wetsuits and boards... perhaps I would finally manage to stay on a surfboard for longer than a couple of seconds by the end of my stay!
So far I'm still managing to turn my surf dreams into reality, but I will keep going. Whenever I am not working and the conditions are good, I get into those cool Atlantic waters, try to hone my skills, and take my ocean experience to the next level.
Meanwhile, my aim to improve my Portuguese has been very successful. Thanks to Worldpackers, I have been able to spend eight months in Portugal and Brazil, all the while getting better and better at Portuguese. Languages just come more naturally to me than surfing, I guess! Even if I were to leave Gota d’Água not having made much progress on the waves, it wouldn't matter too much. I will have had a lot of fun — in and out of the ocean — and met a lot of incredible people.
I can't recommend Gota d’Água highly enough if you want to do a work exchange at a surf camp in Portugal!
If my words aren’t enough to convince you, take a look at Gota d’Água’s Instagram and check out the amazing (and often hilarious) videos on their Youtube channel.