For part two of our Tarifa series we caught up with Max 'BR' Brinnich (founder of BR Fins) who recently made the epic 40 hour road trip from Austria to Tarifa for 3 weeks in February.
Tracing the Steps of a World Champion
Having spent the last two winters in Tarifa I really fell in love with this small town on the most south-eastern point of Europe. This February I really didn’t want to do the same as previous years, but in the end I was sitting in a 20 year old Renault Traffic driving down to Spain again.
It all started around Christmas when I was still not so excited about going back to Spain this year, but then UK Freestyler Adam Sims and also my boss from Upsidedown convinced me to go again. Adam had managed to get hold of the Steven Van Broeckhoven 'secret list'. For those that don't know Steven spent a number of winters in Tarifa, training hard but well outside of the spotlight, he then exploded into the scene in 2008/9 and not long after he was World Champion. We'd heard rumours that Steven had produced a spot guide for all the best places to go with exact wind directions, strengths and tide states. We later found out that Phil Soltysiak had added to this list on his travels there and by this point we knew we had to get our hands on it. A few conversations later and we found it in our hands and felt ready to hit the road following the footsteps and advice of a World Champion. With this in hand I decided that road-tripping with another mate could be quite interesting for checking out other spots and bringing some SUP gear. Just a few days later we were hitting the road with the old USD van, completely full of windsurf equipment.
After driving just 80km/h in the beginning we found out pretty fast that this is really too slow for 3100 km, so I stepped the game up to 95. Driving through Italy and France is just crazy, they just rob you: for example Diesel was €1.89, a one way toll through the tunnel of Mont Blanc is €55 and every few km there is an 'Alt Stazioni' - Toll Station €7. Beside this the wind was already howling like hell and it was quite difficult to not get blown away from the motorway. Anyways after 23h of driving we arrived in Leucate, our first stop. Sleeping. Eat. Sail. The flatwater freestyle condtions were one of toughest I've ever sailed, 60 knots+. We carried my 4.0 and my 90l board together to the water, because alone there was no chance. After 1.5h and a lot of crashes I just gave up and wanted to go back to sleep. In the meantime the van just decided not to start anymore and we had quite a lot of trouble to get help (especially because of our really bad French). In the end we got the van started with a second car and hit the road again. Next Stop Tarifa.
After paying for a whole new motorway on the day before we decided to try to go toll free. This worked fine until Barcelona. Here it really is better to stay on the motorway, then you pass the city without crossing any traffic lights... We just changed driver every few hours, meanwhile the other guy was sleeping. This worked out really well until the moment, I can really remember it, when the CD-Radio stopped working at four in the morning. Not cool!
So after 20 hours more driving we arrived in Tarifa. A quick poniente session at Arte Vida, then we checked the forecast: NO WIND. What does the list say? 'If there is no wind, go to Portugal, Sagres, 7 hours drive. If there is north wind and no wind in Tarifa then go there, it’s really nice. Only it is a bit gusty but ok for freestyle, it’s like a channel, but not so good for kiting, too gusty. Portugal you need 11 pages of spots, and lots of driving'. So we decided to sleep a few hours and then hit the road again to Portugal. Said. Done.
Portugal is a really strange country. They also have tolls for their motorways, but it’s a bit special. You have to buy a prepaid card and register your number plate to your prepaid card. Everytime you pass a 'toll-station' they book €1.5-3 from your prepaid account. To be honest the system doesn't really work and it's all a bit messed up so we ended up just risking it with our Spanish rental car.
Arriving in Portugal we stayed in Sagres. A really cool town, with a sick freestyle spot: Marthinal, cross-off shore wind, a sandy beach and the best thing of all, just us on the water. After scoring a few days on 4.2 with perfect flatwater and an amazing sundowner session we went back to Tarifa completely stoked and happy we had made the right call.
Back at base and fairly strong Poniente had arrived. This is wind from the west, and most of the time it's a bit colder. The list told us to head a little further North again so the first day we sailed in Sancti Petri, a spot next to Cadiz, which provides flat conditions with some good chop for big shakas in the middle section, but you really have to be carefully with the current, it can be really strong there. On the following days we sailed a lot back in Tarifa at Campo de Fotbal, which provided good power-freestyle conditions with small head-high waves and nice power for 4.8. This spot worked pretty good when the wind was a bit to north, it made it a bit more side-shore and there was often the most wind there. On another Poniente day we sailed first in hardcore onshore conditions with mast high waves at Arte Vida (which is next to Hotel Dos Mares) and afterwards the list told us to head to the Lagoon at high tide, we had an amazing session fully powered up and in waist deep water. What's more is that it was too windy for most of the kiters so we really scored it. Later that same day, Tonky Frans rocked up and put on a show for us including stomping one of the best no-handed burners I have ever seen, this guy is ripping and I'm sure he could be World Champion.
After having a few sick Poniente days, the wind normaly shifts 180 degrees to the East (Levante). On the first day there is normally no wind. Actually this break is quite nice and offered us the chance to do a bit of paddle surfing and later in the evening we had a super nice SUP session on glassy waves. With Levante it’s always a bit hard to find the right spot. On the first day it’s strongest at Playa Chica, a spot next to the harbour. Steven's list told us that we should head North again when the wind was this strong - 'Rota, but it’s north of Rota, ask locals where it is – this spot is only good when Levante is too strong everywhere, like 60 knots in Tarifa, even if it’s too windy in Cadiz this place is possible to sail. Otherwise hide'. We decided that maybe it was only 50 knots and not 60, so we stayed and tried out Balneario, just over the peninsula from the choppy Playa Chica this spot offers glassy flat water but quite gusty winds and short runs. When the wind is light Levante it can be great for surfing. Despite the short runs and gusty winds this is one of my favourite spots, it’s a bit like Fuerte Center Two, but the waves have more power and if you get it right you can just boost ridiculous ponches.
Other Spots for Freestyle with Levante are Campo di Footbal. Just sail in the direction to Rio Jara (outside of the lagoon). It can be flat, but it’s gusty and you need maybe a metre more sail area than at Balneario, this isn't so much a problem if you are fighting to hold on to 3.6 and then have to go up to 4.6... A place that is really sick is Bolonia. It’s about 20 km away from Tarifa but totally worth driving. You have a nice bay with a sandy beach and grass for rigging. There are some easy going waves with side-shore wind from left.
On top of this we also tried really hard to sail on a couple of lakes inland, it failed every time until our last day, so our best advice is don't go there in Poinente winds. The best lake works with Levante and is next to Algeciras, you get good power-freestyle conditions with small but really steep ramps and the wind is even stronger Levante than in Tarifa. It’s a 40 minute drive and on our first drive there we had a funny adventure. We got stopped by Spanish drug police in the middle of nowhere, for sure they thought we are completely crazy driving with our f***ed up van through the hardest 4x4 tracks, but in the end they were quite nice and let us pass although we had no passport with us (so remember always take a passport!). Actually later on we were talking about it a bit and we were pretty convinced that the super old Vauxhall Astra they were driving was not really a police car type of vehicle, so perhaps be aware if you end up taking any of the 'main roads' in Tarifa that turn out to be dust tracks...
Lastly, if the wind is really too strong in Tarifa and you don't want to travel far then you can try to sail in Palmones, which is on next to Algecrias. It should be less wind, but there are always a lot of kitesurfers there. This spot has also the name “Salmones", which comes from salmonella, because the water is not too clean, but it’s no problem at all, we all survived.
As far as Tarifa goes it really is a great spot, we had such a nice time there and the temperatures are not too bad, like sailing around Autumn time in Northern Europe, it can reach about 20 degrees air temperature and the sea doesn't drop below 12 degrees. Other bonuses about using it as a winter destination is that it is really out of season for them so you can get some mega deals on accomodation and don't be afraid to haggle with them a bit, most of the places are empty so they are just happy to fill them. Also the car hire was insane, Adam Sims and Hanna Poschinger hired a car from Malaga airport for 19 days, a Mercedes version of the Citroen Berlingo for €120! We managed to get four of us and kit in the car for our trip to Portugal so it worked out really good. Alongside the windsurfing there are huge number of activities to do and it reminded us all of Cape Town but in miniature. I guess we will just have to wait and see if it finds its way back on to the map again, but with flights costs increasing and the traditionally winter destinations becoming more expensive we think it is perhaps a safe bet to head there, although I would always go for a minimum of 3 weeks to really make the most of the place and get some good wind.
Editors note: If you missed it here is the video from BR of his trip to Tarifa