Surf travel and language immersion open gap year possibilities for surfers
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 28 February, 2017 - Among young people worldwide, many choose to embark on a gap year in between studies and work. Often, a gap year is filled with activities such as backpacking, volunteering, or working and studying abroad. A great way to spend a gap year is to combine having fun and learning new skills.
And what is a better way to do this than combining learning a new language and learning how to surf? As great surf towns are scattered throughout the world in countries with various languages, there are many possibilities to do this.
This article will zoom in on three regions where it is possible to combine learning Spanish or French and surf at the same time: the Guanacaste peninsula in Costa Rica, the French Southwest and the neighboring Spanish Basque Country.
Costa Rica – Nicoya peninsula
Costa Rica © Image via Lex van Mourik
The Nicoya peninsula is located in the Northwestern part of Costa Rica surrounded by Pacific coastline. The green and mountainous landscape of the peninsula is surrounded by pristine sandy beaches, gifted with a wide range of world class surf possibilities for beginners and experts alike. The rugged landscape strengthens the authenticity and allure of the different beach towns. While a new highway has been constructed on the island, the beach towns are connected by scenic dirt roads that sometimes run through rivers, giving road trips in this part of the world a truly adventurous and wild experience. Some villages resemble the idea of secluded tropical paradises, whereas others are more built up. No place on the peninsula experiences real mass tourism, though. The best villages to combine learning Spanish in Costa Rica combined with surfing lay on the Nicoya Peninsula and are the Tamarindo & Playa Grande, Santa Teresa & Mal País, Nosara & Playa Guiones areas.
The surf is generally most suitable for beginners in the dry season, lasting from mid-November to April. The sunny period also makes this period the high season of tourism in Costa Rica. The waves get bigger in the wet season, coinciding with the summer of the northern hemisphere. However, all seasons experience exceptions and opportunities for all skill levels could be found year round, especially if you decide to travel around the peninsula. Consult local surf schools about the conditions and dangers of the area.
When choosing between the places mentioned by this article, Tamarindo is the town that is the most built up one, and has the most choice regarding food and nightlife. If the waves in front of the town are too crowded, one can simply go to Playa Grande (better not to do this alone because there are no coast guards in that area) for all the space you need. Moreover, Tamarindo functions as a hub for beaches such as Playa Avellana, Witches’ Rock and Ollies Point (the latter two are for more experienced surfers only). The Nosara & Playa Guiones area is also a built up town, which is more stretched out, so getting around on foot is more difficult than in for example Playa Tamarindo. Nosara & Playa Guiones area will serve you well especially if you are a yoga lover. The towns of Santa Teresa & Mal País have a mellower vibe, are cheaper and less touristy. For beginning surfers, there are some good options in this area, as there is a sandy beach break just north of Santa Teresa. Tamarindo, Nosara and Santa Teresa all have Spanish language schools with Tamarindo having the highest number of schools and students.
France – Biarritz area
Biarritz © Image via Lex van Mourik
Most people think about the Mediterranean with all its glamour when thinking about the French plages (beaches). However, surfing is big in France and that doesn’t take place in the Med. The Bay of Biscay is where it is all about. Many cities and villages in the Le Landes and Basque Country (a small part of the Basque Country lies in France) regions become bustling surf towns when the weather gets better and the sea temperatures rise, which takes place around late spring. The two major towns in the area are Biarritz and Hossegor. Biarritz is situated in the French Basque country, which occupies a small part of the Basque Country as a whole, while Hossegor is located 20km to the North, in the Le Landes region. Hossegor holds the Quicksilver Pro France contest every summer and the town developed an economy centered on surfing, thanks to the presence of several world class beach breaks.
Travel 20km down South (take the backcountry route taking you through the pine woods that are typical for the area) and you will arrive in Biarritz, the city where a friend of the American film director Peter Viertel reportedly practiced surfing in European waters for the first time. Six decades later, Biarritz became one of the most popular European surfing spots. During the European summer the place is especially popular by French, German and Dutch tourists, many of them surfers or aspiring surfers. This is the time of the year that Biarritz is most lively. The downside of this time of the year is that the crowds in the waters become too big. For good weather and smaller crowds, consider going in late spring or early fall (June or September).
Biarritz is the city with French language schools, and is the place to be if you decide to combine surfing with learning French. Together with Hossegor, these cities are the main hubs around which surfing and nightlife are centered. If you decide to explore the region, north of Hossegor you will find the Le Landes surf towns where many surf camps are located, such as Moliets-et-Maa, Mimizan, Vieux-Boucau and Biscarosse. Moreover, in the end of July the famous Fêtes de Bayonne take place in Bayonne, and many surf tournaments take place all summer long which bring together a lot of people. Another great option is to cross the Spanish border and explore the Spanish Northern Coast, that will be discussed in the next section.
The waves are smaller in summer as well, which facilitates learning to surf, but keep in mind that the Bay of Biscay can get very rough in summer as well, with strong rip tides and undercurrents. Especially around Hossegor the waves can become very big, keep yourself informed with the local surf schools and guides about where it is most suitable to surf as a beginner.
Spain – San Sebastian & Zarautz
San Sebastian © Image via Lex van Mourik
Just 50km away from Biarritz, across the Spanish border, you will find the city of San Sebastian. The cityscape does remind one to Rio de Janeiro, with the urban beaches surrounded by hills, complete with a statue of Christ. With around 200.000 inhabitants, it is the 4th city of the Basque Country, an autonomous region within Spain with a distinct language and culture. I can hear you ask, why would I learn Spanish in a city where people speak another language? The answer is simple: while Euskadi (Basque) is the main language there, people master Spanish as well, and with a clean accent. This should not be a concern, more so in Catalan regions where differences between Spanish and the local language are much harder to grasp, causing confusion between the languages.
San Sebastian is world famous for its cuisine, reportedly being the city with the highest amount of Michelin star accredited restaurants per square meter of Europe, and only beaten by Kyoto in the world. Of course, I can understand that you don’t necessarily eat in a Michelin star restaurant during your stay but, catering to lower budgets, there are many restaurants serving typical Basque ‘pintxos’ and other meals for reasonable prices. Nightlife is always happening in San Sebastian, with the summer revolving around tourists (and locals) and the rest of the year revolving around students due to several universities being located in San Sebastian. In summer you will find many Spanish language students in San Sebastian living it up, though. Closely situated to San Sebastian, you will find the beach town of Zarautz. This place is much smaller than San Sebastian, but still is a vibrant town. You will find many Spanish, Dutch and German youth there. If you decide to stay in San Sebastian, take some time to explore Zarautz as well. The climate is more or less the same as in the Biarritz/Hossegor region, but due to the presence of the foothills of the Pyrenees the weather can differ a lot at any given time between the Biarritz/Hossegor region and San Sebastian.
The main surf beaches of San Sebastian (Playa de La Zurriola) and Zarautz are directly in front of the cities, with many other surf breaks located within a short car drive. The shoreline makes a turn around the French-Spanish border, which causes the Spanish beaches in this region to be northwards facing and the French beaches westwards. As a result of this, The beaches of San Sebastian and nearby Zarautz provide a bit more shelter if the waves become very big, and the ocean is a bit more forgiving compared with the less sheltered French beaches. But as always, consult local surf expertise about the conditions.
For more information about possibilities to surf and learn a language at the same time in various exciting locations around the world, visit Surfawhile