Canary Islands: Wave hello to a warm winter of surfing in Fuerteventura

Is this really Europe's answer to Hawaii? Emily Dugan packs her lightest wetsuit in an attempt to find out

The last time I went to the Canary Islands was almost enough to put me off for life. I was one of a group of 17-year-old girls on a dirt-cheap package to Gran Canaria. From what little I remember, it was a girls' version of The Inbetweeners Movie. We stayed in a poky high-rise and struggled to come across anyone who wasn't (a) English, (b) hideously drunk or (c) the colour of a lobster.

So when I asked friends which were the best (and closest) places to go for winter sun and surf, I was surprised to hear the Canaries among the suggestions. I got in touch with Chris Thomson, who runs Errant Surf, a company that specialises in bespoke surfing breaks. According to Thomson – a former professional surfer – the Canaries had fallen out of fashion but are now making a comeback. "Morocco has stolen the limelight a lot over the last seven years, but people are going back to the original winter surf destination," he said. "Especially now there is more for the family to do."

Thomson recommended Fuerteventura. Its north shore has been called Europe's answer to Hawaii. So, within a few weeks I was packing up my lightest wetsuit and heading for the warm seas of this mid-Atlantic outpost with my friend Gen, a fellow surf enthusiast.

As we stepped out into the arrivals hall at El Matorral airport it was easy to guess the Errant Surf representative from his blond hair, baggy hoodie, shorts and flip-flops. This was Richie Moore, our guide for the week. Despite having been born in Watford – about as far from the sea as it's possible to be in the UK – Richie caught the surfing bug and settled here. Driving out of the airport, I could see why: it was close to midwinter, yet the sunshine appeared to be as reliable as the waves.

We'd already had one look at the island's barren volcanic landscape when we flew over. Seen from above, it is like a geology lesson, with pockmarks of volcanoes running in neat lines across it. Outside the towns, the view turns to a starkly beautiful rocky wilderness in minutes, punctuated only by the odd goat or thorny bush. In fact, it looks so much like desert that Sacha Baron Cohen's most recent movie, The Dictator, was filmed here.

Locals call Fuerteventura "The Rock", but unlike the sand on many of the other Canary Islands – whose volcanic rock makes their beaches black – Fuerteventura's is a holiday-brochure pale yellow.

We were staying in Corralejo in the north of the island, a town with seven miles of fine, sandy beaches. Despite a 4am start in the rainy darkness at East Midlands airport, we two land-locked surfers were itching to get in the sea as soon as we touched down. So Richie gave us a couple of hours to dump our stuff, get our bearings and gobble up some lunch, and then he was back at our apartment.

In the two hours since he'd left us, Richie had gathered three surfboards – teetering on top of his car – and a bucket full of wetsuits. His VW van was being repaired, so our transport was an unusual surfmobile: a Vauxhall Corsa. He drove us five minutes south to the sort of beach that you dream of on a grey day in the office: yellow sand, sparkling sea and a royal-blue sky. It's called Playa Morro, which means "wall beach". (Richie helpfully pointed out that, "They call it the wall because, er, there's a big wall.")

The beach was sheltered and the waves nicely unrumpled by the wind that whips across the island. Fuerteventura is known for its strong winds, which can occasionally churn the surf into a state of un-rideability (though it makes kite and windsurfers very happy).

After a rusty start, we were soon riding long, gentle waves into the shore. In fact, it was so pleasant to be in the bath-warm water that it wasn't until Richie shouted for us to come back to the beach that we realised the moon had become brighter than the sun and the first stars were beginning to appear.

The main drag in Corralejo reminded me of the last time I was on the islands: rows of identikit shops selling cheap perfume, inflatable toys and fake Ray-Bans. But the town has also done a good job of saving unspoilt corners for those willing to seek them out. When Corralejo's tourism industry took off in the 1980s, the first sensible move by the then-small fishing town was to keep the late-night bars and clubs cordoned off in one area. If you look carefully, you can still find local restaurants serving excellent Spanish food and fresh fish. The cafés catering for surfers are a good bet, even if you're not into the sport.

Citrus Surf Café offers great smoothies and salads made with the island's distinctive goat's cheese. Singer James Gillespie plays mellow songs on an acoustic guitar here in the evenings. And at the Avenida fish restaurant – where locals queue out of the door – two people can share an enormous platter of fish for just €30.

Next morning, we headed west to Playa Cotillo, where the wave was a high wall of water that detonated on to the beach with a deafening boom. We stepped in gingerly, not sure whether to be more wary of the enormous wave or the human obstacle course provided by the hordes of German nudists on the beach. The conditions were therefore ... challenging, but we still enjoyed flying across the surf.

Out of the water, we moved inland for lunch in the village of Lajares. This is the heart of the island's surfing community, within easy reach of the north-shore waves and also a central launch point for the east and west coast. We stopped at the excellent Canela Café, which supplies fresh wraps and burgers, as well as healthy juices, all for about €3 each.

On our penultimate day, Richie took us to the alarmingly named Shark Bay, where the waves are in fact less scary than Acid Drop or the Bubble, the north-shore breaks that made this part of the island famous with surfers. Though they're more predictable, reef waves are trickier to negotiate at first, as they generally involve a long paddle out to sea and are less forgiving than a sandy beach if you fall off.

After a couple of cautious attempts I got too confident. I kicked backwards off my board and flipped it into the wind, so that it delivered a perfect upper cut to my jaw. With what felt like a mild concussion, I decided to call it a day.

But the next morning I went for one last dawn surf. With the sea to myself, glorious waves and picturesque sand dunes, I decided the Canaries weren't so bad after all.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Emily Dugan travelled to Fuerteventura with Errant Surf (020-8133 6438; errantsurf.com), which offers week-long trips with accommodation at La Concha in Corralejo, including all surf tuition, equipment, insurance and transfers, from £433 per person, flights extra. Options from the UK include: Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com); Monarch (0871 940 5040; flymonarch.com); and easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com).

Eating there

Canela Café, Lajares (00 34 928 86 17 12; canelacafe.com). Citrus Surf Café, Corralejo (00 34 928 53 54 99; citrus-surfcafe.com). Avenida Restaurante, General Prim 11, Corralejo.

More information

visitfuerteventura.es turismodecanarias.com

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits