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

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Goalkeeping howler allows Man City to scrap a draw – but Premier League title is Liverpool's to lose
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal