Portugal, a surfer’s paradise and a digital nomad’s haven. Picture this: a remote worker with a crazy craving for catching waves. That’s me, and I embarked on a rather unconventional adventure: a workation at a surfcamp. Armed with my laptop and a burning desire to finally break free from the beginner stage in surfing, I set off to spend a whole month in Baleal, one of Portugal’s top surf spots.
You see, I had been surfing for years, but progress always seemed to slip through my fingers. Being a landlocked surfer, my opportunities to hit the waves were few and far between—maybe once or twice a year for a mere few days. But hey, I had a theory – if a solid month of shredding the slopes can boost my snowboarding skills, could the same apply to surfing? So, my plan was to dive headfirst into the sport, take lessons, and yes, squeeze in some work too. I was about to find out if my plan would make a splash.
Join me as I share my journey, discoveries, and lessons learned from my one-of-a-kind workation at a surfcamp. We’re talking finding the perfect work-life balance in a surfer’s paradise and connecting with rad people from different corners of the globe. My journey? A rollercoaster of sunsets, endless paddling, and epic self-discovery.
Let’s start with what I loved:
- Surfing, of course! The thrill of catching waves every day and the adrenaline rush—it’s an addiction.
- The surfcamp’s location in Baleal. I played it safe by choosing a place I already knew and loved.
- Portugal itself—friendly locals, tasty cuisine, and affordable prices.
- Meeting people from all over the world, learning about their cultures, and forging lifelong friendships. (in 4 weeks I met people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, the UK, Ireland, Brazil, Venezuela, Italy, China, Russia, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Latvia, Czech Republic, Sweden, and of course Portugal).
- The camaraderie of fellow surfers at the camp—easy-going people with whom I instantly bonded over our shared love for the waves.
- Being so close to the ocean, able to see it from my bedroom window, and the beach just minutes away.
- The sunsets – no need to elaborate here, right? Most days I would go sit down on the beach, listen to an audiobook, or share a beer if someone joined me and just watched the sun go down.
- In 4 weeks, I had classes with three different instructors, each with a unique teaching style and focus on different things.
- The opportunity to surf in various conditions; small, bigger, choppy, and glassy.
- Additional activities offered by the surfcamp: surfskate, visits to a surf factory, and the Medieval town of Obidos (I was 3 times at the surf factory and 4 times in Obidos:)
- That you can basically live off leftover food. Well, I’m kidding a bit, but yes, people leave a lot of food (and other stuff such as toiletries) in hostels, and since I don’t like when food goes to waste, I made use of whatever I could (saved some money this way too)
- Burning so many calories while surfing that you can indulge in the local cuisine guilt-free and potentially even shed pounds in the process.
But there were also things I didn’t particularly enjoy:
- Saying goodbye to newfound friends who only stayed for a week or two.
- Having to work there! Firstly, the schedule was pretty intense, with 2 surf sessions a day and additional activities, making it difficult to squeeze in more. Also, it’s tough to find the motivation to work when you want to spend time with people. Most surfers are on vacation and want to have fun or relax. And who would want to miss a sunset music session at a beach bar with your instructor as the DJ or an incredible barbecue organized by Italians (trust me, Italians are amazing cooks!)? So, balancing work and enjoyment becomes a juggling act.
- Being exhausted all the time. Surfing requires significant physical exertion, especially if you choose a camp with two classes a day! In my case, being in less-than-ideal physical shape compounded the fatigue, despite my attempts to prepare beforehand. Additionally, my fear of missing out (FOMO) prevented me from taking proper rest. Throughout the four weeks, I only skipped two days of surfing—once due to illness and the other due to unfavorable conditions.
- Living in a surf hostel for four weeks meant sacrificing privacy, dealing with occupied bathrooms, and occasional party noise (earplugs are a must-have)
- Sleeping on a bunk bed for a month.
- The nearest decent supermarket was 4km away
Now, the burning question: Did my surfing skills skyrocket?
I wouldn’t say so. I did make progress, and each week I felt stronger and more confident, but it was nothing like I imagined. I did not reach the level that I hoped for, unlike my experience with snowboarding. Surfing is a sport that requires consistency and practice, and a month-long surfcamp wasn’t enough to achieve the advanced level I desired. Perhaps my expectations were unrealistic.
Did I manage to work like I expected?
Not at all! Working at the surfcamp proved to be extremely challenging. The class schedules varied depending on tides and conditions, making planning calls and online meetings impossible. The surfcamp environment is not conducive to focused work either. Although the Wi-Fi was decent, there were no comfortable workspaces available. I ended up sitting on a pallet couch in front of a large TV while others watched football games or Formula 1. Physical exhaustion from surfing further hindered my productivity. I required a lot of sleep and was too tired to work in the evenings. Waking up early was also a struggle unless there was an early surf class. Balancing work and the desire to participate in social activities was difficult, leading to a fear of missing out (FOMO) on the fun.
What I learned through this experience
- You cannot become an expert surfer in just four weeks or make a sudden jump from a beginner/intermediate level to an advanced one. Surfing requires practice, time in the ocean, and consistency. If you only surf for a week or two once or twice a year, it’s unlikely that you’ll become an exceptional surfer. However, exceptions exist, so if you have a different story, I’d love to hear it!
- Surfing is not solely about the board’s size or the wave’s height. While I may never become a highly skilled surfer, I have come to appreciate the sport for what it is. I will continue to surf and enjoy every moment without pressuring myself for more progress. As the surf legend Duke Kahanamoku once said, “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”
- Two weeks of a surfcamp in a row is a sufficient duration. One week is too short as it takes time to regain your form and make progress before having to leave. On the other hand, staying for more than two weeks can be exhausting, draining your energy and slowing down your progress.
- If you’re considering a surf workation, choosing a location with comfortable working conditions is important. Renting an apartment or a co-living space where others come to work as well, or finding a place with a coworking space, would be ideal. This way, you can focus on work and enjoy surfing on your own or with friends, taking occasional surf classes without enrolling in a full-on surfcamp experience.
- Physical preparation is key before embarking on a surfcamp. While I did practice pop-ups for two months, I neglected to strengthen the muscles responsible for paddling. This was a significant mistake, as paddling is essential to catching waves.
- Stretching is key to surviving so long at a surfcamp. There’s a reason why yoga is popular among surfers. Properly stretching your muscles helps prevent cramps and enhances your overall progress.
- Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your hands and feet when surfing in a long wetsuit! Believe me, I learned the hard way 😉
Would I recommend you this experience?
I would recommend going surfing to everyone at any time. It’s a fantastic sport and a great way to connect with nature and challenge yourself physically. However, when it comes to surfcamps, I would recommend going for a holiday without the work part. The surfcamp experience is better suited for relaxation, focusing on surfing, and enjoying the beach lifestyle.
In terms of duration, I believe that two weeks is the optimal length for a surfcamp trip. One week is too short as you only begin to regain your form and make progress before it’s time to leave. On the other hand, staying for more than two weeks can be exhausting and drain your energy unless you are an ultra-marathon athlete, Ironman/woman, or in excellent physical shape. Longer stays may also slow down your progress due to fatigue.
If you’re considering a surf workation, I recommend choosing a different approach. Instead of enrolling in a full-on surfcamp, opt for a longer stay in a more work-friendly location. Look for accommodations such as apartments or co-living spaces where others come to work as well, or find a place with a dedicated coworking space. This way, you can balance your work responsibilities while still enjoying the opportunity to surf on your own or with friends. By taking a more relaxed approach, you can avoid the FOMO (fear of missing out) that comes with juggling work and surfing sessions in a surfcamp environment.
In conclusion, go surfing and embrace the joy of riding the waves. If you’re looking for a surfcamp experience, plan it as a holiday without work commitments, and a two-week duration is ideal. Alternatively, if you’re seeking a workation, find a location with better work facilities and take the opportunity to relax, chill, and enjoy the surf on your own terms. Happy surfing!