Winter Surfing: Hunting for the Perfect Wave
In Liguria, winter storms create perfect conditions for surfing. In Recco, the largest surf school in northern Italy awaits.
Nicole is 11 years old, has long blonde hair, loves to surf and can’t wait to attend the camp in France with the other kids at the end of the season. Then there’s Annamaria, very much into sports, enjoys riding the waves with a passion for the sea. And then there’s Andrea, 10 years old, who is learning to surf because he likes the “height” of the waves. In response to this, Serena Gallone from the Blackwave Surf School, the surf school with the highest number of members in northern Italy, and the instructor, Giacomo Beniamini, look at each other somewhat puzzled. What could that mean? Who knows… maybe Andrea is already a “soul surfer,” someone with a “mystical” approach, a bit like Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) in Point Break.
The Perfect Season
Whatever aspect of surfing you may love, whether it’s the sporty, social, naturalistic, or mystical side, you can find it in Liguria. Whether you seek the adrenaline of challenging the waves or want to completely merge with the big blue brother, nature, and the environment, you can do it in Liguria. Even in winter. Especially in the cold. And those from the Blackwave Surf School in Recco have understood it very well: between Recco and Bogliasco, a substantial group of wave hunters has emerged, tube fanatics, people who, in winter, shed their summer skin and don a dark neoprene one to plunge into the waves stirred by the Mistral. And today, you can also learn to surf here.
“In winter, in Liguria, the conditions for surfing are ideal,” says Serena Gallone, just over 30 years old but with 20 years of surfing experience. “The exposure to the Libeccio and Mistral storms gives us perfect waves, and there are high-quality ‘spots’.”
The spots are the beaches, the best points for surfing, and in Liguria, there are quite a few.
“The most famous ones are in Levanto, Chiavari, Bogliasco, Varazze, Andora, and Diano Marina. When there’s a wave, the news spreads in an instant, and people come from Piedmont and Lombardy. Many have never been on a board and want to learn. Ligurians, on the other hand, you can recognise immediately: they are the more experienced ones who challenge the most challenging storm surges.”
Surfing in Recco
It’s a beautiful sunny day, even though the air is biting. The wind isn’t strong, but the sea is big enough to create some nice “tubes” in the Recco dam. There are already about twenty guys in the water with their boards, and more keep arriving. Watching them, I wonder what characteristics an ideal spot must have to attract surfers.
“In Liguria, there are different spots with various types of seabeds that work well: beach breaks, points, reefs…,” Serena responds. “The beach break is a sandy bottom, fairly large beaches with gentle but straightforward waves, good for learning, like Andora and Diano Marina. Then there are the reefs, like Varazze: bottoms of mixed rock and sand with precise waves that always break in the same spot. Finally, there are the points, like La Santa di Varazze, with a rocky bottom and the pier where the wave unfolds. Recco is a perfect mix between a beach break and a reef, with a submerged barrier that makes the waves break and sand closer to the shore.”
“In Liguria, there are many types of seabeds perfect for surfing: from beach breaks, points, to reefs.”
Blackwave Surf in Recco was born 10 years ago. Two years ago, it joined forces with another surf school in the area, Roofless in Bogliasco. The idea paid off: the school and surf shop have grown together, the number of enthusiasts continues to increase, and today it is the largest surf school in Italy, with over five thousand members. Now the small shop has a bar, organises courses to learn to surf, and camps for the younger ones. As we speak, Giacomo gathers his young students, adjusts their wetsuits, and prepares the boards.
“I’ve been surfing for 11 years, I’m from Imperia, and I learned to surf in Bogliasco after university,” Giacomo tells me. “I enjoy teaching; I’ve been doing it for a while. I teach adults and children about the sea, weather, waves, how to recognise where the best waves form. Every spot is different from the others. First, we need to think about safety; there are clear rules to follow to avoid harming ourselves and others. Then we need to learn about the boards: we start with ‘soft-tops,’ more manageable boards suitable for beginners. Once in the water, you learn the ‘take-off,’ getting up on the board, paddling, and the line-up, understanding where to position yourself, the essentials of surfing. With experience and practice, you can perform more challenging manoeuvres, like turns…”
“Learning to surf means learning about the sea, weather, and waves. Every spot is different from the other. In surfing, there is a complete fusion with the environment,” adds Giacomo Beniamini, the instructor.
“What equipment is necessary? What does someone need to start surfing?”
“To begin, especially in the winter season, a wetsuit is essential, and neoprene booties if you care about the sensitivity of your feet. Then you need wax, a special type to create the right grip, and finally, the board. The board is a world of its own: to start, you need a foamie, the more advanced, like Serena, use a shortboard, or there are longboards, completely different styles. You have to learn to choose boards based on the waves: for larger waves, a shortboard is better, for calmer seas, you go with the longboard. For example, I bring both in my van and then, after the morning coffee, I decide… Here, you can rent everything you need.”
Hunting for the best surf spots
“Van, early wake-ups, boards, the search for the perfect wave… just like in ‘Barbarian Days’ by William Finnegan, one of the sacred texts for surfers, or in famous films like ‘Point Break’ and ‘The Endless Summer’… but what is the typical day for a Ligurian surfer?
“The typical day for a surfer starts the night before with checking the weather forecasts – says Giacomo, clearly an expert in wave hunting. In the morning, wake up at dawn, have a protein-rich breakfast, and then set off in the van to find the best spot for the conditions and your training. Ligurian surfers always have to be on the move, searching for the best spot, which is why a van is essential. But there are also those who use a Smart car… (he winks at Serena, who smiles). It can take hours on the road… but sometimes, two hours in the water can make all that effort worthwhile. Lunch in the sun and a second session towards sunset when the wind calms down. In the evening, a beer all together. That’s the ideal day. However, often you have to balance work and family with your passion, and everything seems more challenging.”
“The typical day for a Ligurian surfer is in constant search of the right wave… it starts at dawn, then you move in the van to the best spots, a second session in the evening, and then a beer.
Between Recco and Bogliasco, the number of surfers has grown significantly. Serena even knows some of the ‘veterans,’ the first surfers in Liguria.
“It was the surfing of the origins, that of the first pioneers. In the ’70s and ’80s, there weren’t many. Surfing had just arrived in Europe, and some daredevils started riding the waves with boards they built themselves. Hearing their stories, when it happens, is beautiful. At that time, everyone knew each other, and they were all friends. They gave names to most of the spots. Now, some of the poetry has been lost, but the philosophy remains the same.”
The kids arrive with their boards, ready to dive into the water. I follow Nicole, Annamaria, and Andrea, the latter carrying a foamie bigger than himself, and it makes you think that these youngsters have chosen to challenge the chilly waves instead of opting for a more comfortable sport. They have already surpassed their comfort zone. If the surfing of the origins was legendary, today’s surfing is not bad at all! The passion remains the same.
Surf a Recco > www.blackwave.it