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Hunting Big Waves on the Basque Coast

Surfing, which is attracting more and more enthusiasts, reaches its most exciting extreme when it comes to big waves, where man pits his strength and skill against the crude forces of nature unleashed. The Basque seaboard boasts a good number of these waves – well known to surfers – all less than an hour’s drive from Loiu airport.

One of the stars of this sport and speciality is Axi Muniain, a professional big-wave surfer and five-time finalist in the XXL Big Wave Awards, the equivalent of surfing Oscars. Regarded by many as a radical, innovative surfer, he has sailed the seven seas in search of the world’s biggest wave, earning him the nickname of “The Wave Hunter”. Axi says that “in the Basque Country the vast majority of big waves have the added danger of being near the coast – a rugged coastline with deep water where risk-taking increases. The waves are not as tubular as in Jaws or Mavericks. While similar in size, the proximity of the shoreline poses an added risk. But there are also some safe waves on large sandy beaches. The coast is full of contrasts, often with difficult access routes, which means it is not crowded. But, on the other hand, it makes rescue operations more difficult. The Basque Country and its big waves are for real pros.”

Signature Basque Big Waves

Meñakoz: This cove, situated between the municipalities of Sopelana and Barrika, attracts many of the bravest surfers in the world. Its right-handers are some of the most powerful in the Cantabrian Sea and are considered to be the mightiest on the Basque coast. Big and well-formed, the wave can reach a height of 8 metres. Be sure to have a birra in their beach hut as the sea views from above are spectacular.

Punta Galea: Included in the Big Wave World Tour, it is located in the municipality of Getxo. The wave, which forms near the mouth of Bilbao harbour, is as powerful as it is dangerous.

Izaro: Legend has it that this beautiful island was the setting for a passionate love affair between a monk from the local monastery and a beautiful young woman from Bermeo, somewhere in the 15th century. Located opposite Bermeo and Mundaka, it packs a wave which reach up to 9 metres.

Roka Puta: An excellent big wave – a powerful right-hander which can get up to 6 metres. Some of Spain’s best big-wave hellmen have honed their skills on it.

Sorgin-Zulo: This wave on Deba beach packs a huge mass of water. It is difficult to see the swell forming but, once up, it is unique. Said to be one of the largest and strongest on the Basque coastline, it can grow to a height of 5 metres. The rocky and sandy seabed makes it even more dangerous.

Playa Gris: Between the picturesque towns of Zumaia and Getaria, this is Europe’s most international and media-friendly wave, with numerous nominations in theXXL Big Wave Awards.

Agiti: A difficult – if not, impossible – wave to surf as it breaks near a cliff face, so one mistake can be fatal. Needless to say, anyone brave enough to ride it will get an amazing adrenalin rush.

All these big waves are, of course, set against the backdrop of stunning scenery along the Basque coast and the area also offers restaurants, bars and beach huts with magnificent cuisine.

Fancy seeing them for yourself? Hurry and book your Vueling to Bilbao.

Text by Tensi Sánchez of ilovebilbao.com

Images by Greg Rabejac and Ritxi Goya