“We want to promote the connection between Portugal and California through surfing”
Portugal’s stunning beaches and increasingly famous waves were promoted last week in California, one of the world’s leading surf destinations. The event served as a prelude to the Global Wave Conference, an event focusing on surf, sustainability and innovation which will take place between October 2-5 in Ericeira, Nazaré and Peniche.
“Portugal has positioned itself in recent years as a surf destination,” said Francisco Rodrigues, president of the National Association of Surfers, in an interview with Lusa news agency in San Diego, USA. “We’re not just talking about the practice of surfing itself; there’s a whole lifestyle around it.”
He was speaking on the sidelines of the ‘Surf Industry Sustainability in California and Portugal’ conference, which was held at the University of San Diego and was attended by surfers, professors, environmental activists, entrepreneurs and students.
The conference was organised by the Portuguese Consulate in San Francisco in a bid to strengthen the connections between Portugal and California through surf and ocean conservation.
“As I often say, California is Portugal on steroids,” said Portugal’s Consul-General in San Francisco, Pedro Pinto. “It’s four times larger, (has) four times more population, but there are many similarities, and there is a natural empathy,” he said.
“This is something we work on to promote mutually beneficial synergies at a political and economic macro level, but it’s also important to do this at the local level.”
Pinto explained that the idea for the conference was to “raise Portugal’s profile in California through an issue that unites the two West coasts, the West Coast of the United States, which is California, and the West Coast of Europe, which is Portugal.
“The idea was to use surf as a tool for raising awareness in promoting sustainability,” the Consul-General added. “We thought it was an interesting path within this logic of bridging Portugal and California, which have many similarities.”
But these similarities also mean that they also share the same challenges.
“One of them is coastal protection, another is the use of offshore renewable energies,” he explained. “This is something we increasingly see as relevant; this connection between Portugal and California, and (we want) to promote that through surfing as well.”
During the conference, the concept of “surfonomics” was discussed, an area in which Portugal has grown, according to Pedro Pinto.
“These days, you not only see many people surfing, but you also see surf schools, and there’s a whole small industry around it that benefits restaurants, people who rent houses, and so on,” he said.
The growth of Portugal’s ‘surfonomics’ has been aided by the coastal town of Nazaré, which has become world-famous for its huge waves.
“I would say that, after Cristiano Ronaldo, it is the second most well-known Portuguese brand in the world and, therefore, it does have economic relevance,” the Consul-General said.
The role of Portugal’s top surfers in this growth was also not forgotten.
“We are proud to see surfers like Tiago Pires, Frederico Morais, Teresa Bonvalot, or Francisca Veselko, who became world champions just a few kilometres from here (San Diego),” Francisco Rodrigues said, adding: “They end up being natural ambassadors of Portugal and have been helping our country.”
With the upcoming Global Wave Conference, maritime sustainability and ocean conservation will be among the main talking points of the event.
João Macedo – co-founder of World Surfing Reserves, which serves as a “model standard for preserving wave breaks and their surrounding areas by recognising and protecting key environmental, cultural and economic attributes in coastal communities” – also touched upon the common goals that California and Portugal share in this area.
“The comparison between cases in California and Portugal in the area of conservation is very interesting,” he said. “The theme I focused on was that the Ericeira World Surfing Reserve serves as a very positive example for the whole world, an idea that originated in California.”
The classification as a World Surfing Reserve is based on four criteria: the surf characteristics of the area, including wave consistency and quality; environmental characteristics, such as fauna and flora; local surf culture; and community involvement.
Ericeira was recognised as a World Surfing Reserve in 2011, and João Macedo believes that other areas in Portugal, such as Nazaré, could soon achieve this status.
“The work I’m doing is to leverage the fame of the wave in Nazaré and start organising ocean conservation events,” he said. “It’s complicated because it’s a very old fishing community, and marine protected areas always have a negative effect on how these communities live.”
This is why Macedo believes it is important to make sure that conservation efforts are perceived as beneficial.
“Conservation has to be sustainable in human terms,” he said. “As Portugal is a leader in Europe in terms of maritime territory, we have a huge opportunity as Portuguese to have a significant impact on conservation,” he stated. “Portugal has all the natural, legal, and political characteristics, and increasingly, business characteristics, to be a global leader in conservation and can prove it through concrete cases.”
He also emphasised that doing good for the planet “is also good for business”.
More information on the Global Wave Conference can be found online at https://www.global-wave-conference.com The event will bring together the world’s leading oceanographers, environmentalists, grassroots activists, surfers, politicians, the surf industry, and coastal communities. Tickets are still available, with prices starting at €184.50.
Portugal among world’s most recommended surf spots
A quick Google search for the world’s best surf spots will find several lists which include at least one Portuguese location.
CNN’s list of the ‘World’s 50 best surf spots’ features Pedra Branca in Ericeira (34th) and Carrapateira in Aljezur, Algarve (31st), for example, while Red Bull has also put together its own list of the ‘8 best places to surf in the world’ which also includes Ericeira.