15th December 2017
Josh Sutton and family head to the beautiful Basque coast in their trusty campervan for a skate and surf adventure
I passed the Michelin map across the kitchen table and looked hopefully intomy wife’s eyes. ‘And what are all these scribbles and crosses then?’ she asked. ‘I’ve been doing a bit of research,’ I said and began to outline my ambitions for a summer holiday with a difference.
With the wood burner roaring and the sleet hammering relentlessly at the window, summer seemed a long way away. ‘How do you fancy surfing and skateboarding along the Basque coast?’ I asked casually.
Thanks to a course of surf lessons with Saltburn Surf School up on the North Yorkshire Coast, family Sutton (well 75 per cent of it) can now stand up on a surfboard. Anne-Marie and our children, Wilf aged 10 and Ruby aged 14, completed the course.
I gave up after three goes and bought a body board! If all went well, we were in for a sick, rad, gnarly holiday and we’d all be stoked at the end of it. I’ve always thought it’s good to learn a few words of the language when travelling.
The deal was sealed when I suggested to Wilf that he might like to bring his skateboard along on holiday, as there were a few parks to check out along the Basque coast. Skateboarding passed me by when it first rolled onto the scene in the early 1970s, so it’s perhaps a little odd then that I bought my first skateboard at the age of 51.
The method in my madness is that it means I get to hang out with Wilf before the teenage years kick in and he doesn’t want to know me. And it’s fair tom say that I am hooked. With a detailed plan of surf spots and skateparks penciled in on the map, I booked passage for Nan the Van (our VW camper) and a four-berth cabin aboard the Baie de Seine, bound for Santander on the northern Spanish coast.
Five months later, van loaded to the gunnels, we set off into the night on the six-hour drive south, to Portsmouth. Baie de Seine is the newest addition to the Brittany Ferries fleet and was top notch as far as we were concerned. We brought our own onboard entertainment, a couple of films and Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books downloaded onto the tablet.
The holiday started as soon as I drove us aboard and pulled on the handbrake. Thirty hours and a great night’s sleep later, we were heading east out of Santander along the E70 towards Bilbao, to a campsite just outside of Lekeitio.
Accompanied by spectacular views of distant sweeping mountains, and tales of potion-making in Snape’s dungeon, along the way, the journey whizzed by and we arrived at Camping Leagi as if by magic.
Five nights here gave us plenty of time to explore the area, taking in Bakio, Mundaka, Guernica and our favourite beach, Playa De Laga. The surf was practically flat at Bakio, so Wilf and I spent a good hour or so in the skatepark, while the girls took in the rest of the town.
Mundaka is home to the world-famous left-hand river break, a wave that is notoriously difficult to surf. It proved impossible to surf while we were there, as again the sea was becalmed. So we opted for some kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), which was great fun and a whole new lesson in falling over for me. It hurts a lot less than falling off a skateboard, that’s for sure.
In Guernica, we visited the Peace Museum, by far the most moving and thought-provoking exhibition I’ve ever visited. My suggestion to the staff, that they invest in a tissue dispenser, was well received. On a much more frivolous note, the skatepark there is a cracker.
It’s worth knowing that not all campsites in this part of the world will take advance bookings – many simply run a ‘show up and see’ policy. On this trip, we’d managed to book two out of the three sites we’d picked. Camping Biarritz is a five-minute walk from the beach and a short bus ride into the town centre, and the bus stops outside the campsite. The beaches were perfect, with most being served by lifeguards.
The skate/surf element of our holiday really came together in Biarritz, as we were witness to professional competitions in both disciplines; the Pro Anglet surf comp at Anglet and the Collapse Bro’Pool Party in the rooftop bowl of the Cité de l’Océan (another museum, close to the campsite and worth a visit). The skatepark at Anglet was my favourite, spaced out with a range of ramps and gentle undulations.
With just three days left of the holiday, we stopped off at Saint-Jean-De-Luz, en route to our final camp. The skatepark here was fantastic, but sadly a little too technical for me. Whereas Wilf finally learned to ‘drop in’, hurtling himself fearlessly down the steepest of ramps, I managed to drop off, tearing my hamstring in the process.
Game over for me. We struck lucky on the ‘show up and see’ lottery and found a spot at Camping Igueldo in the hills above San Sebastián, the food capital of Spain. San Sebastián is a wonderful city, built up around the magnificent La Concha Beach.
Pintxos (Basque tapas) and Asturian cider are in order here, followed by a gentle nap in the sun on the beach. Finally, no surf/skate tour of the Basque Country would be complete without visiting Zarautz. A fantastic spot with a consistent beach break for surfers, and a skatepark on the beach.
With the girls in the waves, and Wilf dropping in to the bowl like a pro, all I could do was hobble to the bar, order a cold beer and take in the view while pondering the drive home with a badly bruised leg.
Miles: 1,072; Petrol: 238.1 litres
How to get there
With Brittany Ferries, the Portsmouth/Santander crossing costs from £1,200 for a campervan and four passengers.
Where to stay
Camping Leagi costs from £45 per night. Camping Biarritz costs from £60 per night. Camping Igueldo costs from £44 per night. All prices are for a campervan withelectric hook up and a 4m tent fortwo adults and two children.
Skate and surf
Most towns along the coast have good, concrete skateparks. Surfboard/SUP hire was available on most of the beaches we visited, especially the popular locations.