Andrew Cotton: Top 5 surfing adventures
Britain’s brazen big-wave surfer Andrew Cotton picks his favourite destinations to catch a break home and away
1 NAZARÉ, PORTUGAL
Best for: family holidays
Nazaré is nature at its most breathtaking. “From October through to March it’s the best amphitheatre in the world to watch big waves,” says Andrew Cotton, who’s wrestled the 100 foot giants off Portugal’s Atlantic coast, unofficially breaking records for riding the biggest waves in the business.
The best seat in the house is by the village’s iconic lighthouse, the 16th century Forte de Sao Miguel Arcanjo on the edge of the promontory of Sitio, cut against a backdrop of thundering walls of ocean water. “You can get close to a ridiculous amount of water,” Cotton says. “If someone’s brave enough to surf them [usually Cotton being towed in by his friend and official record holder Garrett McNamara] it puts the size of these monster in perspective. When it’s windy the waves feel like they’re smashing overhead.”
Just 90 minutes’ drive from Lisbon, Nazaré is a favourite holiday spot for Cotton and his family. “There are loads of bars and restaurants, it’s always a good temperature and if you like your waves tamed there are great water parks nearby,” says the 34-year-old father of two. “One of my favourite restaurants is called Celeste that’s run by a family that do the best seafood. They’re like a family to the surfers there.” McNamara swears by the chef’s arroz doce (rice pudding). “He says it’s out of this world.”
2 BUNDORAN, IRELAND
Best for: low-cost winter surf
The west coast of Ireland is a haven for cold-blooded adrenaline junkies with extra thick skin – or wetsuits. It’s known for its fantastic Atlantic waves that measure around ten feet, drawing gnarly surfers who don’t mind the cold. “Donegal’s stretch of coast is one of the most beautiful in the world,” says Cotton. “It has everything from perfect points to slabs then at the end the big thing for me is the Mullaghmore [Beach], a big wave spot. It gets huge wave swells that are shielded from west and southwesterly winds.”
Add to that the backdrop of the Sligo-Leitrim Mountains and sweeping network of sand dunes. Just beware the shallow urchin filled pools on entry and exit – booties are a wise idea. “It’s certainly for the brave,” adds Cotton, who says it’s busy all year but tends to go in the winter from September to April. “That’s when it’s quiet and amazing. It’s cold but there are some epic hikes in the nearby mountains overlooking the waves.”
3 NAMOTU, FIJI
Best for: watersports worshippers
“Namotu is watersports heaven,” says Cotton. “Surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, scuba diving, spearfishing, you name it. It’s nuts and really close to the famous postcard waves off the sheltered reef called Cloudbreak.” This surfing Mecca, three miles straight south of Namotu Island, is regularly voted one of the best and most challenging waves in the world.
Like many tropical reef-pass breaks, it tends to get faster, shallower and more critical as it goes. “Even if you’re not ready to surf it, it’s equally thrilling to simply watch from the boat while others try to shackle it,” says Cotton. But don’t expect long hikes and dryland activities. “Fiji is all about the ocean,” he says. “If I had a week off – and had cash – I’d be there in a heartbeat.”
4 NIAS, INDONESIA
Best for: getting off the grid
“It’s the perfect wave,” says Cotton. “It’s a mission to get to but it’s on the map for surfers and one of the most famous breaks in the world.” The 2005 earthquake actually improved conditions at Lagundri Bay, lifting the reef, making the wave hollower and longer and there are waves for all abilities year round. “There’s always a festival or celebration going on and the locals are really friendly,” says Cotton.
Tourists to Nias are regularly welcomed with war dances and stone jumping, a “manhood ritual” where men leap over seven foot rock towers (in the past the top stone board was covered with sharp pointed bamboo). “When the sun rises it’s 100% surf,” he says. “There’s not a lot to do apart from surf, hang out and drink a few local Bintang beers. After a day of getting barrelled it takes the edge off.”
5 CROYDE TO NEWQUAY, ENGLAND
Best for: summer road trips
“This is where it all started for me,” says Cotton, a Croyde resident who grew up surfing on Devon’s north coast. “You can do an epic road trip between Croyde and Newquay. There’s so many little coves and beaches off the beaten track, there’s great hiking, it’s surfing gold.” As an alternative to the crush descending on Cornwall’s coastline every summer, north Devon provides low-tide barrels at Croyde, mellow rights at The Cave in Saunton, shelter from the winter storms at Putsborough, and even world-class point breaks.
“Avoid the crowds by sneaking off work and exploring the water during the week,” says Cotton. “And make sure you stop by the Sharp’s Brewery in Rock for a pint to truly follow in my footsteps.”
Published by National Geographic Traveller on 24th June 2016.