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Vol. 18, No. 4: Galician Pilgrimage

The doors of the van slam close as the ticking of the sleepy diesel engine warms to a purr. Our wheels roll east in the direction of Galicia, across the south of France and towards the northeast tip of Spain. A bit like explorers looking for a virgin land, or mountaineers looking for a new peak to climb, we are the Manera team, searching for spots and conditions to do what we do best. Our vehicles have no sleeping compartments, so we rely upon flat ground, good old tents and warm sleeping bags. As a longtime member of the Manera team, I have learned to expect a travel experience rooted in simplicity; this is what creates the charm of adventure, and it’s my suspicion that the memories from these trips remain engraved longer when you remove a little comfort. 

The journey is long from Montpellier to the Iberian Peninsula, and just before the Spanish border, we make a small stop in Basque Country to stretch our legs. The team is in full attendance, and this year, Hendrick Lopes and Marcela Witt have joined us, bringing new faces and fresh chemistry. I’m riding shotgun in the equipment truck with Mallo; behind us, Julo’s van follows with Olivier, Matt and Marcela, while Maxime completes the convoy with Hendrick as co-driver.

The players (clockwise): Julien post foil, Paul in his fleece, Marcela sets up her board, Robby D’Amico approves, Maxime models the new Halo harness, Mallory installs fins and Hendrick connects his lines.

In the days leading up to the trip, the forecast wasn’t lining up, but all the preparations had been made so we were committed to checking it out with our own eyes. We first stopped in Ferrol, a squat, west-facing peninsula on the corner of the Spanish landmass. Here, there are multiple beach options nestled between rocky fingers, and we found a parking lot overhanging a bay with the wind already blowing 20 knots””a very welcoming gift. A basic principle of these trips, and kiteboarding in general, is that you must make the most out of whatever conditions come your way; we all accept that the time for rest will be when we are back at home. 

Reliable wind and kite handling confidence make for a casual approach.

Matt pulls out his camera equipment and we decide to split the session into two groups to avoid having too many riders on the water; first, the strapless riders will kite, then the twintip team will follow. My excitement to get in the water is too strong, so I rig my gear and work my way to the other end of the bay as to not disturb the photoshoot. The session at Ferrol is crazy, the Atlantic wind is dense, and the jumps are long and feel like they last forever. We swap teams in front of the camera and the favorable conditions put a smile on all our faces. This is a good start and we kite clear into the sunset, which is always the best time to shoot. When the light is exhausted, we begin our search for a camping spot and find a quiet zone that welcomes us with flat ground to set up our tents for a good night’s sleep. On these trips, it’s always hard to have a proper meal in the evening because more often than not, we find ourselves looking for a restaurant open after 10pm. That night we are lucky enough to discover a café where the cook shows us her menu of frozen pizzas and her famous seven quesos meal. 

Paul styles out an air while Maxime crashes and burns in the shore pound.

The next day, we find ourselves back on the road and direct our caravan south along the western beaches of Galicia towards Portugal. The Spanish coast is vast, and we are only at the beginning. Our smiles fade a little when we spend more time driving than riding, but it is part of the game. At the end of the afternoon, we land on the beach at Nemina. With the road descending into the south facing bay, the approach feels like a magnificent invitation. The long, sandy beach looks to the south, with offshore wind pouring over the peninsula to the north. There’s a river mouth midway down the coastline with sandbars and finger reefs, and we spot a potential wave reeling in the distance. The wind is very gusty, but the waves are beautiful. Mallo, Marcela and Hendrick rig their Bandit S kites and head south to find reliable waves. We watch as bands of wind swoop over the headland and sporadically touch down throughout the bay. It’s not easy to surf when the gusts are that unpredictable. Watching the surfers rotate through the lineup, it seems like a game of pure luck to get a wave without a monster gust or gaping hole, but since the forecast isn’t looking good for the next few days, the surfers endure the challenging conditions. I must admit, both Max and I would have been happy to go out on the water in Nemina for a freestyle session, but instead, we watch the show put on by the wave team and relax as the sunset disappears over the western horizon. 

Marcela launches a grabbed aerial in the mushed-out waves of Nemina.

Before this trip, I had never heard of Galicia as a surf or kiteboarding destination, but I soon discover that the Spanish coast is incredibly beautiful and natural. The cliffs and infinite rocky crags with white sand beaches sheltered into niches among the infinite peninsulas make the landscape feel especially wild. This little corner of Spain is exotic in its own way.

Hendrick launches a backside hack into the lip.

Every evening, we pitch our tents where we can and we work hard to find food. The advantage of being in Spain is that the locals are accustomed to eating very late. Every dinner is a good time to debrief on what happened during the day, have a few cervezas and put good food in our stomaches. I share my tent with Mallo, and since we sleep in a different place every night, the repetitive motions of disassembling and reassembling the tent earn us quick status as camping pros. Partway into our second week, Mallo and I secretly consider sleeping in board bags tucked into the back of the van, but the humidity and smell of wet equipment isn’t very inviting. The daybreaks are fresh, especially after a good rain, and with incremental exhaustion, it becomes harder to exit the warmth of our sleeping bags each morning.

Consummate professionals, Mallory and Paul learn to rig their tent almost as fast as their kites.

We keep driving towards Portugal, and along the way, we pick up Italian pro surfer Roby D’amico, the newest member of the Manera team. This is the first time that we have a non-kiter on a Manera trip, and I am delighted because it means that we are going to have to find more surf spots. Roby has a communicative good mood; I’ve known him for a day, and I like him already. His energy brings a freshness to our daily ritual and offers a different vision for our daily search. We find a spot with a steep beach break; the wave we found in Nemina was certainly magnificent for kiting, but it was a little too flat for radical prone surfing maneuvers. At this new spot, the current is very strong, and the hyper-changing conditions make it difficult to photograph. Robby paddles out with a smile on his face, scores one insanely good wave, and that’s enough to make him happy. 

Scenes from a multi-sport road trip; foil sessions blend with surfboards, twintips, campfires and tents.

The wind seems gone for good here and we decide to drive south for a freestyle session, heading towards the beach of Cesantes, almost at the border of Portugal. The locals reassure us that we can expect a thermal wind to crank up every afternoon, but on the road, we watch as a huge black cloud grows in the sky. I tap out a message on my phone to the group chat going between the cars: “You guys see this black cloud?” We all know it will disturb the wind, but we drive south, pedal to the metal, hoping we’ll beat the overhead monster. 

Paul Serin launches a handlepass backdropped by the colorful homes of Cesantes.

This spot is urban compared to the coastline to the north. There’s an enormous bridge in the background, but the bay of Cesantes has strong freestyle potential with a small offshore island that provides a flat water spot. Max and I hurry up and rig our 13m WTF kites. The wind is, as we say, ”˜asthmatic.’ The big black cloud disturbs the flow so that every fifteen minutes, the wind falls to zero and then climbs back again. At times, Max and I find ourselves with both kites laying motionless in the water, with nothing to do but look at one another. The wind returns a few minutes later so we relaunch and fit in a few tricks before the next lull. We do our best to put on a show, but it’s hard enough to do freestyle on an underpowered 13m kite and worse when the wind constantly shuts off. Fortunately, Max is there to save the session, and he lands good doubles amidst the start-and-stop winds. At the end of the afternoon the sun is hidden by the clouds, and the darkness forces us to land our kites and pack everything up. 

Maxime finds perfect flat water hiding behind the island of San Anton in Cesantes Bay.

Having traveled the entire Spanish west coast, we turn the caravan back north to survey spots we had passed on our way down. We travel three-quarters of the way north and stop at Soesto beach, mainly to surf where the waves are good. The place is perfect for camping, and having made some new friends, we learn a bit about local Galician traditions. It’s fascinating how each culture has its own alcohol, whether it’s Brittany, Russia or Scotland. Every Manera trip leads us to taste something different, surrounded by people that are happy to share their traditions, knowledge and spots. Our friends recite Galician poems and share cups of flaming mystery alcohol. While the language barrier is apparent, we adapt and manage to communicate, noting how the flow of conversation improves after a few drinks.

Tent life forces you to keep it simple: fire, water and local spirits.

As we transition into the trip’s final leg, the wind forecast falls apart and we begin to make moves around periodic rain squalls””this becomes part of our daily routine. The noise of rain on our tents is pleasant when falling asleep, but the wet mornings make it less inviting to get up and observe the rituals of camp breakdown. Since the wind has definitely left us, we plot a course for home along the north coast of Spain and look for the best spots to surf and foilsurf. Sharing the water with Roby allows us to get more experience from a pro surfer; he has much to teach us about positioning and lining up each wave. Our last session ends up being in the area of Santander, in waves far from perfect, but it is good to separate all that driving with some time in the water. 

Maxime finds some flat water in the bay of Cesantes with the Golden Gate Bridge’s doppelgänger opening up to the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.

This Spanish region of Galicia has a name for false pilgrims; “Coquillards” are a band of thieves pretending to journey to holy places, yet traveling only to plunder and loot. Having spent 15 days in vans and tents, scouring the coast for wind and waves, we could have been mistaken for pilgrims, a group of fanatics in search of sacred adventure. Yet, at the same time, we could have been considered thieves, ruthlessly stealing sessions all along the Spanish coast. Perhaps, that’s us, the Coquillards of Manera!

This article was featured in our winter 2022 issue, Vol. 18, No. 4. To read more, click here.