Top 5: surfing adventures

British big-wave surfer Andrew Cotton picks his favourite destinations to catch a break home and away

By Sam Rider
Published 22 Jul 2016, 11:45 BST

British 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 breath-taking. “From October through to March, it's the best amphitheatre in the world to watch big waves,” says Andrew, who's wrestled the giant breaks 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 São Miguel Arcanjo, on the edge of the promontory of Sítio, against a backdrop of thundering ocean. “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 monsters 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; it'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 adrenalin junkies with extra-thick skin — or wetsuits. It's known for its fantastic Atlantic waves, which can measure up to 10ft, 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 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 less so 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 Island, Fiji

Best for:

watersports aficionados

“Namotu is watersports heaven,” says Cotton. “Surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, paddleboarding, 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 directly 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 tackle it,” says Cotton. But don't expect long hikes and dry-land 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:

off-grid action

“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 are regularly welcomed with war dances and stone jumping — the latter a ‘manhood ritual' where men leap over 7ft rock towers (in the past, the top stone was covered with sharpened bamboo stems). “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.”

Andrew Cotton is an ambassador for Sharp's Brewery, which is offering six winners and their guests the chance to join Andrew on his next adventure to conquer the world's biggest waves. The two-night trip will put you at the heart of the adventure and offer a first-hand look into the life of a fearless big-wave surfer, as Cotton and his team prepare to take on the elements.


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