Cantabria surf takes over from where the Pais Vasco leaves off. A mix of west-facing beaches and more sheltered coves in the east offers what’s largely punchy beach breaks for freeriding intermediates on shorties.
An introduction to Cantabria surf
Occupying just under 150 miles of the north Spanish coast, Cantabria is perfectly placed to hoover up those westerly swells that come across the Bay of Biscay en route to France. They’re the same swells that power the famous breaks of the Pais Vasco (the Basque Country), although the geology here makes for very different surfing.
Without the sheer-cut cliffs of its near neighbour, Cantabria is dashed with long and sloping beaches that offer lots of good beginner surfing. It’s quite exposed stuff, because you also lose the submerged rock reefs of the Basque. The result is a region that hits its prime on middle and low swells – a dream for small surf lovers who come to rip and tear with fast turns off the lip and into the shoulder. Mhmm: It’s a shortboarder’s dream really.
The orientation of the Cantabrian coast shifts a little. The industrial city of Santander is at its heart. To the east, you have bays that face north-east. To the west, they open onto the Atlantic a little more. The upshot? You can surf both sides, but the western Cantabria surf tends to be far more reliable and better in the summer months.
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This guide is just one part of our full guide to surfing in Spain
Cantabria surf at a glance
- West-facing beaches with good summer waves
- Good beach breaks
- Not very crowded
- Some localism
- Pollution near to Santander
- Unreliable east coast in the summer
What’s in this guide to the Cantabria surf?
Where is Cantabria?
Cantabria is wedged between Pais Vasco and Asturias – two of the most popular surf areas in all of Spain. It’s really the heart of northern Spain, situated a tad over 100 miles from the French border and just shy of 190 miles from A Coruna and the Galician Atlantic coast. The capital of Spain is some 250 miles as the crow flies directly to the south.
A guide to the Cantabria surf spots
We’ve gone ahead and divided up the Cantabria surf map into two parts: the east and the west. The premier area is certainly the latter, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get decent spots (and smaller crowds) in the east too. Let’s take a look:
Surf spots in eastern Cantabria
Eastern Cantabria is the more sheltered of the two halves to the region. It’s also a little more rugged, taking some of the high cliffs of its Pais Vasco neighbour. Generally speaking, the surf is of lower quality, although there are still a few great spots that we think are worth knowing about…
Laredo faces east, so it’s hardly going to be the most reliable spot in a region where dominant groundswells are all westerly. On really big winter days it can get going nicely as they wrap around the headland and drift into the bay. When it does that, the surf is pretty nice. Unbroken sets will spread right across the beach and offer nice lefts in particular. Hazards are minimal with just sand underfoot. We’d say: A fantastic beginner and intermediate spot when its huge in the midwinter.
The one-mile length of beach at Berria is something of a hidden gem in eastern Cantabria, mainly because it’s not that well known. It’s a pretty fickle wave that needs chest-high swells to get going. That leaves most of the surf to the months between November and March. Sandbanks give the shape, so these are punchy and peaky beach breaks with glassy conditions on northerly offshore.
Just one beach over from Berria is the very good surf at El Brusco. We think this is the best of all the eastern Cantabria surf spots, actually. High tide sees sucky peaks rolling in around the peninsula to give often hollow shorebreaks that give tubey rigths if you know how to catch them. Works better when the primary swell is larger because it’s still really a north facing spot that needs wrap-arounds. Look out for localism when its pumping.
Surf spots in western Cantabria
Western Cantabria is what it’s really all about. The beaches and coves here face the Atlantic head on, so they get the brunt of th best W-NW swells. That means they can offer some summer surf and some pretty gnarly conditions when the winter comes around.
Annoyingly, a poking headland juts to the north of Langre. It means this beach break acts a bit more like a tame eastern Cantabrian spot that a western one. Still, it does get a bit more W and NW swell than El Brusco and others. We really like the wave when it’s working, too. It’s a neat triangular peak with rippable shoulders that fatten out over shallower sandbanks. Short rides but fun for turn practice. Also, it’s not often crowded, so there’s that. Always surf at low tide (on the push is best).
Santa Marina Island
Santa Marina Island is a really heavy reef that’s for pros only. It breaks off the edge of the rocky island of the same name, which you can see in the bay opposite the harbour of Santander. It’s almost big-wave stuff, with a gun required to get into the barrel on the strongest swell days. Surf travelers should spectate only. Sorry, but this is localism central, and the Spanish won’t hold back.
Playa de Somo
Playa de Somo is the best Cantabria surf spot for beginners. It’s a mellow beach break that gets good shelter from the coast that moves north with Santander city right beside. Flat days are common but when sets do move in, you get lots of whitewash, crumbly waves for practice and the like. There’s sand underfoot so little to worry about. No wonder the Somo surf is the go-to choice for many a surf school!
The city of Santander is right in the middle of some of the best Cantabrian surf spots. You can’t go wrong staying here. Short drives to the east and west will open up the beginner-fav of Somo surf, or the more challenging offering at Langre (when it’s working). But you’ll also be able to access the breaks further west, like Liencres.
We’ve actually got a complete guide to the surf in Santander
Arguably the best surf spot in all of Cantabria, Liencres is a punchy beach break that really hoovers up the NW swell directions over the Cantabrian Sea. The new orientation of the beach past Santander means it will often be working in the summer months, and gives something heavier for intermediates in the winter. Sandbanks govern the wave style, but they’re usually arranged to offer A-frame tubes on 8ft swells, which goes mellow and cruisy when it’s smaller.
Los Locos is a bit of a Cantabrian swell magnet because it threads down the side of a peninsula to get a direct west-facing orientation. Waves are almost always bigger here than elsewhere, but the sandbanks do a nice job of aligning the sets. The best of them come off the point at the north end of the beach, which gives a lovely, bending right through the bay. There are others too. Oh, and there’s always a crowd when it’s going.
Where to stay when surfing in Cantabria
Cantabria doesn’t have the same bulk of purpose surf lodges as, say, south Portugal. But that’s the charm. There’s not too many people around and no mass surf culture. Yet. Some of the options we can wholeheartedly recommend are…
Hotel Mar Azul & Surf ($-$$)
Hotel Mar Azul & Surf puts the awesome break of Los Locos right on the doorstep. It’s also a downright stunning accommodation choice, boasting kitschy rooms layered with seagrass rugs and geometric art. You can walk to the beach and there’s a pool outside. What more could you want?
La Wave Surf House & School ($-$$)
La Wave Surf House & School sits right in front of the more beginner-friendly Somo surf. It’s a fun surf house slash hostel that’s housed in a traditional north Spanish villa. A big garden and on-site surf lessons are two of the big pluses.
Apartamentos El Caserio ($$-$$$)
Grab yourself a private pad on the clifftops overlooking Los Locos beach with Apartamentos El Caserio. They’re cosy little apartments with kitchenettes, but it’s all really about the view from the pool – a straight broadside of one of the region’s top surf beaches!
Step-by-step guide to planning your Cantabria surf trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Cantabria surf…We use Skyscanner and only Skyscanner for this. The reason? We’ve always found it the best site for comparing deals from basically ALL airlines and somehow seems to offer deals that beat going direct.
Step two: Book your surf lodge. There’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check how close EXACTLY that hotel is to particular breaks. Or Book Surf Camps, which is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages.
Step three: Book surf lessons and other activities For advance booking, you can use GetYourGuide or Viator. To be fair, though, we usually just leave this until we’re there – it’s easy to book in person in most surf destinations.
When to surf in Cantabria
Cantabria’s surf season lasts for about nine months of the year. Summer is the only unreliable time, and even then you can usually seek out something, especially if you’re after easier waves to practice on.
Swell days dip to around 40% of the time in the summer months. And that’s for the more exposed western half of Cantabria. In the east, you’re looking at about 18-20% surfable days in a month. When waves do come, they can rarely muster anything over chest height, which means places like Los Locos are actually a good setup for beginners.
Wear: 2mm or 3/2
Winter is considered the heart of the season for surfing northern Spain. We actually prefer spring and autumn because the winter storm surges can ruin the beach breaks in this region and mean otherwise fun spots like Los Locos and Somo are completely blown out. Mild winters are the best of the bunch, with chest-high swells that play into the hands of the Cantabrian shortboard crowd.
Wear: 4/3, gloves, hood, and boots
Autumn sees an uptick in the power and consistency of the Atlantic groundswells. On the Cantabrian sea, that tends to move W-E, which means breaks like Los Locos are the first to get going when September swings around. Small crowds are the real gift, and we’d actually put autumn up there as the peak time to go surfing northern Spain.
Wear: 3/2 or 4/3
Spring is a fun time on the Cantabria surf. As the storms start to quell a little out in the Atlantic, you can get good swells but with less onshore winds and more glassy conditions. Earlier in the season is when wrap-around swells are more likely to power up eastern Cantabria, with Somo and past that working well for upper beginners and intermediate practicers.
Wear: 4/3 or 3/2
Surf shops in Cantabria
Cantabria probably has fewer surf shops than the other hotspots for surfing northern Spain. It’s a smaller region than Galicia and Asturias, but also has just one big city in Santander. You’ll still find some nice local places to grab your gear though…
Our mouth waters when we see the sleek range offered by Collective Surfboards. They ooze retro character and have some stunning timber boards, along with nice fish tails and vintage egg tops. It’s a shaper that’s worth the salt.
Obsession is a warehouse-style surf emporium on the outskirts of Santander. Perfect location for those heading to catch the west swells hitting Los Locos beach, with racks filled with pop-outs of all lengths and volumes, along with branded wetsuits galore.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in Cantabria
Surfing northern Spain means you get some of the country’s more off-the-beaten-path attractions on the doorstep. When the waves aren’t working, you should be sure to check out…
Sierra del Escudo
This small range of mountains in the deep south of Cantabria looks more like something out of Scotland than Spain. It’s a mecca for walkers and wildlife lovers.
Saja-Besaya Natural Park
Venture inland to the Saja-Besaya Natural Park and you’ll get to see the lush mountainous backcountry of Cantabria. It’s not very well known, so you can find yourself totally alone on the hiking paths.
How to get to Cantabria
- Fly: The biggest airport in the region is in Santander. That is served by domestic links from Madrid and a few other Spanish cities. It also has – largely seasonal – connections on low-cost airlines like Ryanair to London.
- Drive: There are really good roads serving the region of Cantabria. That’s mainly down to the importance of Santander as a port city. They can take you east to Bilbao in just over an hour. Coming in from Madrid takes about four hours in total.