Pais Vasco surf is the most popular in Spain, no questions. It might be close to France, but you don’t get wide beach breaks here. Instead, it’s about reefs and point breaks that are well sheltered from the dominant W swell.
Pais Vasco surf at a glance
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- Great reefs
- Mundaka is one of the best lefts in Europe
- Surf camps for starters in lovely San Sebastian
- Localism is bad and getting worse
- The busiest lineups in all of Spain
- Some pollution, especially closer to Bilbao
This guide is part of our larger ultimate guide to surfing in Spain
What’s in this guide to Pais Vasco surf?
An introduction to Pais Vasco surf
Most people call the Paid Vasco the Basque Country. Whatever name you use, there’s no question that it’s one of the most popular surf areas in Spain. Running from the northern end of the Pyrenees at the French border to the softer contours of Cantabria, the region is perfectly positioned to enjoy the same NW and W swells that come across the Bay of Biscay into Landes and Biarritz. That means reliability, which only gets better when you factor in the sheer variety of breaks the area has up its sleeve.
Predominantly reefs and rivermouths, the spots run the gamut from gnarly to mellow. A lot of people think it’s all about San Sebastian on the Pais Vasco surf scene. But we think the city is only really great for an urban break with some surfing on the side. There are way better options to the west, including the legendary estuary left at Mundaka (some say the very best left on the globe!).
Pais Vasco surf isn’t the most reliable in Europe. Summer can see pretty chilled conditions because things get flat when there aren’t any NW groundswells coming through from the North Atlantic. Still, late Autumn onwards is pretty consistent, while different spots pick up different things, so that beginners can surf alongside pros on the very same day. A word of mention should also be made for the XXL Pais Vasco surf. It’s no Nazare but there are places that will hold 20ft in the midwinter.
Where is Pais Vasco
Pais Vasco is a triangular-shaped region in the very north-western corner of Spain. It buts up to the French border by the Pyrenees mountains. The coastline runs for about 75 miles in a great S-bend, going through San Sebastian (probably the best-known surf town in the region) to the more industrial area around Bilbao. Madrid, the Spanish capital, is 3.5-4.5 hours’ drive to the south-west.
A guide to the Pais Vasco surf spots
From the intermediate-friendly Zarautz surf close to San Sebastian to the XXL spots further west, the Pais Vasco has a real medley of different sorts of waves. The headline acts are as follows…
San Sebastian has a couple of spots up its sleeve. The most famous is Zurriolla. That is a small-wave shortboard spot with wedgy sandbar peaks, and it’s right on the edge of the historic city. There are a few others, like the sheltered La Concha beach that needs something bigger to get working. Because it’s a major tourist hotspot as well as a top destination to surf in Spain, this one’s got less localism and some fantastic surf camps. We’d say it should be top of the list if you’re planning a surf trip to the Pais Vasco!
We’ve got a complete, in-depth guide to surfing in San Sebastian which you can read right now!
Zarautz is probably the quintessential Pais Vasco surf spot and one of the most iconic places to surf in Spain full stop. On a wide and long beach to the west of San Sebastian, it offers multiple peaks that are really rippable and just perfect for getting off and on the lip on the shortboard. The locals command the lineup but there’s a growing surf school in these parts, and multiple peaks so you can often find some space. Zarautz surf is one of the go-to places for surf camps in the San Sebastian region.
Orrua is a nice left that comes off a harbour wall. Sadly, the NW swell direction can often push in just a little too much and you’re left contending with something a little heavy and closey. When the Cantabrian Sea takes the foot off the pedal a touch, you can cruise the whole bay from west to easy but it’s tricky.
For us, Laga is one of the prettiest beaches in the whole of the Pais Vasco. On the top of a headland to the east of Mundaka, it’s pretty remote so doesn’t suffer from the crowds of other spots on this list. Sand underfoot with a few rocks, but when the banks align right you can look forward to some serious corkers of waves – think peely, sectiony shoulders with rippable rights off the headland.
All hail Mundaka. Arguably the most famous surf spot in all of Spain, this rivermouth left is the most consistent of all the Pais Vasco surf. Rides of over 200m can come off the western end of the bay under the town. They’re super fast, so you’ll gather some Gs if you can crack the drop-in (a quick one) and get into the pocket. You won’t have much room to manoeuvre inside, because Mundaka peels fast and closes you in nice and quick. There are really strong rips on a retreating tide and some rock hazards, not to mention the territorial locals who claim this one as their own and no one else’s.
Bakio is one of the top beginner surf spots in the Pais Vasco. In a sandy bay framed by craggy Basque Country cliffs and mountains, you get good sets of head-high waves on swells of around 6-8 foot. They’re quite fat and wally and can make for some rippable sections when working best. A few surf schools will stick to the whitewash. Changes in the sandbank formation can alter wave types virtually overnight, so stand and watch before you paddle out.
When Meñakoz is pumping, you should head down to watch. Just watch, mind you, because it’s one of Europe’s most dangerous big-wave spots and definitely not to be messed with if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s wedged into a narrow cove north of Bilbao, where huge 25-foot swells create some mega sets. A southerly offshore will give it the kick it needs. Clifftop viewin points aplenty.
Sopelana is up there with the most popular Pais Vasco surf spots of all – it’s actually one of the most popular spots in Spain. The reason? It’s really easy to get to and close to the big city of Bilbao. Multiple peaks cover the beach with max hold up of around 8 foot. W-N swells that are dominant from autumn onward really work well here, with some sandbanks and some reefs offering shape to the sets. There’s also a separate point break with nice lefts to catch at the west side of the bay.
Punta Galea is only for the pros. It’s a mega XXL spot to satisfy the gun riders. Pros like Nic Lamb come here to work their magic when its huge in the winter months. You’re talking 25 foot+ on the main reef and it’s fast stuff with a shallow rock bottom. Spectators can gather on the clifftop when the tour’s in town.
La Arena isn’t a bad break. It’s just one of the most polluted spots on the Basque Country coast. We usually avoid it for that reason, but you can come chasing the relatively consistent NW swells in winter and catch fun beach breaks that come off the sandbanks offering lefts and rights. Pretty crowded beach, mainly because Bilbao is just down the road.
Where to stay when surfing in Pais Vasco
There are loads of fantastic hotels in the Pais Vasco for surfers. They range from eco surf camps to cheap hostels to slick city hotels. Some of the ones we think will work on your jaunt to the Basque waves are…
Egona – Good Duke ($$-$$$)
The aparthotel Egon – Good Duke offers luxury pads overlooking the reliable Zarautz surf. You’ll be just steps from the waves in the morning and get to watch the sunset over the swells come evening, because each unit has its own balcony. Inside, you get self-catering kitchens and a generous lounge to boot.
Lasala Plaza Hotel ($$$)
Best for: Luxury near the breaks of San Sebastian
If you’re willing to splash a little cash, the 4-star Lasala Plaza Hotel is a doozy of a spot in San Sebastian. With La Concha Beach on one side and Zurriolla on the other, you’ll be able to see the surf from the enticing outdoor pool and sunning terraces. Suites are uber-lux and cool, with herringbone floors, marble bathrooms and flat-screen TVs.
Surfing Etxea – Surf Hostel ($$)
Best for: meeting other surfers on a budget
Surfing Etxea – Surf Hostel is a lush posh-tel with some serious style. It’s perfectly located in the streets just behind La Zurriola, which hosts the best urban break in San Sebastian. Finding surf pals shouldn’t be hard thanks to that awesome on-site bar and common space. You also get extra privacy in the wallet-friendly dorms thanks to separated pod beds in bunks.
When to surf in Pais Vasco
The seasons really do govern the surf in the Pais Vasco. It’s worth knowing what to expect from each month as you plan that Spanish surf trip in this northerly wave hub…
Winter is the peak of the Pais Vasco surf season. We don’t think it’s the best season, but it’s the most reliable for sure. Regular W and NW pulses come across the Cantabrian Sea, strong enough to wrap around any headlands and fire up the east-facing beaches, while also giving mega overheads ot the west-facing beaches. It’s also big-wave time in Punta Galea and Menakoz.
Wear: 4/3, boots, hood, and gloves
Summer is the quietest season on the Pais Vasco surf. Stats show that swell days drop by about 50%, so you might have flat spells to contend with. Crowds are also way bigger as the Spanish and the French fill up the beaches. The spots near San Sebastian and Bilbao get especially packed. On the flip side, the water is warmer and wind isn’t such an issue, although summer northerlies aren’t great because they’re always onshore.
Wear: 2mm or 3/3
Spring sees a gradual drop in swell size from the start of April. That’s great news for the Pais Vasco, which has spots that tend to prefer things <10 foot. Zarautz surf is kicking at 5-6 foot with spring offshore winds in May, and it’s a nice time to be in San Sebastian because line ups are smaller. There’s decent consistency too.
We’d put the late summer and the autumn down as the best time of year to come surfing in Spain generally. The Pais Vasco is no different. SW summer winds stop and you get some good northerlies in the mornings to help Mundaka hold up. Zarautz gets nice NW swells and the beaches all around San Sebastian are at acting pretty reliable. There’s a hint of big-wave potential too if it’s a stormy autumn but just loads to get stuck into all round.
Wear: 4/3 or 3/2
Surf shops in Pais Vasco
You’re probably better off stocking up on gear before you leave the mainstay surf towns of San Sebastian and Zaruatz. They host the bulk of the surf shops in the region and are well-equipped with gear. Alternatively, you’ve got loads to shop in the French towns of Hendaye and Biarritz just over the border if you can be bothered to make the drive.
Pukas Surf Shop
Pukas have two locations – one in San Sebastian and the other close to the Zarautz surf. They’re recognised as one of the longest-running Pais Vasco surf names, with a range of their own boards that include trademark models like the 69er and the Wave Slave.
Hawaii Donostia is in the downtown of San Sebastian and has a really wide range of branded surf goods. There are shaped and pop-out boards on the rack. You’ve got Rip Curl wetties and steamers. There’s also a whole range of bikinis and swimwear and skate gear. A great stop for any hardware needs in Basque Country if you ask us.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in Pais Vasco
Pais Vasco surf isn’t the only awesome shiz going down in this north-west end of Spain. Mountains and foodie meccas are also on the menu. Check em’ out…
Pintxo in San Sebastian
Culinary buffs who look to San Sebastian for their surf trip will be pleased to know it’s something of a foodie heaven. You simply must try the local pintxos – it’s the Pais Vasco version of tapas. Small dishes like quail’s egg on bruschetta and spicy prawns are the norm, best served with a cold cerveza. There are loads of places to try it, but we love the casual atmosphere of Bar Zeruko.
The Basque Pyrenees aren’t far from Zarautz or San Sebastian. They offer hiking and mountain biking, and a great escape to the Spanish countryside. Trekking routes up to Berra and Etxalar can be done over multiple days, to offer visions of lush mountains and rustic Pais Vasco villages close to the French border.
How to get to Pais Vasco
- Fly: Bilbao Airport is the largest in the Pais Vasco. It’s got links to London–Gatwick, Paris and Dublin on low-cost carriers and is best for reaching the reef breaks closer to Cantabria in the west of the region. You can also fly to San Sebastian, which has some short-haul links to London City Airport and domestic links throughout Spain. It’s better for reaching the beach breaks in the east of the region and close to the French Basque Country where there are more beginner-friendly surf spots like Hendaye.
- Drive: Because it’s so mountainous, the main roads through Pais Vasco tend to stick to the coast. That’s great news for surfers, who can access pretty much all the main spots as they travel the AP-8 from east to west. There are also highway links to Madrid – the drive takes around 3.5 hours in total.
- Bus: Long-distance coach operators Moncloa and Europe-wide Flixbus has connections throughout Spain into the Basque Country. Arrivals can be into San Sebastian or Bilbao.
Travel insurance if you’re heading on a surf trip to Pais Vasco
The Pais Vasco surf is up there with some of the best surf in Spain – there’s no doubt about that! If you’ve been tempted to travel here, it’s good idea to have travel insurance in case something goes wrong on your surf trip. We’ve often used World Nomads. Their policies cover a range of adventure sports and activities. You can read more about their cover for surf right here.
All of the information provided about travel insurance is a brief summary only. It does not include all terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions and termination provisions of the travel insurance plans described. Coverage may not be available for residents of all countries, states or provinces. Please carefully read your policy wording for a full description of coverage.
This is just one part of our larger guide to the surf in Spain