San Sebastian surf is some of the most famous in the Pais Vasco – the Basque Country. We say it’s one of the best places for a surf camp in Spain. Good food, intermediate breaks, fantastic surf hostels.
San Sebastian surf at a glance
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- We love all the new surf camps in San Sebastian
- Near some of Basque Country’s best waves
- City setting – you get tapas bars and nightlife too!
- Flat summers
- Unreliable conditions at the urban breaks
- Some localism in nearby Basque spots
What’s in this guide to San Sebastian surf?
- An introduction to San Sebastian surf
- Where is San Sebastian?
- Surf spots in San Sebastian
- Surf hostels and camps in San Sebastian
- A guide to the San Sebastian surf season
- Surf shops in San Sebastian
- Where to eat in San Sebastian
- Things to do in San Sebastian
- How to get to San Sebastian
An introduction to San Sebastian surf
San Sebastian is almost certainly the country’s most iconic surf town. There’s an abundance of cool hostels and surf camps that we think do enough to elevate to the top of the list for would-be holidaymakers on the hunt for waves. Okay, so the actual breaks might not be the creme-de-la-creme of the Iberian Peninsular. But you don’t want barreling tubes of triple overhead if you’re coming to learn. What’s more, the waves of Zurriola Beach and nearby Zarautz are far from bad….
Wedgy, powerful beach breaks with sand underfoot and swift left and right rides are the name of the game on the local beaches. They pick up decent westerly and north-westerly swells running off the end of the Cantabrian Sea. More sheltered than the nearby French coast, they’re kinda’ spot on for learners and improving intermediates. They’re also real close to civilisation. No car rental needed if you base yourself in one of the surf hostels in the old city. It’s a hop and a skip to the breaks and the tapas joints. Nice.
The fact that San Sebastian is a city joined with a wave spot is the main reason we say this one’s up there with the best destinations for surf holidays Spain. Come, enjoy the culture, drink the wine, party at night, and hit the swells in the daytime. Easssssy.
Where is San Sebastian?
San Sebastian is less than 10 miles from the Spanish-French border. It’s on the far north coast of Spain close to the very depth of the Bay of Biscay. That makes it the first city in the semi-autonomous region of Pais Vasco (the Basque Country). To the west is Cantabria, another rugged region with great surf on open beaches. To the east and north is the French Basque coast, home to Biarritz!
San Sebastian surf spots
Check out a few of the best surf spots in San Sebastian town. Some are in the city itself, so you’ll only need your two feet and a pair of flip-flops to reach them from the door of your surf hostel. Others are a little further out, which you can venture to if the urban lineups swell or you fancy a different challenge.
Zurriola Beach is the surf spot in San Sebastian. The most reliable of the inner-city breaks by a long shot, it’s set in an open bay that’s exposed to the N swells. The wave is a nice A-frame with quick lefts and longer rights that hits its best on wrap-around NW swells with a size of between four and six foot. Summer is smaller and better for beginners. Winter conditions are better for intermediates. There’s only sand underfoot, so the local San Sebastian surf schools love it here. A touch of localism but it’s really misplaced because this is arguably the most surfed and most international spot in the whole of the Basque Country these days.
La Concha is the arc of golden sand that runs below the San Seb old town. There’s no doubt it’s the prettiest in the city, but the surf isn’t such a doozy. I mean, it’s good. It’s just a little unpredictable, what with a huge island chopping up some of the sets when the swell hits a certain NW angle that would be prime elsewhere in the Pasi Vasco. A sand bottom and good headland shelter mean it’s usually a beginner’s game. SUP and kayaking happen a lot too. Watch out for crowds.
There’s a point break at the western end of Playa de Ondarreta that offers some good-quality lefts on swells of between 2 and 7 feet. When it’s working it’s a shapely wave so gets crowded with locals who won’t take kindly to sharing what they’ve been waiting for (waves aren’t like tapas in San Sebastian, sadly).
If you’re willing to head out of town for a day (and lots of the San Sebastian surf schools will do this), Zarautz is on the menu. It’s a reliable and consistent beach break that’s all round better than the urban breaks in SS itself. A swell window extends north to west, but is best on NW swells in autumn and spring. Waves hold up well on anything under 8 foot but will close out above that. The result is a mega spot for shortboard freeriders who love to rip it up on long and carvable shoulders. Classic Basque stuff.
Essential gear for surf trips to Spain
- [SUMMER – April to September] C-Skins Session 3/2 | Again, we’ve focused on the flex when it comes to choosing the right summer suit for Spain. That’s mainly because thermo features can take a back seat when the mercury cranks up here. You’ll need arm coverage to counter the winds, but then you can afford to add features like the Freedom Zip and Xtend 2 neoprene that C-Skins do so well. All very eco-friendly too, which is nice.
- [WINTER – October to March] Rip Curl E-Bomb E7 4/3mm | The Rip Curl E-Bomb benefits from uber-stretchy E7 neoprene. Boys in the office won’t stop going on about how it’s like surfing in a rash vest. That’s a nice touch on the waves of Basque and Cantabria, which often need a lot of repositioning. The 4/3 should carry you right through the Spanish winter months. A cracking wetsuit.
- [SUMMER – April to September] Billabong 302 Synergy 3/2mm Chest Zip Wetsuit (2021) – Blue Seas | The latest Synergy from Billabong has really impressed the European team at The Surf Atlas. The interior has a fleece lining that keeps super toasty but the neoprene is lighter than usual to give you more freedom on those longer sessions. It’s a solid go-to suit for all levels heading to Spain if you ask us. How bout’ that colour too!?
- [WINTER – October to March] C-Skins 4/3mm Surflite Wetsuit | A 4/3 should see you through all but the coldest days on the Spanish coast. We love this C-Skins model because there’s been a big focus to cut down seams, while the Xtend neoprene offers an extra touch of flex, which is important on the Basque and Asturian breaks where paddling and positioning is key.
SUNSCREEN: Suntribe All Natural Zinc Sunscreen | Do not even think about surfing in Spain without sunscreen. This is one of Europe’s most UV-rich corners. Great for the tan, but surfers shouldn’t risk it. Our block of choice is now the Suntribe because it’s got that all-importnat zinc infusion but is 100% natural and ocean safe.
WATER BOTTLE: 18 Oz Hydro Flask | Now our water flask of choice, the Hydro range does better at keeping our aqua warm than any other brand we’ve tried. Also, all the other surfers are using em!
WAX: Quick Humps Mr Zogs Sex Wax Basecoat and Cool Water Topcoat Surfboard Wax | Re-wax before you get to Spain with this combo pack of tropical (for the base) and cool-water wax (for the top coat). It covers everywhere in Spain.
Where to stay when surfing in San Sebastian
San Sebastian is awash with lovely hotels. We’ve gone and listed some of the ones that are perfectly located for getting to the surf of Zurriola Beach, which is the most reliable in the town.
Surfing Etxea – Surf Hostel ($-$$)
Right on the doorstep of Zurriola Beach (the most consistent surf spot in San Sebastian), Surfing Etxea is a seriously fun place to base your trip to the Basque Country waves. It’s easy on the budget but also a bit of a posh-tel (that’s a posh hostel). Expect pod-style beds with curtains in the dorms and a really cool common are filled with plants and polished concrete.
Apartamento Zurriola Luxury – Surf Beach ($$$)
Best for: Luxury as a group
Groups of up to six surfers should put some serious consideration to this private pad. It’s right by Zurriola, so you’ll be able to walk to the waves every day. When you return you get a stunning apartment with lux interiors, flat-screen TVs, and a sumptuous lounge done in minimalist styles.
PINOT NOIR APT. SURF&PINTXOS ($$-$$$)
Another deluxe apartment close to Zurriola Beach, the Pinot Noir Apt is a 1,076-square-foot space for up to four guests. It’s done really stylishly with bright rooms and comfy beds. Medium on the budget but the location is fantastic.
When to surf in San Sebastian
San Sebastian follows much the same pattern as the surfing in Spain generally. Winters are big. Summers can be flat. That’s the overall rule, but we prefer to take it season by season..
Summer is a lovely time to be holidaying in San Sebastian. The cerveza bars are in full flow and the tapas joints are spilling onto the streets. Sadly, the surf is nowhere near consistent at this time of year. The north-facing orientation of spots like Zurriola Beach mean you need some rare NW swells to kick through to get things properly going. Offshores are rare because winds often go NE through France and that kills anything that might happen. There are some days, but expect to surf around 20% of the time.
Wear: 2mm or 3/2
Winter sees the biggest and the most consistent swells pass through the Atlantic into the Bay of Biscay. They crank up the surf forecast for the Basque Country so that around 60-80% of the days are surfable overall. For beginners it’s good news in San Sebastian, because Concha is a really protected bay that offers some nice waves even when it’s overhead. Zurriola Beach will be heavier and Zarautz heavier again. Still, it’s a very good time to plan that surf holiday if you want reliable sessions and lots of time in the water.
Wear: 4/3 and boots with a hood
Autumn (September & October)
Autumn is the perfect time to plan surf holidays to Spain if you ask us. It’s when the stronger NW swells off the Atlantic begin in earnest as storms rumble around Iceland. That fires up the main swell channels in the Bay of Biscay, bringing pretty gnarly wedges to the French Landes coast and some more sheltered sets into San Sebastian. Zurriola Beach enjoys more consistency at this time of year, and you might even get some good days in Conch.
Spring (April & May)
Spring has good reliability (we’d say about 50-60% of the days are worthy of a paddle out in San Sebastian). It will mainly be focused on Zarautz and Zurriola Beach, when there are westerlies big enough to wrap aaround the bay. Summer onshores haven’t really kicked in yet, so there’s a chance for glassy conditions. Water is still cold, so you’ll need those gloves, boots and even a hood for when the gusts pick up.
Wear: 4/3 and boots with hood
Be sure to check out our gear guides:
- 10 Best Surf Sunscreen Choices for 2021 – Keep the skin healthy and the ocean happy.
- 5 of The Best Surf Hats for 2021 – Surf hats that’ll keep the sun off.
- The Ultimate Guide to Eco Friendly Wetsuits [2021 Edition] – Consider the ocean when you buy.
- The Best Surf Booties for Men in 2021 – Protect yo’ feet. Keep the toes warm.
- 10 of The Best Gifts for Surfers – Gift ideas for surfers in 2021.
- The Best Wetsuits for Kids – Essential reading for any mom or pop with a young surfer
Surf shops in San Sebastian
Because it’s the de facto surf capital of the Pais Vasco, San Seb actually has a good whack of surf shops. The ones we really like include:
Pukas Surf Shop San Sebastian
The Pukas Surf Shop San Sebastian is one of the main outlets of Basque’s own Pukas make. They’re now a pretty well-known shaper within Europe that we’d say create boards that are tailor-made for the swell in San Seb and Zarautz – nifty shorties with shapes for freeriding and sharp turns. Get in and get one done if you want to try em’ out.
Surfing San Sebastián
Simply named Surfing San Sebastián is a small little surf boutique with its own style. You’ll find it in a white-painted shop just south of the old town district, offering tees and shorts and other surf apparel. It’s the sort of stuff you won’t find elsewhere and that’s why we like it!
Best places to eat in San Sebastian
One of the best things about surfing in San Sebastian is that you can enjoy all the delights of the city while still hitting the Pais Vasco waves. That means cracking tapas, or, as the locals here call it, pintxos, along with coffee shops galore…
Old Town Coffee ($)
Old Town Coffee is one of the top spots for an early morning brew in SS. We love it because there’s something of an obsession with the beans here – try the aeropress to really make the most of them. Toned down interior with polished concrete means you can meditate and chill before your session in the water.
Bar Ipotx ($$)
We choose Bar Ipotx as one of the top pintxos places in San Sebastian mainly because it’s located just behind Zurriola Beach, so really close to the best waves in the city. It’s also an authentic Pais Vasco place, with hamburgers, sandwiches and all manner of tasty small plates to get through with your cerveza in hand.
Juantxo Taberna ($$)
Juantxo Taberna is a traditional Basque Country sandwich house. Casual and close to the surf breaks of La Concha beach, they offer filling breads with Spanish meats and local veggies to quell those rumbles after a surf session with the San Seb schools.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in San Sebastian
The San Sebastian surf doesn’t pump all the time. But that’s okay because you have one of Spain’s most awesome cities to get stuck into if the waves are off the menu. And that’s not even mentioning the abundance of adventure in the surrounding region.
Scale this high hill on the far western end of town and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of La Concha bay and Zurriola Beach in the distance. There’s a funicular up there, but we prefer the path. Access to the lookout point costs a couple of euros per person.
Peñas de Aya
Surfers like to hike, we know that. Cue the Peñas de Aya. They’re the remote northern foothills of the Pyrenees, found straddling the Basque Country border a little to the south of San Sebastian. You’ll need a car to get there but it’s worth it for the seclusion and the wild meadows and peaks.
How to get to San Sebastian
- Fly: San Sebastian has its own small airport but there are only a few domestic connections going there from within Spain. It’s much more likely you’ll get a flight into Bilbao Airport and transfer from there. The trip by road in normal traffic is around 1.2 hours. There’s a direct bus on offer run by PESA.
- Drive: San Sebastian has good links to the AP-8 (the main coast road through northern Spain) and the AP-15 (the highway that goes south towards Madrid).
- Train: You can catch RENFE services in and out of San Sebastian. There are regular daily connections to Barcelona (they take about 5.5 hours) and to Madrid (they take about 8 hours).
This is just one part of our guide to surfing in Spain