The Ultimate Guide to Santander Surf

by Nuno D'Angelo

Santander surf is a fine intro to the quality of Cantabria. It sets you off on nice east and north-west beach breaks all within easy access of town.

Santander surf

Santander surf at a glance

We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

The good

  • Breaks withing walking distance of the downtown
  • Access to loads of world-class breaks in Cantabria
  • Some of the top urban surfing in Spain for beginners

The bad

  • Some localism
  • Santander isn’t the prettiest city
  • Narrow NW swell window

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing Spain

What’s in this guide to the surf in Santander?

An introduction to Santander surf

Okay, so Santander won’t win any beauty contests. But who needs prettiness when you’ve got surf? Get over the utilitarian 20th-century sprawl and you’ve got waves of all sorts in the capital of Cantabria. We’d go as far as to say that it’s some of the best surfing north Spain has to offer. To match that, there’s a thriving local scene. Sadly, that brings localism, but it’s rare for things to be too bad in Santander, which also caters to big surf-traveler crowds, particularly in summer and autumn.

Oddly for this region, a lot of the spots are east facing, which means they wait for wrap-around W-NW swells to get pumping. When that happens, they can offer rare sessions when the rest of this part of Iberia is a no go. We’d say Somo and El Sardinero are the two standout breaks. They’re both beaches, but one’s way more urban than the other. NW swells are the ticket, with some points and good A-frames galore when it’s kicking.

A lot of surfers see the city of Santander as a simple jump-off point for the legendary breaks of northern Spain. However, there’s plenty to hang around for – not least of all some fine surfing in Spain for beginners, a vibrant town that’s an upcoming culinary hotspot, and a pretty wild nightlife.

Where is Santander?

Santander is right in the middle of northern Spain. It’s the capital of the Cantabria region and sits just over 70km to the west of the next big city of Bilbao, which is in the Basque Country (another fantastic place to surf in north Spain!). The country’s capital of Madrid is about 330km directly southwards through the mountains. The drive in from there usually takes in the region of 4.5 hours or even more.

A guide to the top Santander surf spots

Santander is on a big opening in the Bay of Biscay coast in Cantabria. Some of its beaches – the least reliable when it comes to surf – face east. Others look north and a little west, which are the ones you get the more consistent breaks at in seasons like spring and autumn.

Santander surf spots

El Sardinero

A lot will say that El Sardinero is Santander’s second-best break, and it’s often content to take a backseat to Somo. However, we think there’s lots to be said for this. Right in the town, it’s fringed by handsome turn-of-the-century mansions. Okay, good waves need a pretty hefty NW storm push to come through, but there are often rideable sets from October to March. Occasional A-frame peaks when it’s at its best and a nicer crowd than elsewhere in Cantabria. A core beginner break in spring and summer, it suffers from flatness in the warmer months. Still worth checking though, cos’ it’s hardly tricky to reach from Santander’s center.

El Puntal

The westernmost of the beaches on the Somo stretch to the east of Santander is also the most protected of the bunch. You really have to hold on for 10-foot swells or more to catch anything rideable here. Otherwise it’s pure whitewash for the groms. Nonetheless: Pretty location with views across the water to Santander city.

Playa de Somo

By the standards of the other surfing north Spain has to offer, Playa de Somo is considered a beginner and intermediate break. But that’s probably a little simplistic. Yes, it’s a corker on medium swells. And yes, there are wonderful surf schools in the vicinity. However, you can track east along the shoreline to find parts of the beach that pick up considerably more NW swells. The peaks can be 3 foot taller there, and hollow to boot. Mostly, you’re looking at chest- or head-high sets with fat sections and steep sections – an improver’s dream.

Santa Marina

It’s experts only at this hardcore reef break on the eastern extremity of the Santander surf territory. Brings in walloping barrels that can handle lots of height. Sadly, it’s a fickle operator, with just a few days each season when it’s worth the risk – the rocks underneath are sharp and the locals won’t take any attitude. You’ve been warned.

Where to stay when surfing in Santander

There are some top-draw surf camps and surf hotels in the area of Santander. Here’s a little selection that we’d totally get behind…

Hotel Mar Azul & Surf

Surf-hotel-top-pick

The thing about Hotel Mar Azul & Surf is that it’s not really in Santander at all. Still, if you’re planning a full-on Cantabrian surf trip, we don’t think it can be beaten. In the charming fishing town of Suances, it’s close to remote beaches where you’re unlikely to get the same localism as in the city. It’s also a darn stunning accommodation, with boutique rooms packed with kitschy wallpaper and even surf parephenalia.

H.A.N.D Surf Hostel 

Best for: Budget surf trips that are fun!

H.A.N.D Surf Hostel is just a short drive to the west of Playa Somo, which is probably the most reliable surf spot in all of Santander. It’s a classic Spanish surf hostel where you’ll meet and mingle with other travelers. There’s a nice communal BBQ for those post-surf evenings together too.

Santemar

Best for: Treating yourself

Set just above El Sardinero, Santemar is a gorgeous hotel property with lavish rooms. The interiors are influenced by the ocean, what with open, breezy windows and blue-white colour schemes. Each has air conditioning and good proximity to one of the town’s best beginner surf beaches.

When to surf in Santander

Santander has four distinct seasons. Winter is prime for surf, when the storms cross the Atlantic Ocean from the NW quarters. However, it’s often better for more experienced riders, which may mean shoulder seasons like autumn or spring are better for you…

Santander weather

Summer (June-August)

Around half of days are surfable in Santander in the summer months. On top of that, you’ll almost certainly need to leave the main urban break of El Sardinero in search of green pastures further afield. After all, that asks for heavy NW swells to work and that’s a rare thing without a storm rolling through the Bay of Biscay. It’s essentially a beginner’s only season!

Wear: 3/2

Winter (December-March)

The Cantabrian winter is cold and wild, but also probably the best Santander surf season of the lot. This is the time the locals do their riding. Strong Atlantic storm systems can chuck up punchy NW conditions. They hit Somo and Santa Marina to offer XL waves that mellow as you head towards Punta and the city. That cues up good variety, from fast gun drop ins on the reefs to rippable walls nearer town.

Wear: 5/4, 4/3 + boots and gloves and hood

Autumn (September-November)

As the water temperatures drop, so the potential for W-NW currents in the bay shoot upwards. What’s more, tourist numbers plummet, so there are quieter line ups. You’ll probably wait until November for Sardinero to get rolling regularly, but Somo is sweet with smaller crowds, especially for intermediates.

Wear: 4/3. Boots in Nov

Spring (April & May)

Booties may or may not be needed in April and May, as some mercury gradually returns to the Bay of Biscay. Onshore winds calm a tad too, leaving dawn patrollers some nice days when they catch some of the wrap-arounds left over in the winter engine room. May is more for starters and groms, and when most of Santander’s surf schools start going for the warmer season.

Wear: 4/3 + boots and maybe gloves

Surf shops in Santander

Santander has a pretty good surf infrastructure and it’s getting better every year. That means you’ll find decent surf shops as well as good breaks. Here are some that come highly recommended in the city…

Go Surfing Surf Shop

Okay, so you’ll need to go hunting for this surf shop. It’s on the western outskirts of the city in a small strip mall called the Centro Empresarial. It’s worth the trek because it’s packed with gear. All sorts of wetties at all different thicknesses join with one overloaded board rack with nice shorties – perfect for these Cantabrian waves!

Obsession

Just as the name implies, the folk here are pretty into wavecraft. Don’t take our word for it though. Let the board racks do the talking. They are choca full of all sorts of ride. You’ve got under 5″ for the real freestylers, locally shaped things for those who want a Santander surf souvenir, and there are cheaper foamies for beginners. The best part? There’s a skate shop on site! Get some bowls in while you buy.

Recommended surf gear for Santander trips

While the sections on the north of Spain (where the best surfing is) aren’t as beefy a we’d like, there’s still loads to get through for Cantabria and Santander in this LP guide to Spain. Call us old fashioned but we still love a good travel book!

The Cantabrian Sea isn’t Bali! Nope, you’ll need cold water wax for this one. We love Sticky Bumps so pick up a pack before you jet off to save yourself a trip to the local shops.

Serious surf travelers simply shouldn’t leave home without their action cam. For us, there’s no better one on the market than the GoPro series. The 8 does just fine, with 4K footage and pretty darn awesome image stabilization.

Best places to eat in Santander

Remember that Santander is a city surf spot. That means there’s never going to be a shortage of top places to dine after catching your session in the morning or afternoon. Some of our favourites in the town center and out by Somo are listed below…

Irons Grill Burger ($$)

We can wholeheartedly recommend Irons Grill Burger as a post-surf eat. It’s only a few blocks behind the reliable wave spots of Playa de Somo. There, the menu reads filling burgers in brioche buns with sides of chips. Simple but just what ya’ need when the stomach’s a-rumbling.

Balneario de la Concha ($$$)

If you’re lucky enough to catch the waves working on El Sardinero then why not celebrate after the sesh with a meal at this acclaimed fine-dining joint. The views are cracking – they stretch across the bay and the rocks and the city. The menu is all refined Spanish cooking – cheese platters, spicy rice dishes, fresh seafood.

Surf Café Somo ($)

Just as the name implies, the Surf Café Somo has become something of an unofficial hangout for wave searchers on the eastern beaches of Santander. It’s super chill, with chairs and tables set over a series of grassy terraces. The food is traditional northern pintxos (tapas) that’s homemade and affordable.

Things to do when you’re not surfing in Santander

Santander isn’t only about chasing the surf. We think you’re going to love exploring the other hidden corners and sights in this northern Spanish city…

Magdalena Peninsula

Stroll the Magdalena Peninsula

You’ll be able to see the rugged rocks of the Magdalena Peninsula from wherever you are in the city. Jutting out into the Bay of Santander, this one’s all wave-bashed rocks and hidden inlets. There’s also a grand palace and a zoo, not to mention more picnic spots than you can shake you paella at!

Puertochico

This enthralling area is the most venerable part of the downtown of Santander, with a history that goes back centuries. These days, there’s not many traces of what it used to look like. Sadly, a fire ravaged it all in the 1940s. Still, it’s full of atmosphere, with tapas bars and boat-bobbing yachts to keep the eyes busy.

How to get to Santander

  • Fly: Santander Airport is one of the major airports in northern Spain. It’s served by direct links to London, Milan, Warsaw, and Dublin to name just a few and is a major arrival point for low-cost carriers like Ryanair.
  • Drive: The proximity of the A-8 and the A-67 motorways makes it a cinch to drive to Santander from pretty much any corner of northern Spain. To come in from Bilbao, for example, expect about 1.2 hours in the car. To arrive from the capital of Spain in Madrid, you’re looking at 4.5 hours at least, driving via Burgos on the E5 motorway.
  • Train: The comfiest way to travel long distances in Spain is on the RENFE national rail network. There are direct daily links between Santander and Madrid (taking about 4 hours), and even longer-distance services that link to Alicante on the south coast.

Travel insurance for trips to Santander

Santander is a corker of a surf destination. If you’ve been drawn to its urban spots and the greater Cantabria region, 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.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Spain

You may also like

Leave a Comment