Ribeira d'Illhas, Ericeira: the ultimate European point break

October 6, 2021 | Surfing
Ribeira d'Illhas, Ericeira: probably the best point break wave in Europe | Photo: Shutterstock

Ericeira is a famous Portuguese surf town known for its collection of world-class waves. Among its famed surf breaks is Ribeira d'Ilhas.

Ericeira is a wave-rich region located 28 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of Lisbon and 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of the Peniche and Supertubos.

The area features 22 other world-renowned surf breaks - seven of them made it Europe's first World Surfing Reserve (WSR).

"When I first came here in the 1980s, I fell in love with the area," stressed Will Henry, founder of Save The Waves Coalition, the organization running the World Surfing Reserves program.

"It's a magical place, and this designation provides a great conservation tool to better protect it."

Within the prestigious 2.4-mile (four kilometers) perimeter, you'll find Pedra Branca, Reef, Ribeira de Ilhas, Cave, Crazy Left, Coxos, and São Lourenço.

But there are a few more peaks and iconic waves that should be explored, including Matadouro, Praia do Norte, Pico do Futuro, Foz do Lisandro, and São Julião.

Overall, the "Eleven Mile Miracle" consolidated Ericeira as the surfing capital of Europe and premium destination for surfers from the Old Continent and the world.

A single wave in particular - Ribeira d'Ilhas - stands out as one of the best surf spots in Portugal.

Ribeira d'Illhas: a long high-performance right-hand wave that is perfect for power surfing experts | Photo: WSL

Ericeira: The Quintessential Surf Town

Ericeira - the town itself - is a small picturesque fishing village with 10,000 inhabitants.

But the number of surf tourists visiting and staying for long periods of time - or even all year round - could very well double its population.

The uniqueness of Ericeira is not all about consistent surfing - there's also a protected pristine natural ecosystem that surrounds the shoreline.

The first Ericeira wave riders were fishermen. They would ride their boats on the waves when they came in from fishing.

The diverse and concentrated group of quality surf breaks provide opportunities for surfers of all levels - big waves, small waves, expert waves, and beginner waves.

Ericeira is the home of Tiago Pires, the first-ever Portuguese surfer to compete on the Championship Tour.

Ribeira d'Ilhas is by far the most famous wave in the region. It breaks 1.8 miles (three kilometers) north of Ericeira.

It was the first Portuguese surf spot to host national and international surfing competitions.

Ribeira d'Illhas: with ideal conditions, you can ride a wave for 300 yards | Photo: Ericeira WSR10

A High-Performance Carving Paradise

Ribeira d'Ilhas is the queen of all Ericeira waves.

The legendary right-hand point break attracts surfers from all latitudes in search of a long, high-performance ride.

The knowledge of the Ribeira d'Ilhas lineup is critical to getting the best waves.

As a result, positioning and wave selection are the secrets to a memorable ride that will take from a shallow take-off spot to the shore break.

"The sets are great if you can take off from the inside - from the outside, you can't really make it. That's why the medium and small-sized waves can go along the reef," Jeremy Flores once said.

"I've learned this since I was about 12 years old. I have been screwed out here many times, waiting for the big ones, but it never worked out. So, my memory of the spot has helped out."

Physical fitness plays an important role in making the most out of Ericeira's crown jewel.

"Waves often look quite good from the beach. But when you are actually riding them, they will burn your legs," explained Cornwall veteran Alan Stokes.

"You have to work hard on the first part of the wave before it speeds up on the inside, and you're allowed to do several good turns."

"Then, you will start feeling that your legs are killing you, so you'll need to hold on before performing one last power turn."

Ribeira d'Illhas: a surfer break for all levels of surfing | Photo: Red Bull

Consistent, Long, and Challenging

Access to the lineup can be tricky and challenging.

You could either opt for a long paddle-out from the sandy beach or take advantage of a shortcut and time your entry via the rocky floor close to the nearby headland.

A light east offshore wind powered by a long period, west/northwest swell transform Ribeira d'Ilhas into a surfer's paradise.

For example, it is not as protected from the wind as Peniche but handles it well in nearly all weather conditions.

A small stream - "Ribeira," in Portuguese - ends its journey in the middle of the beach enclosed by the slopes of the valley.

The spot, one of Portugal's national surfing treasures, is actually two waves in one.

"Pontinha," a right-hand point break with a very narrow peak, is located further north of the main break.

In other words, it's the less frequently ridden outside section of Ribeira d'Ilhas.

Nevertheless, you can connect the carving sections from "Pontinha" all the way to the beach.

Expect a crowded and competitive lineup, a few tricky currents, and make sure to respect the locals and the basic rules of surf etiquette.

The waves of Ribeira d'Ilhas are rideable from two to 12 feet work on all tides. In shoulder-to-head-high surf, a skilled take-off is paramount.

Extremely low tide conditions could be dangerous, especially in areas with reefs, cobblestones, and rocky seafloor.

On small days, a longboard is the best pick for enjoying the full potential of Ericeira's quintessential surf break.

Ribeira d'Illhas: a point break that peels over a sand-covered reef | Photo: WSL

A Must-Surf Wave-Riding Arena

The cool water temperature in the 55-62 °F (13-17 °C) range will require a good 3/2 - or even 4/3 - wetsuit.

But with a clean four-to-six-foot swell, you may embark on a long peeling wave that will carry you for up to three hundred yards (275 meters) across the bay.

The best time of the year to surf Ribeira d'Ilhas is from September through May.

There's a parking lot, showers, surf rentals and surf schools, toilets, and a café and restaurant. In addition, the town of Ericeira has plenty of hostels, surf resorts, hotels, and multiple accommodation options for all budgets.

The best spot to check the conditions is the scenic viewpoint located up on the southern hill. The setup somehow reminds us of Bells Beach in Victoria, Australia.

The observation zone also features "The Guardian," a statue by José Queiroz unveiled on March 25, 2017, to celebrate the WSR dedication.

The tall and elegant sculpture aims to remind us of our duty to preserve the environment, in and out of the water.

Ericeira Surf Clube, the oldest local surf club, was founded in 1993.

Ribeira d'Ilhas is one of the world's greatest natural wave riding amphitheaters, and it should be on any surfer's wishlist.

Ribeira d'Ilhas, Ericeira, Portugal | ID and X-Ray

Location: Ericeira, Portugal
Type of Wave: Point Break
Best Swell Direction: W-NW
Best Wave Size: Ankle-to-Double Overhead (2-12 feet)
Best Wind Direction: No Wind or Light E, SE
Best Tide: Medium
Best Time to Surf: Fall, Winter, and Spring
Best Board: Funboard, Shortboard
Skill Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Professional
Crowd: Good Days and Weekend
Water Quality: Average
Hazards: Rip Currents, Reef, Localism
Bottom: Reef, Cobblestones, and Sand
Water Temperature: 55-62 °F (13-17 °C)
Getting There: Bus, Bike, and Car
Nearby Surf Shops and Rentals: Yes