Madeira: the surfing pearl of the Atlantic | Photo: Turismo da Madeira

It was once considered one of the best waves in the world and the most exciting ride on the Atlantic Ocean.

The rise and fall and rise of Madeira as a surf destination is a long story. The chronicle has been revealed in the documentary "Surf Is Alive."

The Madeira Surfing Association wanted to do it. The locals felt they had to tell the whole story.

The story of a surfing treasure that was nearly lost to development and construction. Fortunately, it didn't happen.

The Portuguese island has at least three well-known spots on the western coast: Paul do Mar, Ponta Pequena, and Jardim do Mar.

The first surfers to spot and surf Madeira date from the 1970s.

However, despite the warm temperatures and the rocky point breaks, the island remained relatively unexplored until the mid-1990s.

"I remember, when I was about nine years old, the first surfboards started to appear," explains Belmiro Mendes, one of the pioneers of surfing in Madeira.

"Earlier, when we were kids, we made our bodyboard or surf with 'painéis' (wood planks from boats). Orlando [Pereira] and my brother started surfing with the first real boards."

"They were my idols. They always went surfing at Jardim; I always wanted to go but had fear, and the waves scared me."

"Then Adriano [Longueira] started going with me, and from that time on, we started to surf together with them with the help of Orlando and Manuel [Mendes] and some others that were still in Madeira, like Lauro Rodolfo and Gonçalo."

Madeira: the Portuguese Hawaii

More than Jardim do Mar

The "floating garden" sits roughly 600 miles off the coast of mainland Portugal, between the Azores and the Canary Islands.

It gets all the swell coming directly from the North Atlantic and offers both barreling experiences and endless right-handers.

"It was difficult at that time because we were young. Our parents didn't like it that much," adds Adriano Longueira.

"They said it was too dangerous because of the waves and the rocks on the beach. It was a new sport. It was hard for people to understand that it was a sport like any other."

"Then many Australians, Americans, and Brazilians started to show up."

"Lots of tourists started to show up at Jardim with surfing as their goal, and from that moment on, surfing became a known sport, and people started to accept it as a normal sport, just like any other."

In 2003 - despite the protests and an international campaign to save Jardim do Mar and its wave - the local authorities built a controversial seawall that nearly killed the "pearl of the Atlantic."

"Surf Is Alive," the documentary created by the Madeira Surfing Association, aims to restore the credibility of the island's surf spots.

The waves speak for themselves. Is Madeira the Portuguese Hawaii? Activate the subtitles, and find out for yourself.

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