In the early mornings, when the wind is light, the smell of fish (peixe in Portuguese) hangs heavy in the air. It's strong, almost pungent, and serves as a reminder of the roots of the coastal town of Peniche, Portugal. This little European fishing village is home to Supertubos or Supertubes, which will host the Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal. Sometimes beautifully hollow, sometimes brutally punishing, this barreling beachbreak seems to live up to its name.
Surfing caught on in France and Spain before Portugal, but the Portuguese have wasted no time in becoming world-class waveriders with a coastline of world-class breaks and a history of Qualifying Series (QS) events. Peniche, in the southernmost part of Leiria on the West Coast (just over an hour by car from Lisbon) has become Portugal's celebrated surfing epicenter. Mixed in with the old-world charm, modern day Peniche's hostels, camps, restaurants, boutique hotels, and beach bars are built around the surf scene.
"Supertubes has been known in Europe for quite a while," said Tiago Pires (PRT), the first surfer from Portugal to qualify for surfing's elite Championship Tour and will compete in this year's event as an injury replacement. "I guess the name itself explains a lot. Back in the late '80s and early '90s some important European surf events were held there and I remember even as a young kid, seeing images and footage of amazing, heavy, sucky barrels.
"So in a way, I guess every kid in Portugal grows up with that image in the back of his head. It's definitely our surfing arena and it's probably our proving ground."
Supertubes became known for taking any direction Atlantic swell and turning it into lurching A-frames that can barrel in either right or left. In the mid 2000s, Rip Curl embarked on a mission to bring "The Search Pro" to new locations around the world. In 2009, they chose Supertubes in Peniche. It proved to be such a quality wave that it has remained a regular stop for the last six years.
Swell Height: Head-high to double-overhead
Swell Direction: Southwest to West
Wind Direction: Northeast to East
Tide: Mid to High
Water Temp: 68F
Though Portugal is lined with points, coves and reefs Supertubes is, at its essence, a sand-bottom beachbreak. Beginning in the fall and into winter, there is no lack of energy in the Atlantic ocean. The entire surfing world has seen the dramatic swells ridden at Nazare the past few winters, and Peniche, just 60 kilometers down the coast, benefits from smaller versions of the same swells fed by the 16,000-foot deep, underwater Nazare Canyon.
What makes this break so special is the bathymetry beyond the sandbar. Underwater peaks and valleys just offshore along this stretch of coast redirect long period groundswells and break them up them into dreamy peaks. It's best on a north wind, and October's prevailing north/northwesterlies work pretty well.
When the wind comes onshore, this event has the luxury of moving to Baleal, a long stretch of beach with similar waves, just a few minutes to the north, which faces almost 180 degrees in the other direction and picks up the same swell.
The draw of Supertubes, and magical beachbreaks the world over, is that they can produce both lefts and rights. The lefts are said to be the better wave, although Michel Bourez (PYF), Kelly Slater (USA), Julian Wilson (AUS), Joel Parkinson (AUS), and John John Florence (HAW) have all earned memorable perfect 10s on Supertubes rights.
Insider Tip: Bring a back-up board...and a back-up for your back-up. Supertubes breaks boards. Just ask Owen Wright (AUS), who famously broke a whole quiver during this event.
Supertubes is a barrel wave. Historically, the surfers in the late rounds are those who park themselves in the deepest barrels. But it doesn't have to be a perfect tube: The highest scores are often awarded in the afternoons on dark, mutating ledges over shallow sandbars rather than dreamy offshore mornings.
"I think Gabriel Medina (BRA), Owen, and John John have tailor-made technique for this sort of wave," said Pires. "They are very fast paddlers, love a late take off and they also have the air game ready for the close-out section."
Because Supertubes isn't a tube wave in the same sense of Teahupo'o or Pipeline. Yes, judges are looking for shack time, but haymaker hacks and lofty airs have been crucial to scorelines as well. In fact, many of the highest scores have come from barrel-to-air combinations.
The key is finding a board that will hold in the barrel, but is loose enough for turns on the face. Pires says he normally rides thrusters, but on those perfect days, a quad lets him get deeper into the barrel and make the speed to come out.
"I like a shorter board with nice volume to paddle fast, and low rails to hold on in the hollow walls," Pires said. "As for Baleal, we're talking about a very average beach break, so you're standard short board will work fine."
And try not to break it.