Daniel Crockett, full-time writer, part-time surfer, shares his secluded experience surfing off the coast of Gibraltar on a beach known to few, but remembered by all.
Words & Photography by: Daniel Crockett.
For a long time this place has lingered in my subconscious. Snippets of surf lore (the type that is boring unless you have a personal stake), faded magazine articles, the ramblings of a van dweller in Morocco. This zone seems, and indeed it is, geographically under the radar in a Europe that long ago got flooded with surfers.
For a decade or so it lived as an intention in my mind, overlooked for cold water and the chance of solitude. Until a spontaneous avoidance of all things Christmas collided with one of the best charts in years. They call it the coast of light, but like any good journey we found a measure of darkness.
Nestled between the hell of the Algarve, a soulless prison of villa complexes at Zahara and encroaching development from the north, a thin strip of national park remains. But it’s not unattended. Every parking lot is a glinting maze of shattered tourist windscreens. Beside the road, amongst the trees, your rental car is fair game. Yet the surfing crowd is sparse. A beach this good in most parts of the world would have a multi-generational pecking order. But here it’s usual for the peaks away from immediate parking to go empty until at least mid-morning. It’s the early bird’s delight. Is it sleep they love, or sun?
Barbate, which I’d been told was horrible, actually captivated me. The Moorish architecture spreads like a patchwork quilt across the land, whitewash and desert yellow. Used to London’s suffocating development, it felt like a place of opportunity. I fantasised about living out my days in a derelict tuna cannery as a washed-up artist. To sea at dawn, the speedboats zip back and forth. This is a porous seam, an intersection with Africa. Black hash: the dream meal ticket for many a wayward European surfer of yore, a one-way ticket to hell for the unfortunate that got caught. A perfect wave slumbers in the rivermouth, never quite showing its face.
The Levante wind is a bastard, for although it looks smack offshore it decimates most lineups. For a hungry lee-shore surfer like myself, who gets excited by any double-digit swell, it’s maddening. It is a place of curious winds that stir by night and abolish the perfection of the dawn patrol. I curse the Levante regularly and the midday surf becomes a cat and mouse game to find sheltered corners. My walk to the beach each morning passes a beachside farm with innumerable dogs, skin and bone Galgos that run in packs. They interrupt the dawn walk with their snarls. The farmer has invented a sort of machine, a disturbing circular perambulator in a pen, around which dozens of them unhappily pace.
It is a place of dying industry, built on a collapsing resource. This is brought home vividly when we see a fisherman blowing up his tiny catch with bangers on the beach at Canos de Meca, frustration at opportunity destroyed. Beyond him, a beautiful left unfolds, the lineup of surfers oblivious to the wanton cruelty on the shore.
Strangely, it is this moment that endures, freeze-framed in greater clarity than any wave. We travel to reframe our own lives against other people and places, to stretch our personal borders and better understand our ideals and foundations. The swell of the trip arrived and the beachbreak, angry and raw as I’ve known, did its best to drown me. It is good to know that such places as this little corner remain, undeveloped and full of cracks into which the traveller can slip, temporarily immersed.