A surfer’s guide to the Basque Country with Natxo González
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I was born in Bilbao but when I was small we moved to a town called Plentzia, where Bilbao people often spend the summer. There’s a pretty beach; the scenery looks almost like Ibiza. Our family home is five minutes from the sea, so it doesn’t take long for me to see the waves. There are some great surf spots along the coast of Euskadi: Sopela, the beaches of Meñacoz and Punta Galea – not forgetting Mundaka, for me the top wave around here and one of the best in the world. It’s 440m wide and you can surf it for 40 seconds or so. Mundaka is spectacular, especially at the mouth of the river in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, with the historic town of Gernika behind the estuary.
A place I love that used to be a secret but is now famous (it appeared in Game of Thrones) is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. With the church on the rock and a long stone staircase, it’s dramatic. There’s a wild energy because of all that nature right in front of you. I like to take a paddleboard out from Bakio beach. There are caves along the coast that are full of fish, and to see San Juan from sea level is amazing.
It’s thanks to where I grew up that I became a surfer – imagine if I’d been born in Madrid! As kids, we used to spend all day on the beach. I was five when my cousin gave me a bodyboard and I pestered my parents for a real surfboard, but they said if I wanted one I’d have to buy it myself. So I saved up and bought my first board at Eukaliptus, a mythical surf shop in Sopela. Having the right equipment is vital – you need a good wetsuit in February. I also like Prosurf, in Sopela, where the owner always has what I’m looking for.
My job is riding monster waves, so there’s a lot of pressure involved. A game of tennis at the Club de Tenis Plentzia really frees my mind and helps me disconnect. If I’ve been surfing at Sopela I chill out afterwards at La Triangu, a chiringuito near the beach. They do a good breakfast – slices of tortilla, avocado toast, good coffee – and it’s a classic place for a few beers in the afternoon with maybe a burger or a pintxo of chicken. In Barrika, up on the hill above the sea, Ipar Itsaso is a phenomenal marisquería [shellfish restaurant] where you choose what you want from the fish stall downstairs – I like a chargrilled sea bream or turbot – then head up to the dining room and sit looking at a fabulous sunset.
My parents tell me Bilbao used to be a sad place, dirty and polluted from the ironworks and factories along the river. Now it’s a beautiful city, very contemporary. The gym where I go most days, XS Training, is right by the Guggenheim Museum. After my session, if there’s an interesting show on I might go and take a look. I love live music, and the best live venue in Bilbao is Kafé Antzokia, a converted theatre where I last went with my koadrila [gang] – we’ve known each other forever. For shopping, I’m lucky enough to be sponsored by Ecoalf, a sustainable clothing company who are working with me on a new line of surfwear, but when I need something else I get down to the department store El Corte Inglés, where I might visit Scalpers.
The old town centre, called the Siete Calles, is where I go with friends for a few beers, a few pintxos. We’ll order this or that depending on what’s in season – I like a pintxo of wild mushrooms at one of the bars on Plaza Nueva. Then it’s dinner: if I’m celebrating something, like winning a big surf contest, it has to be sushi at Kuma. Or Asador Guetaria for grilled meat and fish – I’ll have the T-bone steak with a glass of Ribera del Duero. Here in Euskadi we really like to eat. Whenever I go to California they say: “Basque Country: amazing people, amazing food.”
A few weeks ago we drove over to Mundaka at low tide, surfed all morning, then went to a cider house, Restaurante Andraka, for a big lunch of octopus, chuleta and a special cake for a friend’s birthday. I love easy days like this – and yet, if there’s a big wave somewhere in the world, I’ll be on that plane. This year I’ve been to Africa, Tahiti, Indonesia… If the waves are good, nothing else matters.