A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Surfski Center Tarifa. I knew that it was one of Europe´s leading surfski destinations, but as the sport is small up here, what did this even mean?
A short video I made trying to capture the feel of surfskiing in Tarifa
It was December and ice was forming on my home waters – the Oslo Fiord. Meanwhile in Southern Spain, not far from the major hub of Malaga, the temperature was at a comfortable Scandinavian summer level.
The drive from Malaga to Tarifa via Ronda was winding roads making their way across Andalucian mountains and through small white washed villages. While daylight at noon back in Norway was at the same level as at midnight in June – Spain was pure autumn wrapped in soft golden sunlight
Tarifa is the southernmost point on the European continent and lies south of parts of Africa. As you drive nearer winds pick up, hundreds of windmills dot the landscape. The oceanic climate that makes winters warm also generates the wind that drives much of Tarifa’s tourism industry. As you descent from the coastal ranges into the plains surrounding Tarifa you see the gentle sweep of the bays on both sides of Tarifa and get a feel of the powerful winds and begin to understand why the surfski centre is located here.
On arrival in Tarifa I was greeted by Boyan Zlatarev who runs the place and who is an expert surfskier.
Now the Straits of Gibraltar is quite an intimidating place and a quick look on Wind Guru can make you wonder what it would be like drifting all the way to Rio de Janeiro. But any hesitation just evaporated as Boyan went through the theory, security drills and checks before paddling.
As not many surfski paddlers come with any certification Boyan took me out in the V10 Double to assert skills. If you get this opportunity – take it. The ride was fast, bumpy, fun and gives you a feeling of the fast conditions in Tarifa.
Another happy downwind student, Jens H. Bond, in the double with Boyan Zlatarev
Next up was downwind in a V8. Where many people frown a bit at the thought of paddling a V8, Surfski Center Tarifa uses it widely even though they have the entire range at disposal at the Centre. The V8 – the surfing machine – is very stable and catches runs easily. On one occasion when we were 4 sort of intermediate paddlers going downwind – one chose a faster boat and was instantly passed by three happy V8 paddlers.
The V8 is a great platform to learn downwind and technique from as you don´t have to worry about stability. Stability before ability as Oscar Chalupsky puts it.
While you sit in a stable V8 and feel like king of the world, Boyan will – typical for him – tell you to get out of the bucket into large breaking waves and far from shore. When you try to remount he will go “that looks like your comfortable side, try the other one…” and then “ok, but try it again until it´s one fluid motion”.
When the driver parked the surfski van 17m further than necessary from the howling shoreline Boyan was there again with a piece of friendly advice on parking vs. carrying a light surfski in strong winds. Safety before fun and respect for the equipment that will take you across the bay in howling winds – that´s Boyan – this focus on safety and detail might come from paddling a potentially dangerous body of water everyday. We can all learn from this and in the end it makes you feel very safe as a paddling student and it lets all paddlers at the centre enjoy the fun much more knowing that all precautions have been taken.
Tarifa has great many combinations of wind directions and currents. This produces quite a challenge but when combined with the knowledge found at the surf ski centre it also produces new and exciting paddling opportunities every single day.
Tarifa has the right conditions and Boyan has the right skills, huge knowledge about local runs and is a very dedicated teacher. If you come with an open mind you´ll enjoy personal instructions and will be able to take home a lot of very useful knowledge no matter what your pre-school paddling level was. Great value for money.
Basically I had a great time in Tarifa and warmly recommend it to paddlers of all vessels and levels of experience. I learnt a lot and will be back in a few months.
-Sune Wendelboe, July 2014
All images © 2013 Sune Wendelboe.
Find much more information on Surfski Centre Tarifa’s own website: