We were stoked to have our family bodyboard holidays to Portugal feature in one of the UK’s biggest newspapers.
Above is the spread that appeared in the paper and below that is the text and images laid out so that you can have a read through it. Damian Whitworth and his family loved their week with us and it was great to see some fantastic improvements through out their stay with us.
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The grown-up’s guide to bodyboarding — a Portuguese adventure
Catch the waves on the beaches near Lisbon, then head off to explore the stunning coast on foot
July 16 2016, 12:01am, The Times
As I bob in the water in my wetsuit and flippers, like an oddly immobile seal, I reflect on a truth that must hit every newcomer to the aquatic art of bodyboarding: this is trickier than it looks. Hanging off the end of my board, I scan the ocean for a swell that will indicate the imminent arrival of a wave that will break close to where I am. Here’s one. Yes, this looks good. Paddle, paddle paddle!
I strain, like no seal has ever had to do, to try to get myself into the place where I will catch the face of the wave before it breaks. Although I am flippering furiously I am not going quickly enough and the wave is going to break without me locking on to it, meaning I will miss this chance for an exhilarating ride towards the beach.
At this moment a hand grabs hold of my back and gives me an enormous shove, providing the injection of pace necessary to carry me into that sweet spot where the wave picks me up. Suddenly I am hurtling in, roaring and whooping and buzzing. And while the veteran surf addicts among you may be sneering and snorting at the man who needs a push to catch a wave, I feel very pleased with myself. It is hard not to when you are enjoying the services of a personal bodyboard butler.
Don’t you have one? Oh dear, you don’t know what you’re missing. A bodyboard butler is for the man who wants to go into the surf, but doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. More than that, he is for the man who is a bit scared of taking his family into waters notorious for riptides that can whisk a father and child out to sea faster than it takes to say: “What the hell was he playing at, the bloody fool?”
I had never surfed and I was not about to start. I’m all for trying new things, but spending a week attempting to drag my wobbling frame upright on a six-and-a-half-foot polyurethane plank in Atlantic breakers was not going to be one of them. The 46-year-old novice surfer is a midlife crisis waiting to be hooted at. It would almost be less tragic to buy a £5,000 bike and spend my weekends cycling around Richmond Park in a Team Sky replica kit.
Try bodyboarding, I was told. Wasn’t that what I did in Cornwall as a kid? You stood there clutching a plywood board with your back to the surf and threw yourself forwards when the white water hit the back of your legs. It was good fun, but nothing much to it, was there?
Apparently there was a lot more to it, and in Portugal I’d have a bodyboard butler to show me exactly how much. The bodyboard butler is the idea of Rob Barber, who runs Bodyboard Holidays. Based in Newquay, where he has a bodyboarding school, he also leads group trips to Portugal and destinations such as Indonesia, Costa Rica and Morocco. He is also focusing on bespoke holidays in Portugal for families who want to learn something new together.
We are met at Lisbon airport by Matt Davies, our bodyboard butler for the next few days. Matt learnt to surf and bodyboard growing up on the south coast of England and is well enough known for riding waves around the world that he attracts sponsorship. He teaches English and bodyboarding in Portugal and has the sun and surf-weathered features of one who spends his life waiting for waves.
A Surf Jeeves comes with a van big enough for a family and all their kit, along with an array of boards and wetsuits. During our stay we are taken everywhere by Matt, who assumes idol status with our children. Beaches facing directly on to the Atlantic are too perilous for beginners such as us, so we surf on the more sheltered south-facing beaches at Carcavelos, close to Lisbon, and alongside the fort at Praia da Torre.
First your Surf Jeeves helps you to dress. Unless you are supremely hardy, a wetsuit is required throughout the year here. After a briefing and some warm-up exercises it is into the water, your board attached to one ankle by a leash.
From up in the car park the waves look tiddly and even on the beach you think they look modest and incapable of delivering much of a thrill. Once you are in the water and swimming towards them they take on a more daunting perspective.
In the first session we stand up to our thighs in the water, looking over our shoulders and launching ourselves forward on to our boards just before the white water hits. Soon we are catching waves and enjoying travelling with surprising speed into the beach. Everyone is having fun and we all manage to catch the same wave a couple of times and hurtle in together.
The next session we put on flippers and paddle out beyond where the waves are breaking. Catching a wave isn’t as easy as seasoned bodyboarders make it look. The aim is to ride the unbroken or “green” wave. This requires excellent timing and hard paddling to achieve enough momentum to find the spot where you are riding the wave and not left behind or wiped out.
The trick is to pull yourself forwards on to your board with one hand on the nose and one on the rail (side), but if you pull yourself too far forwards you will nosedive. I somehow manage to drive the nose of my board into the seabed, impaling myself on the back end of the board before somersaulting forwards in a manoeuvre I have been unable to locate in any bodyboarding manual.
We all go under at various points and have a spin in what Matt calls “the washing machine”. This blows away any cobwebs, while causing temporary befuddlement that can be compounded by the sight of your wife flying past, folded in half so that her heels almost touch the back of her head.
When a child is flipped over he or she can be left feeling uncertain about how much fun they are having and then Surf Jeeves steps in to encourage them back into the water in a way that a parent might not find so easy to achieve. “I think I like it,” is followed not long afterwards by, “This is the best thing ever!” and enthusiastic and lengthy post-wave analysis.
These wipeouts and the battering you can get when paddling through, or over, the incoming breaking waves to take up position mean that by the end of the day your head feels full of water and you are slightly dazed, as if you have done some light sparring with Mike Tyson. It is thoroughly enjoyable, though, and when you crawl into bed exhausted you’ll spend only a couple of minutes thinking of how you will better position yourself for tomorrow’s waves before sleep crashes over you.
We learn the basics of turning, but I don’t become proficient enough to ride left or right along the green wave. Nor do any of us manage to ride the tube, even though it is technically easier for bodyboarders to fit in the open barrel formed by some breaking waves. Forward spins, inverted spins, cut backs; we’ll master those next time.
Lunches are spent at beachside cafés shovelling down fuel and staring, mesmerised, at the roaring sea, spotting waves that would have been great to catch and slowly coming to an understanding of how Matt became addicted to surfing.
Did I mention the under-butler? Sorry, I should have done. He is Thomas Berry, an accomplished bodyboarder and photographer, who monitors our group from the shore and photographs and videos our progress. At lunchtime we examine our technique (or lack of it) and marvel at how gormless it is possible to look with a face full of water and how big Dad’s bald patch is getting.
A good butler makes himself indispensable and it is hard to imagine, after enjoying the luxury of Matt’s services, how anyone goes bodyboarding without someone who checks the weather conditions and what the sea is doing; who knows the right place for beginners to enter the sea each day, can tell you when to beware of the turning tide and is able to predict when the next set of waves is likely to arrive.
Matt’s partner, Masha, is a yoga teacher and we start our days with an hour of poolside yoga in the lush garden of the house we are staying in. Our accommodation is a self-contained wing of a large house with sea views in the Sintra national park.
We are the first family to try a Bodyboard Holidays break in Portugal and the one teething problem is that the accommodation needs an upgrade, especially the poorly equipped kitchen, which has a broken cooker and fridge. (Bodyboard Holidays is apologetic and later assured us that it had found new accommodation for families.)
What else does a bodyboard butler do? One morning he and Masha give us a family Portuguese lesson. He lends us books on Portuguese history. He takes us to a hill at Malveira, which supposedly has magnetic powers. And sure enough, as we go uphill, he takes his foot off the accelerator and the speed of the bus appears to increase from 40mph to 50mph.
It is not the responsibility of Surf Jeeves to spoil the holiday fun by pointing out that this is probably an optical illusion and that the road must really decline rather than incline. It is his responsibility to take us to an excellent café for coffee and custard tarts, which he does.
Most days we have two bodyboarding sessions, but you can go in the water as much or as little as you like. Some may opt to stay by the pool while the rest of the family go surfing. One afternoon my wife and I can’t be bothered to put cold, damp, sandy wetsuits back on, so we watch from the beach.
Sintra is a magical, forested kingdom of moss-covered trees and hillside palaces, ruined convents and lemon groves in pink-walled gardens. You’ve got to see some sights while you’re there and we spend a fun afternoon winding through the gardens and grottoes around the palace at Quinta da Regaleira.
When the sea is a little too wild, Matt leads us on a coastal walk above rugged cliffs where dinosaur footprints are clearly visible, to a terrific seafood restaurant on the renowned beach Praia da Adraga. One evening we have a drink with the family who own our accommodation and live in the main part of the house. Their son is a professional surfer and there are videos of him surfing waves so monstrous they look as though they have been created by CGI.
“As a boy he was bitten by a water bug,” explains his father. My puzzled kids asked what this creature looked like, without realising that we had all been bitten by it too.
Need to know
Damian Whitworth was a guest of Bodyboard Holidays (01637 877722, bodyboard-holidays.com), which has a week in private accommodation with a pool in Portugal, plus instruction, airport transfers, transport to and from beaches and options to visit places of interest from £1,599 for a family of four in low season to £1,799 in high season. An additional adult or child is charged at £300 a week. Equipment hire costs up to £100pp, the photo package £50pp and a yoga session £50.
TAP Portugal flies from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon from £125 return (0345 6010932, flytap.com)