Monday, March 31, 2008

Life on the Reef in Print (Boards Magazine Episodes 1 - 3 plus "Tenerife Rocks")

Boards magazine (www.boards.co.uk) have been running our monthly Life on the Reef column since the January issue. Here's a chance to read episodes 1 - 3 and also "Tenerife Rocks" - a general travel piece commissioned from us for the April edition ...

"Life on The Reef" (Musings from El Medano)
Episode 1 - Boards Magazine December 07 / January 08
Words: Richard Attree / Photography: Nikki Attree

The strapline reads "Life on the Reef ... An impulsive decision to up sticks and swap pulsating Shoreham-by-Sea for a more laid-back manana lifestyle in the sun sees Richard and Nikki Attree and Basil the dog relocate to Tenerife. If only they'd been warned about the washing machines out there ..."


A few weeks ago we 're-located' to The Reef ... Ten-er-Reef that is. The British ex pats here like to use the term to indicate a certain nonchalant familiarity with the place, but being windsurfers, it's a particularly apt title for our new life here on this dusty, volcanic rock stuck out in the Atlantic ocean somewhere off the coast of Africa. Mind you, I'm hoping that I don't spend too much time on the (actual) reef ... sailing the waves on it, yes, but not too much staggering around on the sharp bits, getting sea urchins stuck in my feet - been there, done that, and got the scars.

When I say 're-locate', I should also add 'downshift'. Our house in Shoreham-by-Sea had shot up in value over the past few years (along with much of the UK) and when we compared it to the house prices in Tenerife, we realised that we could sell up and join the growing hordes of ex pat Brits who have been inspired by the various "Living the Dream" / "Place in the Sun" type property programmes that have invaded British TV. The idea being to live a lot more cheaply, in a smaller house, with fewer possessions etc but basically windsurf all year round, free up some time to pursue our own projects, and enjoy life a bit more.

And when I say "we", I mean me, my photographer (and fellow windsurf addict) wife Nikki, and Basil the small (but thinks he's much bigger) terrorist terrier. For a while I'd been describing my occupation (on the boards forum anyway) as "currently researching for a new role as a freelance beach bum". I've actually made my living for the past 25 years or so as a composer of music for TV and Radio (having spent eleven of those years as a staff composer at the BBC's renown Radiophonic Workshop). A few years ago I also started working as a tutor for an on-line course for people wanting to get into the media music biz, and since the work is carried out via the internet, it meant that we could, in theory, be located anywhere in the world with an internet connection (however n.b. this requirement is not to be taken for granted, as you'll read later !).

So we sold the house, along with most of our possessions, pushed the downshift button, and activated the rather scary process of uprooting ourselves from the shingly beaches and rolling green countryside of the south coast of England to a rented house in the tropical paradise (some of the time anyway) that is El Medano.

For those of you who don't know El Med, it was originally just a scruffy fishing village, which grew into a lively resort catering mainly to Spanish tourists from the mainland who liked it's beaches and the buzzing atmosphere of the main Plaza with it's bars, restaurants, and fiestas. However, like Tarifa on the mainland, it had one problem as a holiday resort - it was bloody windy most of the time !

So in the eighties the windsurfers arrived, and just as in Tarifa transformed the town into a full on surfy kind of place. Although due to the unique layout of the beaches here, the surfy dudes happily share the place with the grannies and gnarly old fishermen, creating a wonderful blend of potentially clashing cultures.

The town beach is protected from the wind (and the incessant sand blasting) by the fading elegance of the Medano Hotel, leaving it still as a safe haunt for picnicking families and knitting grannies. Along with the main square, it's the focal centre of the town with a heady mix of kids playing football, grannies gossiping, surf dudes / dudesses looking cool, markets, fiestas, and outdoor culture of all kinds ... and all this can be going on while us lot are blasting around in a howling 40 knot trade wind !

Market day at Medano's main square

The Manana Washing Machine
We'd been here barely a month and were already finding out that it's a place where things are not quite as they seem. For one thing, some things can be both true and untrue at the same time, without much of a contradiction or anyone actually being accused of telling untruths.

For instance it can be the case that an internet connection is available in your rental house but also that it is not actually available - and both of these are (kind of) true - from someone's perspective anyway (there'll probably be more about this particularly rollercoaster ride later). Or maybe you are told that yes you will be able to store your windsurfing equipment in a particular 'local' (business premises), and perhaps you are quoted a price for this - but when you get to the point of doing the deal, it all mysteriously becomes somewhat murky and you are left wondering if you got it all wrong in the first place.

I've been warned about a couple of phrases that you tend to come across quite a lot: "temporary problem" = "could take at least a year" and "no problem" = time to get really worried when you hear this one :(

Another thing that tends to happen here, is that either things that can go wrong do inevitably go wrong, or sometimes they surprise you by working if not perfectly, then at least a hell of a lot better than you thought they would. We have our English expressions that express the first part of this: Sod's Law, Murphy's Law ... the French say stuff like "c'est la vie", and then there is the infamous local shrug of the shoulders (usually by an official at the head of a queue that you been in for the past couple of hours). I'll need to learn some Spanish phrases that capture the contradictions, absurdities, and manana murkiness that are part of life's rich, surreal tapestry here.

And yet (so far) everyone here has been so wonderfully friendly and genuinely wanting to help us through the initial teething troubles that you find yourself forgiving most of the murkiness and just going with the flow in a "don't worry, it will work, be happy" kind of way. This is all a bit like our washing machine - it's a kind of 'manana washing machine' ... you switch it on, and it makes helpful noises for while - but then it kind of shrugs and goes for a siesta and you're left wondering if perhaps it will decide to finish the rest of the spin cycle some time in the indefinite future - perhaps when the sun has gone down and all the other washing machines have sprung into life for a bit of 'electrodomesticos' socialising.

A Classic Medano Day
8 am - the wind has been howling all night, and it's still honking as I take the pooch for his pre-brekkie walk. There's already someone out at Cabezo, and he's absolutely flying ! I watch as he rides a logo high wave and cranks three or four tight turns, and then about five minutes later he's rinsed onto the rocks . Equipment and sailor seem unharmed though - the locals here must all have bullet proof gear and feet like leather. I walk back to the house as the sun starts to warm up, dust is flying everywhere and Basil is struggling not to get blown back down the road. I pour myself a glass of orange juice and sit down to write this.

Some days El Medano really comes up with the goodies. Those are the days that we all live for. Sometimes they arrive after a week of good wind, getting gradually stronger as we move down through the sail sizes and the waves get bigger each day. And sometimes the wind goes straight from 7m conditions one day to full on 4m the next, with no time to get knackered in between, which can be handy as I need all the energy that I can lay my hands on ! I'm just about starting to get my legs working the other way for port tack jumps (I'm a Sarf Coast Shingle Licker in my previous life) and the onshore DTL riding is getting better as well - although this switch stance / clew first malarky demands a lot from my ageing body !

El Medano is a great place for both us really. I tend to sail mainly at the harbour wall (El Muele), which on a classic day can get head to logo high waves with 3/4 mast high swell out the back, and meanwhile Nikki can be working on her gybes and jumps in the rolling swells of the south bay.

Ben, co-owner of the OTC and all-round top chap

I've watched the locals and travelling hotshots sail at Cabezo many times. The sailing standard there is often breathtaking, with all kinds of aerial acrobatics, the latest wave-freestyle moves, and some extremely nifty on-shore DTL wave-riding. I've also noticed a fair bit of aggression there and Nikki once witnessed a bloke pursue another windsurfer onto the beach, rip off his helmet and punch him full in the face ! Talking to the OTC staff, and listening to their various tales of destruction on the rocks there certainly gave me ample warning. Despite all this, I've often thought that it didn't look that gnarly and I was determined to give it a go.

I've now sailed Cabezo quite a few times and had a few close encounters of the rocky kind. I see what they mean now about the current, rocks, and relentless white water. Still, I'm going to keep going up there - the waves are definitely better and more plentiful than the harbour wall. I just have to hope I manage to survive these excursions.

I pack a few things for the day - something to drink (a bottle of SIS Go electrolyte sports drink), something to eat (a few bananas), put some sun block on my folllicly challenged head (ProSport factor 44 of course), get on my bike and pedal down to the garage behind the OTC centre where we have our kit stored.
The journey down to the South Bay takes maybe 5 minutes as it's both down hill and down wind. Pedalling back uphill into a howling F8 after a hard day on the water is a different story though ! Which is why one of our bikes is a little fold-up jobby - perfect for chucking in the boot of the car if I'm too knackered to pedal.

I check the sail size that OTC are recommending to their clients (another big plus for us locals in having a such a friendly British centre here) and rig up - which consists of grabbing one of our rigs from the garage, plugging it into one of our boards and that's it - ready to Rock & Roll !

12 hours later ... Sitting on the terrace as the sun goes down, with a cold ceveza and Nikki with a glass of the local vino rosada (at 3 euros a bottle). It's been 4.2m and waveboard weather in a shortie all day ... absolutely wicked, absolutely loved it, absolutely knackered :)

Life is a Fiesta
Every few days it seems as if there is a fiesta here and the whole community get together and generally go a bit bonkers. The Big One in El Medano is the annual Fiesta of the Madonna (the original one that is). Now I'm not going to pretend that I really understand what's going on here (and it's probably not even called that), but it seems to be a celebration of the riches of the ocean, combined with a religious thanksgiving, combined with the usual general knees-up - this time culminating in a mass paella experience.

On the Saturday night there was a surprisingly spectacular firework display (actually one of the best three that I've witnessed - the others being Australia Day along the Swan River in Perth, WA and New Year's Eve up on the big sand dune in Jericoacoara in Brazil). Then on Sunday there's the religious parade, the shenanigans with the boats, and the town square becomes a fun fair for the day.

Statues of St Joseph and The Madonna are paraded through the streets and loaded onto a fishing boat (which turns out to be a good excuse to wade into the sea wearing one's Sunday Best !) and then sailed around the bay, to the accompaniment of much hooting of klaxons and general mayhem. A circle of boats is formed and flowers are dropped into the sea (very Hawaiian that). We were all out windsurfing while this was going on, but gave it a wide birth - respect for the Madonna and all that.

the men carry St Joseph into the sea

Nikki says: "it was quite interesting for me as an ex convent girl and a lapsed catholic ... I followed the procession up to the church, and then went inside - the first time in fifteen years that I'd been in a church ! It felt quite strange for me, and provoked some weird feelings. When I was brought up as a catholic in the UK it was much more austere. Here in Spain there seems to be a much more relaxed approach to religion ... more celebration and more joy ... perhaps if I'd been brought up in this culture I might have remained a catholic."

So, it's this synthesis of religion and just having a good old knees-up that makes the fiesta so uniquely latin. Everybody from granny to the toddlers have a great day out, there lots of eating, drinking and dancing - and nobody throws up or starts a fight.

the Mother of all Paellas !

(nb there's a description of this fiesta with some more pics on the blog here)

Life On The Reef - a RollerCoaster
So far our Life On The Reef has certainly been a roller-coaster, but when it all gets a bit stressful (eg the manana washing machine declares yet again that it's a holiday, or I find myself becalmed in the wind shadow of El Muele and unable to waterstart), I try to remember the sometimes unexpected moments of perfection:

• Picking up Basil (our pooch) from the airport here after four weeks of missing him and one of the most stressful days ever (the story will have to wait for now).

• The day El Exterminator (of cockroaches that is) arrived at our rented house to do his deadly work.

• Plugging in the router that I'd just bought and finding that we had ADSL all the time that Telefonica had been telling us it would take an unlimited number of mananas !

• Reaching the summit of Montana Roja with Basil (without him doing anything undignified like mark the spot with a No Twos !).

• Windsurfing with Nikki - just the two of us out, with the whole of the south bay to ourselves, and I come up along side her and shout "Hola Luverly Laaady"

I could just sum it all up by saying: every day that I look at the ocean and up at the mountains and realise how lucky we are to be living here.

By the way you can keep up to date with our Life On The Reef, and even post your own comments, by checking out our on-line blog: http://lifeonthereef.blogspot.com/
Along with all the all the rambling scribblings I'm hoping to add some useful stuff, such as monthly wind / sail size stats etc

That's all for now folks ... Hasta la vista, adios y saludas mi amigos.


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"Life on The Reef" (Musings from El Medano)
Episode 2 - Boards Magazine March 2008
Words: Richard Attree / Photography: Nikki Attree


Hola amigos ! Time flies by on The Reef. It feels like only yesterday that we were getting off the plane, but by the time this is in print we'll have been here over half a year. Our first New Year's Eve in El Medano was a lot of fun. We went down to the plaza at around 11 pm to find the whole town ready to party. There was a great atmosphere with everyone from little kids to grannies dancing to an excellent salsa band and a fantastic firework display on the beach at midnight. Just the right size of crowd, and people able to drink and be happy without being aggressive or throwing up all over you.

Sparky's Magic Youth Camp


Each episode I'm going to try and find a local hero to tell you about, and this month it's Mark "Sparky" Hosegood. Mark started windsurfing as a kid in Anglesea with his dad, and now runs courses for young windsurfers (and sometimes their parents). For him, the family aspect has been neglected a bit, and also until recently, most of the coaching for young windsurfers has been racing rather than waves or freestyle. He says that his coaching is all about core skills such as "clean precise rig and foot movements, control, flow, timing, and developing your own style".

He acquired his nickname while working as an instructor in Vasseliki. Apparently there were just too many Marks there and he somehow became Sparky after a good night in the Zeus bar (memories of exactly why are a little bit hazy). Anyone who's seen him sail will agree that it's a pretty good description of his style. He's a wonderfully fluid wave rider and hi energy looper with tons of energy and commitment, but sadly his competitive career was cut short by some serious injuries, culminating in a broken leg from a big back loop at Cabezo that went "a bit wrong".

In August 2006 he moved to El Medano to work at the newly opened OTC centre and he brought with him the idea of a tuition week for young windsurfers. He'd previously run two youth camps in Dahab, but Medano offered the extra dimension of waves. Unfortunately breaking his leg meant the course had to be postponed and resulted in fewer numbers, but this meant that parents were included, making for a real family atmosphere. Hopefully Sparky's youth camps will become regular events here and he'll continue to light up (boom boom) the local windsurfing scene !


(nb there are some more pics of Sparky's youth winsurfing clinic on the blog here)

While Nikki was taking pictures of the youth camp, a boat of African immigrants landed on the beach. This is sadly becoming an increasingly common situation with far reaching implications. Her evocative photographs tell their own story and were published in the Tenerife Times with the caption: "Exhausted and dehydrated, Illegal Immigrants from Africa land on El Medano Beach".

(nb there are some more photos of the African immigrants on the blog here)

"I Woof Therefore I Am ..."

Basil, our small (but thinks he's much bigger) terrorist terrier, has been pestering us to get into print with his version of our big adventure, so here are his very own musings from Medano:

"It's a funny old world if you're a dog. One minute you're freezing your bollox off walking round a muddy field in the rain, and doing the odd spot of kareoke on the park bench. Then some geezer puts you in this little wooden cage, drives you off to an extremely noisy smelly place (apparently called Cat Wick) ... then you have to endure hours and hours stuck in this crate while your stomach does all kinds of weird shit (but of course you can't actually shit, 'cos this might be my new home). Then this other funny smelling geezer arrives and carries the cage around a bit more, and next thing is ... WOW, IS THAT MY MASTER AND MISTRESSES' VOICES ? - YES OH YES, THAT'S THEIR SMELL, YIPEEE WOOF WOOF WOOF"

kareoke on the park bench

At this point His Master's Voice intervenes to fill in some of the gruesome details of that day's events. He was meant to have been collected from his dog sitter (Chris) that morning at 6am to catch a Monarch flight. Yes, slumming it on a charter flight, but still with his own passport, and at great expense a private limo had been arranged to collect and transport him the few miles from Brighton to Gatwick. However, at 7am we got a text from Chris to say no sign of the person collecting Basil and he had to leave to go to work !

We had organised everything through a specialist animal transportation company, but somehow they'd lost some of his paperwork, didn't realise he needed to be picked up, and now The Baz was going to miss his flight. So after a couple of hours of frantic phone calls between Tenerife and the UK, another taxi was arranged to collect him from Chris' work. Luckily by now his work mates had fallen under the spell of Mr B's dubious charms and had a quick whip round to pay the driver (thanks guys), and he eventually caught a later flight - this time with BA, where he was upgraded to sit beside the pilot ...

"Not True ! (says The Woofer) ... I already told you I spent the whole time cooped up in this bloody cage in the dark not able to have a shit ..."

Anyway, he was supposed to be arriving at 8pm and we were told to go to the cargo terminal to collect him. After more frantic phone calls to find out if they would still be open (having previously been told by the pet transport company that they closed at 5:30pm), we had a very emotional re-union scene in the cargo bay - even the tough guys with tattoos working there were touched. So after a sleepless night and a day that started with unbelievable stress at 6 am, it all turned out OK in the end. He made it. What a brave little dog ! and a great present for Nikki, who's birthday was the following day.

Over to the woofer again for his thoughts on his new life here ...

"Yeah, it's not bad here really. I mean ummm obviously it's still a dog's life, and I'm having a few problems with the language thing (although the lessons from the gnomes are helping) ... but it's well smelly here, and I'm getting lots of good walks - well more like rock climbs really, plenty of cats to chase, plus a few lizardy crawly things ... and I never did like the rain much - the mud yes, but there's loads of nice volcanic dust to roll around in ... and I get plenty of time to sit around in the sunshine and think up things for this series - like 'I Woof therefore I Am' ... pretty clever that, don't you think ? I bet no-one's thought of that before ..."

Senor el Baz with his Spanish teacher

(nb there are some more pics of el Woofer on the blog here)

So as 2007 drops off the calendar I can reflect on what has been quite a year of change for us. We sold our house and almost everything that we owned in the UK, downshifted / moved to The Reef, and managed to buy a house here in El Medano. I left a glamourous but unrelentingly competitive job in the music biz for a simpler, more outdoor life. I've discovered that I love writing, and Nikki is in photographic heaven with the light here (you can check out her recent work on www.tenerife-photography.com). We've met lot's of great people, done a fair bit of socialising and rather a lot of windsurfing. I'm reasonably happy jumping on port tack now, my wave riding has come on leaps and bounds, and I'm much fitter. I think we can start 2008 with optimism that it will be sunny, windy, and happy - bring it on !


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"Life on The Reef" (Musings from El Medano)
Episode 3 - Boards Magazine April 2008
Words: Richard Attree / Photography: Nikki Attree

Hola amigos ! Most days here are a bit of an adventure, and today was no exception. First off, we had a power cut for most of the day, which meant that I couldn't use the computer or do any work, so 'forcing' me to go to the beach to windsurf - after all it was windy and what else could I do ? However, I hadn't factored in one aspect of the lack of electric juice - and that was the small matter of our garage door being electrically operated, and guess where the car was ? No worries, we'll get on our bikes and head downwind and down the hill to Playa Sur, and forget about the inevitable uphill pedal back into a stiff headwind after a good days windsurfing.

I had a quite superb session up at the harbour wall. The first twenty minutes I had the break all to myself, nicely powered up on my favourite size sail (4.7m with Nikki on a 4.2m). The waves were a lot of fun - about head high, so too small to do much damage, but just big enough to give you (well me anyway) a reasonable rush when I got on one and I was making real progress with the onshore dtl wave riding and re-programming the legs to forget their previous starboard tack life in shingle land. Eventually I was too knackered to be learning much, and a pack of kiters had turned up to pinch all the waves, so I headed back downwind to the beach (this part of the session is a wonderful broad reach down large rolling swell and is always an enjoyable trip back).

Still feeling stoked (apologies for the 'dude speak'), I put my gear down and walked up the beach. As I did so, I noticed that there was a geezer playing with one of those stunt kite thingies - whizzing around with full power right in the middle of the launch spot, and also in the firing line of all the sun bathing families with kids playing on the beach.

Just then there was a loud BANG, and I turned round to find that said geezer had landed his kite full speed into my beached sail and board. Needless to say I was not amused, in fact I would go as far as to say that I was actually quite angry (and those of you who know me, will probably agree that I'm usually mild mannered to the point of being a bit bland). Just a few days before this, a wayward kite had landed on Nikki when she was walking along the beach (the lines got tangled around her neck, and she was lucky not to get very badly hurt).

So I saw red (in a mild mannered English kind of way), and proceeded to bundle up the kite, wrapping the lines around it furiously and walking back towards said geezer, who still had a firm grasp on the handles. When we met up it was a spaghetti western kind of showdown. He thrust his chest at me and did his best to remember some obscenities in the universal language - of course I had the advantage there, it being my mother tongue. I pointed out that I was in fact bigger than him, and would he please bugger off and fly his kite somewhere else.

So I rather think that I'm becoming a bit more Latin in my temperament here. Only the previous night a big dog had tried to kill Basil, and I went mildly berserk (in my very limited Spanish) to it's owner. And the other day, when a delivery man demanded two hundred euros from me before he would let me have the computer that I had waited three weeks for (and had paid through the nose for delivery, VAT etc in the UK), again I saw red, and mentioned that we should perhaps call the police to sort it out (a very, very, bad idea !). This is a new side to my personality, and I haven't had time to decide if it's a good or a bad thing (but I suspect the latter).

Luckily the rest of the day gave me ample opportunity to give vent to this new found Latin machismo in a less worrying way. The wind picked up so much that I was absolutely maxed out on our 4.2m, and in those conditions it's intense sailing with a heavy metal / punk / hip-hop soundtrack playing in my head. So yes, another day on The Reef, another adventure, and a good time was had by all (except perhaps by one disappointed man-with-a-kite.

"El Toro"
We've recently bought a brand new shell of a house just outside El Medano, and this month's local hero is our builder, Drew. In his day job he's definitely a super hero in the quagmire of Tenerifean building logistics, but it's his alter-ego as "El Toro", an all round water-man that we're interested in here: expert surfer, champion outrigger canoeist, and a kind of Tenerifean version of Laird.


The comparison is not one that Drew welcomes, but it does spring to mind when you see "El Toro" surfing his 10 foot longboard or shouldering his two man outrigger. And it's also about the traditional respect and connection with the ocean that water-men share - the surfing tradition epitomised by The Duke (Kahanamoku). The "El Toro" nickname is not just descriptive of his prop forward, Laird-like physique (he did actually play rugby at county level), but apparently comes from his reputation for "blank stubbornness" (particularly during the long distance endurance canoe races).

Drew grew up surfing in Wales, and moved to Tenerife nine years ago. He lived in El Medano for a while, but moved up the mountain as the developers discovered the town and the apartments mushroomed. He bought a derelict old Canarian house, knocked most of it down, and has spent the past few years renovating it with his surfing friends - "nearly killed me" he says. He's currently adding another building so that his mum can stay and look after the kids while he and the wife go surfing !

For the past few years he's been into Hawain style outrigger canoeing. The sport has taken off in Europe in the last ten years with modern versions constructed (in Italy) of carbon fibre. Tenerife is one of the main spots for competitive racing, and Drew is one of the best around.

El Medano - the Le Mans of the Outrigger World
Believe it or not there are people out there who's idea of a good weekend is to spend twenty four hours paddling their canoe around a couple of bouys ! Admittedly the winner was meant to get a couple of thousand euros, but I get the feeling that this race is more about 'Who's the Hombre' who can paddle his canoe through the wee small hours and stay sane.


They start at high noon from the town beach accompanied by the usual pumping sound system and general partying. Most of the contestants get a tow out, but El Toro just lifts the whole outrigger and strides into the water, and they paddle off for the first minute of the 1,440 that they'll be out there. I was on the water windsurfing, and let me tell you it was Windy and Wavey. Nikki photographed the start and then we both watched them in the late afternoon ... by then they had done less than a quarter of the race !

It's a bit like the Le Mans endurance sports car race. Teams of two swap places through the night, and the team with the most laps at the end of the 24 hours is the winner. Drew and his partner paddled over 300 kilometers and won it by a big margin, which wasn't a surprise - on a good day nobody out paddles El Toro !

Drew says he started out "paddling like hell to break the opposition" and then just kept paddling like hell ! Apparently the first few hours were the hardest, but eventually the body gets used to it and it becomes all about rhythm, counting strokes and breathing. The pain just gets him angry and motivates him, and the night was actually the best part of the race because the wind died, in the darkness there's no sense of distance and he felt like he was flying.


His best moment was nipping into the Chinese in the square for a bite to eat while his partner was paddling (aha, so hardly roughing it then) and his worst moment ? "realising there was no actual prize money" - just a trophy ... which he would, of course, have to defend next year, and so go through the whole thing again.

(nb there's more pics and a report about the 24 Hour Canoe Paddling Endurance Race on the blog here)

Anyway, that's our Musings from Medano for another month. Hasta la vista, adios y un saludas mi amigos.

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Boards also commissioned a general travel piece from us for the April edition ...

TENERIFE / EL MEDANO TRAVEL ARTICLE - "Tenerife Rocks"
Boards Magazine April 2008
Words: Richard Attree / Photography: Nikki Attree

The Island
Tenerife is best known as a year-round package holiday destination serving up the usual mix of "S's", but actually the island has a lot more to offer ... spectacular rugged scenery, incredible lunar landscapes, the highest mountain in Spain (Mt Teide is also the third highest volcano in the world) ... a vibrant capital city (Santa Cruz, population roughly half a million) with a maritime / colonial history, thriving cultural scene, fanatically supported football team (sadly not currently playing in La Liga, so not-so-thriving), a university, a carnival that is only rivalled by Rio's ... But it's Tenerife's reputation for wind and waves that will attract Boards readers to the island and specifically to the town and beaches of El Medano.

The mass tourism resorts can perhaps provide some light relief from full-on days on the water, in the form of entertainment for a family day out at the theme / water parks, go-karting etc and the all the resources for a full on lad's or ladette's night of clubbing in the notorious flesh-pots of Playa Las Americas and Los Cristianos. Being only about a twenty minute drive away from El Medano (just about far enough IMO), it would also be possible for a family or mixed group to be based there and for the non-windsurfing members to be kept happy while the windsurfer gets his / her fix. However, most windsurfers will want to be where De Action is, and happily the town not only provides that but also a very pleasant place to spend a holiday.

The Town
El Medano may not have the nuclear winds of say Pozo or Tarifa (not necessarily a bad thing IMHO), or the huge waves of Maui (although you can potentially find them on Tenerife's wild north shore), but it ticks more boxes than most windsurfing holiday destinations:

• year-round wind, waves, sunshine and warm water
• variety of conditions from flat water, bump-&-jump, to full on wave sailing
• lots of other activities if the wind doesn't blow
• plentiful good value accommodation, restaurants, cafes and bars
• easily accessible with relatively cheap, quick flights, and a fifteen minute transfer from the airport

The town has a lot going for it, both for us wind obsessed types and for those who would rather not be sand-blasted all day long. A wooden board walk winds it's way around the rocky coves and is a great place to hang out and watch life go by in all it's various shapes and sizes. The downwind end of the board walk is home to the British OTC centre that opened about a year and a half ago, and the German Surf Centre that has been there since the early eighties. At the upwind end of the board walk is the main square, lined on three sides by cafes, bars, and restaurants with the fourth side opening onto the town beach.

Medano town square

This is one feature of El Medano that everyone loves. It's the focal centre of the town with a heady mix of kids playing football, grannies gossiping, surf dudes / dudesses looking cool, markets, fiestas, and outdoor culture of all kinds ... and all this can be going on while us lot are blasting around in a howling 40 knot trade wind. Speaking of which ...

The Wind
The prevailing wind in Tenerife is a NEly trade wind which blows all year round, but is especially consistent in the summer. It funnels down the coastline, accelerated by Mount Teide, and hits El Medano as cross-onshore from the left, bringing the swell and waves with it. Other wind directions are also sailable - notably West to SWly which bring flat water starboard tack conditions to the south bay, good for freestyle. Alternative spots on the island work in Nly's and NWly's, which are usually too offshore in Medano, or can have waves in SW to Wly's (see www.windsurfingtenerife.com for a list and map).

The OTC web-site boasts of "over 250 days of planing conditions (force four and above) a year". Sail sizes are mainly in the 4.7m to 5.7m range and you'll be sailing in board shorts, shortie, or a summer suit (only really needed on the windiest days in winter). Sounds OK to you ? So what about the conditions ....

The Windsurfing
There are actually three beaches in El Medano (two for windsurfing plus the town beach, which is definitely not) and two bays (North and South) separated by a fishing harbour, with the dividing line being the harbour wall, which also overlooks a wave break (known as El Muelle). So already quite a varied set of locations, rich in possibilities for all kinds and all levels of water-sports, before even venturing out of the town.

The South Bay is the gentler option for windsurfers looking for bump and jump (and occasionally flat) conditions - although when it's windy there's usually some kind of a shore-break (relatively non threatening by UK south coast standards) and occasionally there are some fair size beach break waves. It's a wide sandy beach, with the town at one end and the distinctive shape of Montana Roja at the other, and relatively safe as long as you don't find yourself drifting downwind and out of sight behind the mountain. Next stop is South America, so If in doubt stay in the bay, where there'll always be a lee shore and a "walk of shame" back to the launch spot. Although it is possible for someone to learn to windsurf here, and there is tuition for complete beginners (see below / fact box), it's really an intermediate and up location, with waterstarting required in the rolling swells, which are perfect for steep swooping outside gybes.

The South Bay and Mt Roja

The next windsurfing spot upwind is El Muelle. You can sail up to it from the South Bay in about ten minutes on a good day, and once there you often find clean peeling waves (usually up to about head high, occasionally bigger) breaking onto the slabs of rock that the wall is built over. It's a good spot for both jumping and on-shore down-the-line riding, and is relatively unthreatening as riding the waves takes you away from the sharp reefy bits into a deep water channel where you can gybe and head out again avoiding the impact zone. It's also great for spectating and taking pictures - either looking down from the wall, or from sea level perched on the rocks below the wall.

The Harbour Wall (aka El Muelle in wave break terms)

The only downsides of El Muelle are that it's quite tide dependent. High tide usually produces a nasty confused back wash from the wall itself with choppy waves coming and going all over the place on the inside - enough to make you feel quite seasick there ... and at low tides there are exposed bits of rock to avoid - a few dead fins live down there ! In general though, it's a good compromise between the relatively 'soft' south bay and the notorious hotshot / hardcore North Bay spot - El Cabezo.

The sailing standard at Cabezo is often breathtaking, with all kinds of aerial acrobatics, the latest wave-freestyle moves, and some extremely nifty backside and on-shore DTL wave-riding. There can also occasionally be a bit of aggression there - Nikki once witnessed a bloke pursue another windsurfer onto the beach, rip off his helmet and punch him full in the face ! Talking to the OTC staff, and listening to their various tales of destruction on the rocks there certainly gives you ample warning.

Despite all this, and although there are some mean rocks and sometimes a fairly hefty shore-break, it's often not that gnarly if you play it fairly safe, and you can again cruise up there from the south bay and avoid the launch. The waves are usually bigger, better and more plentiful than the harbour wall (especially at high tide), but if you get it wrong in the impact zone a vicious current and relentless white water will take you and your kit for an excursion across the volcanic reef and sea urchins. Obviously if you're expert level then none of this will bother you, and the local hotshots and travelling pros will certainly inspire you to push your limits - think Pozo with less manic wind, better waves, and fewer crowds.

The North Bay (Cabezo as it is known to windsurfers)

There's one other beach close to El Medano that is often used by the kiters, sometimes by windsurfers, and regularly by nudists (usually of the large, wobbly variety - can put you right off your gybe !). La Tajita is a couple of minutes drive, just the other side of Montana Roja. The NEly trades blow slightly off shore there, and the water is much flatter than the south bay - perfect for practising freestyle or learning to gybe. When the wind switches around to the SW, La Tejita gets starboard tack cross-onshore lumpy-jumpy conditions with a shore-break - very reminiscent of the UK South Coast ("shingle-lickin", "chop-bothering" etc), but without the rain. There's also a newly opened camp site there, providing an alternative to El Med's hotels and apartments.

There are other plenty of other spots to windsurf, kitesurf, and surf all around Tenerife's coastline (again see www.windsurfingtenerife.com for a list and map), but there's not enough space to go into them here. You could well find yourself sailing alone (or amongst a bunch of local surfers) at most of these locations, as 90% of the windsurfing happens in El Medano. Whilst for the more adventurous (or plain crazy ?) there are 'secret spots' that are extremely remote, gnarly, and make Cabezo look like an easy option !

Equipment / Kit Hire / Tuition
We always used to take our own kit to Tenerife. The charter flights make it relatively cheap and you can either stay somewhere with storage or pay to store it in one of the '"locals" (garages). Bring as much stuff as you can to maximise your time on the water, as you do get a variety of wind strengths and sea states, but a basic set up would be sails from 4.2m to 5.7m and an 80l 'ish waveboard or FSW.

However with the arrival of the first British windsurf centre in El Medano, the OTC (Official Test Centre), it's now just as good an option to hire, especially for short trips (making even long weekends viable). It's a very well run centre, with top notch equipment, and you are made to feel very welcome by the friendly and helpful staff (ps that must be worth a few cevezas guys :-). The "Test" bit of the name is because instead of being stocked with one or two brands, the OTC has boards and sails from all the major makes (and even some not so major eg WitchCaft), so giving their clients the chance to sail and compare say half a dozen wave boards in the same session. A great idea and bloody marvellous if you need to decide which one to buy ! The sails are all rigged on their manufacturers' recommended 75-100% carbon masts and when you choose your boom, you specify your preferred harness line length - very civilised ! (would sir prefer 24 or 28 inches ? Ooo, suits you sir etc :-).

OTC are currently not allowed to offer tuition, but it is possible to hire kit from them and book lessons from the German owned "Surf Centre" which is just the other side of the Playa Sur hotel. Run by Klaus and Marion Gahmig, they have been on the South Bay since the early 1980's and for a long time were a Mistral centre. Now they have Naish gear. As mentioned they also have fully qualified instructors and offer tuition at all levels, "according to the proven methods of the German VDWS" system (from their website).

There's also the "Fun Factory" centre in the North Bay. Again German owned and stocking Fanatic Boards and North sails. They used to be located under the Atlantic Playa hotel, but that's been closed for ages for renovations (which are now nearly finished and looking very good by the way). They're currently run from the Cabezo apartments, which they also rent out along with kit storage, and are a good bet for windsurfers wanting to be based in the North Bay and sail at Cabezo. They also have the excellent "BikePoint" shop in the town (see the mountain bike info below).

Other Stuff To Do
As I mentioned, Tenerife has a lot to offer, and if the wind doesn't blow or you want to take some time off from windsurfing there are plenty of other things to do. For a start there's great surfing, both in and around Medano and further afield - notably at Playa Las Americas, which manages to combine it's previously mentioned flesh-pot role with some world class surf breaks.

Surfing at Las Americas

(nb more photos of surfers at Pl. Las Americas on the blog here)

Then there's mountain biking - also world class, not that I'm any kind of an expert, but the cross country trails and downhill rides are as extreme as any you'd want. As I mentioned there's the highest mountain in Spain here and some seriously rugged terrain, so besides awesome MTB'ing there's spectacular hiking and climbing. If climbing Mt Teide is perhaps a bit daunting, then you can even take a cable car up it. Or for a somewhat smaller peak to tackle, try a stroll up Montana Roja. Although definitely red, it's more of a hill than a mountain really, and can be climbed in about half an hour, with some great views from the top.

For a less active day out (but arguably just as adrenaline-fuelled given some of the roads and driving), hire a car and seek out the "real Tenerife". I'd recommend a drive up into the mountains, on some of the highest and twistiest roads you'll ever drive, to see the lunar volcanic landscape of the Teide national park, and beautiful mountain villages like Villaflor or (our favourite) Masca.

Masca

(nb more photos and info about Masca on the blog here)

Then there's diving, whale watching, a world famous zoo and aquarium (Loro Parque), and last-but-not ... (ummm on the other hand) kite-surfing (we all have to get along with each other and all that ...). So plenty to do, and for further info, check out the links in the Fact Box.
Getting There / Where to Stay
There's no need to spend a lot of space on the practicalities of flights and accommodation, as there's loads of both and it's all readily available via the internet. We always fly with one of the charter airlines such as Monarch, Thompson etc (not least because they are great for taking kit), so just search around for the best deal on-line.

As for where to stay, there are two hotels (plus, the previously mentioned 'Atlantic Playa'), both of which we've stayed in and can recommend: the 'Hotel Medano' in the main square, and the 'Playa Sur' next-door to OTC, plus numerous apartments to rent, some of which also provide equipment storage. Again, check the links in the Fact Box for some options, or if you'd rather let someone else sort it all out then Sportif will be happy to put a package together for you.

Restaurants / Nightlife
Cafes, Bars, Restaurants ... again too many to mention (unlike regrets then: "I've had a few" ...). However a few stand out in my ceveza-fuelled memory cells: "FlashPoint" is where the windsurfers hang out during the day. Just along from OTC on the boardwalk, with a surf shop next door, and a great view of De Action. “Manfred’s" is a friendly bar near the harbour wall with live music some nights.

For lunch there's a takeaway right opposite the Hotel Medano called “Neptuno” that does great value Bocadillios (sandwiches). La Familiar and El Pescador are good, reliable places to eat Spanish fish and meat dishes, but you are really spoilt for choice for restaurants in and around the main square, including three Chinese and a Japanese !

Finally, to quote from my sentence about extreme secret spots, "whilst for the more adventurous (or plain crazy ?)" there's always the previously mentioned option of a trip to the flesh-pots of Playa Las Americas for some full on hard-core clubbing.

Conclusion
So, there you go ... El Medano ticks most of the boxes for a great windsurfing (and even family) holiday for everyone from intermediate level upwards. It's especially good for learning jumps, loops and onshore wave riding in "real world" waves, and you can also try a bit of surfing, mountain biking, or kitesurfing. Tenerife is a big island with surprising diversity, and in fact it would be a shame not to take at least one day off and do some exploring. Any more boxes need ticking ?

Fact Box
Wind: Year round but most reliable from June - August
Wind direction: Mainly north-east trades (cross-on from the left)
Approx. air temp: 27 degrees in summer, 21 degrees in winter
Approx. sea temp: 23 degrees in summer, 19 degrees in winter
Wetsuit: summer suit / shortie in winter, board shorts / shortie in the summer

Wind Forecast: www.surfcenter.el-medano.com/Wind/4cast/default.htm
Web Cam: www.canarias24.com/webcam/elmedano/
List & map of Spots, and loads of other info: www.windsurfingtenerife.com

Windsurf Centres: www.otc-windsurf.com www.surfcenter.el-medano.com www.fanatic.el-medano.com
Surf Shops: www.csf4u.com www.cabezosurfshop.com

MTB hire: BikePoint (www.medanobike.com)
Surfing: www.k16surf.com
Kitesurfing: www.theshinncentre.com
Diving: www.divetenerife.com
Theme parks and excursions (including to the top of Mt Teide): www.teneriferesorts.com
Zoo / aquarium: www.loroparque.com

Hotels: www.hotelplayasurtenerife.com www.hotelmedano.com
Apartments: www.martinez.ch www.roho.co.uk/windsurf/windsurf_holiday.html or book through Sportif
Holiday Packages: www.sportif-uk.com
Camping site: www.campingsonline.com/montanaroja

Flight time: 4.5 hrs
Time Zone: GMT
Language: Spanish
Currency: Euro

1 comment:

Diving Atlantis said...

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