Who says you can't surf in the Mediterranean Sea? Is there evidence?
The Mediterranean is a sea of small tides, almost imperceptible on days with good weather, and with a mass of water that is practically always calm. For many, it is not possible to surf in the Mediterranean, it seems to them little more than a large swimming pool, impossible to surf with a board neither in storms nor on clear days. The waves have a reputation for poor quality, there are few big ones, and the time that passes between one and the next is low, which makes the waves messy. In winter, between 7 and 9 seconds can pass between waves. So far, the theory that condemns it. But is it possible to remove it?
In addition to my work as a researcher (Centre for Climate Change C3, Faculty of Tourism and Geography, Universitat Rovira i Virgili), I am Mediterranean and passionate about surfing. So I decided to incorporate all three and put surfing to the test in the second largest inland sea on the planet, the Mediterranean. The result of the work carried out has allowed us to establish the best surf spots at different times of the year on the Mediterranean coast and offer useful information to surfers who are thinking of loading a board and choosing a destination, something that can boost surf tourism where there is no there is and in seasons when sun and beach vacationers stop going to the coast.
To see if the Mediterranean Sea is surfable, I undertook the task of developing a weather service for surfing. The climate service concept is an idea from the Global Framework for Climate Services. It is about transforming climate data into useful information that helps end users in a specific sector make decisions.
In order to design a climate service for surfing, it is necessary to understand very well how the waves are formed and what conditions will make a beach have a good surf session or not. Thus, within the INDECIS project, and within the framework of my doctoral thesis, we designed a methodology that allows us to have systematic data on the significant height of the swell, the peak period, the mean direction of the swell and its maximum height.
All this data helps us to know the expected days of surfing per year in specific places. They are obtained from records of oceanic buoys and can be explored from the Puertos del Estado website. Thus, thanks to the climatology of surfing in the Iberian Peninsula, we conclude that the data refute the cliché: Yes, you can surf in the Mediterranean, and with quality waves.
As an example, and thanks to the data from ocean buoys, we can identify the 10 coastal points with the highest frequency of surfable waves per year on the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula:
1. La Fosca (Palamós) offers an expected 123 days of surfing per year
2. Prat Beach (Barcelona) offers 67 days.
3, 4, 5, 6, 7. There is a tie of 55 days of surfing per year on the beaches of Port Saplatja, Las Acelgas, Camping Patacona, Las Arenas and La Patacona (Valencia).
8. La Pineda (Tarragona) offers an expected 51 days of surfing per year.
9. Castell Beach (Palamós) with 34 expected days of surfing.
10. La Malvarrosa (Valencia) with an expected 32 days of surfing.
More limited values are presented on the coasts of Malaga and Alicante.
The development of the weather service also requires knowing the needs of surfers. So we did a survey of surfers who had surfed at least once in the Iberian Peninsula. Thanks to this survey we really knew what information about weather and climate conditions they value most to have a better surfing experience.
In the first place, they value having information about the practice of surfing according to the user level; receive wave information with greater spatial resolution (currently the predictions have a high margin of error, since they give the value of the prediction in the high seas and not in shallow depths) and, finally, that there is information available on other possible activities in the area in case surfing is not feasible that day.
Regarding wave information with higher spatial resolution, we have developed a hybrid downscaling method to obtain wave data at shallow depths, which is where surfers actually practice the sport, and with a very high spatial resolution of 100 meters.
The Iberian Peninsula has different realities regarding the availability of expected days of surfing per year. Even so, it is worth developing the climate service in its entirety, both in the Mediterranean and for the Atlantic.
On the Atlantic coast, where surf tourism is already quite developed in some areas, it can help deseasonalize the tourist offer. Even so, you have to know which segment to target. With the designed indicators it is possible to see which season is better to offer surfing according to the level of the specific surfer. In the case of the Mediterranean, surfing can serve to diversify and also deseasonalize the tourist offer, for example, on dates when sun and beach tourism is not viable but can lead to a great season for surfing.
Surfing in the Mediterranean is possible, and it is also possible to demonstrate it both on a practical and theoretical level. Now yes, it is important to know well what meteo-oceanic conditions are required to enjoy a good surf session and take advantage of the resources that nature offers us in a sustainable way.
This article has been published in The Conversation.