Surfing San Sebastian is a classic fall surf trip to the Basque country of Europe. As fall approaches and Europe opens up, it is time to think about those epic surf trips when the kids are back in school, the summer crowds have gone home, the temperatures drop just a little, and the surf pumps.
Sure, we know you don’t have to go far. After all, California pumps in September and October – plus the weather is fantastic and the plane tickets cheap.
However, if you’re looking for something a little different, a surf trip to the Basque country definitely qualifies for a top spot on your to-do list, and in that list, maybe at the top, is a surf trip to San Sebastian, Spain.
One of the great things about a basque country surf trip is that some epic surf spots are so close that you can hit a few, but depending on time, inclination, and importantly, your surfing ability, a good argument could be made for just making yourself comfortable in San Sebastian for your entire stay.
Staying Put in San Sebastian
First, I’m always one to admit that I enjoy settling into a place and getting to know the routine, figuring out the wave a little, and finding that great place for coffee in the morning. On some trips, you just hop around and see as much as you can, but are you really seeing more? Or are you just skimming the surface and not giving yourself the opportunity to dig just a little deeper.
That all being said, I’ll never judge anyone who decided to spend their whole trip in the fun San Sebastian surf at Zurriola Beach despite what else is available in Basque Country.
But definitely keep in mind, this isn’t Texas we’re talking about. You can see a lot of great stuff, and experience some great waves without spending untold hours in the car. Biarritz is right up the road and can be just a day trip. So why not get another country, language, and culture under your belt while you are there.
Planning Your Surf Trip – Surfing Ability
We all have to be honest about our surfing ability when planning a surf trip. Of course, any break is going to act differently depending on weather and swell, but in general, if you are a relative beginner (or even intermediate surfer) you aren’t going to hop off a plane and paddle out at Mundaka.
However, if you fall into that beginner to intermediate category, the forgiving beach break at Zurriola Beach in San Sebastian might be right up your alley. For most people out there, this is a really good thing. Keep in mind, that as the fall rolls in, the surf in the Basque Country can get big. Huge even. And if this happens the beach break at Zurriola beach might be just what the more advanced surfer is looking for as other beaches are maxing out.
On one trip to the area, I surfed at Zurriola in very manageable waves in the morning then drove to Biarritz to find it big and unruly with just one guy out.
The thing is, if this happens, just enjoy your coffee and a nice fall day in one of the most amazing towns on the planet. Sit down and join some locals for their before-noon martinis. Maybe drive a half-hour to France, or it’s about an hour to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Not a bad fall-back plan, and one you don’t always get on a surf trip. But that’s a Basque Country surf trip for you.
Ok, so I’ve mentioned Zurriola Beach a few times. You’ve probably put it together that it is the surfing beach in San Sebastian, but let’s dive into it a bit more.
If you look at San Sebastian on a map, there are two beaches in town divided by a river, the Urumea. To the west of the Urumea are two beaches, La Concha and Ondarreta. The expansive La Concha stretches in front of the main part of San Sebastian and is the playground for most of the town.
In the fall when all of the tourists have left, you’ll be hanging out on La Concha with locals, soaking up the late-season sun and playing handball against the ancient stone seawall.
However, these beaches lie within a protected bay that is sheltered from directly getting most swell. A hook-shaped point of land and an island, Isla de Santa Clara, conspire to keep this section of beach calm and friendly. Here you’ll see the tell-tale sign of no surf – boats moored inside the point.
If you are in town with kids or a non-surfer, you may end up spending some time splashing around in the calm waters at La Concha.
On the east side of the river is Zurriola beach, and as we’ve mentioned, that’s where the surfing happens in San Sebastian.
Zurriola is small and featureless, and in the summer is covered edge-to-edge with towels and beach blankets. Starting in September, when all of Europe goes back to work, you and the other surfers have this amazing beach practically to yourselves.
Where to Stay to Surf San Sebastian
San Sebastian is not a big town. That being said I don’t really want to drive and park every day or carry a surfboard through town. The best thing to do is find a place to stay in Zurriola, then just walk over the bridge and into town for all of your other activities during the day and night.
To me, as a committed dawn patrol surfer, this is just the best way to do it, and there are plenty of options to pull it off. Of course, if I had little kids in tow, it might be the other way around – a spot near La Concha for the convenience and a morning walk with a surfboard to Zurriola.
Either way, I hope you’ll consider an epic Basque Country surf trip for your next surfing adventure. If you do, be sure to put San Sebastian on your list.
Whether you decide to just stay for the entirety or hit a few different spots along the way, you just can’t go wrong, and it’s a surf trip everyone should experience at some point.
Getting to San Sebastian
Getting to San Sebastian isn’t difficult, but generally will require a layover or two. However you get to Europe, the closest airports to San Sebastian will be in either Bilbao or Biarritz.
Coming into Bilbao is a great option as it gives you the chance to plan a trip to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.