As we have said before in this blog, Spain offers a wide variety of sports, activities, food, color, culture, and history. Every season we aim to find an expert in one of Spain’s tourist draws, and run an interview with them.
This month, since surf and beach season is upon us, we got the pleasure of having a chat with professional surf instructor Henalu de Barros. Henalu is the English language instructor at our partner Alma Surf School, in Asturias, Northern Spain.
ColorfullySpain: So, how did you learn how to surf? And where?
Henalu de Barros: While my first steps into the world of surf were on Lanzarote, a small island in the Canaries, when I really started getting into the sport was when I had my first adventure in the Bay of Biscay, in the Principality of Asturias. This probably seems contradictory, since the climate in Lanzarote is warm and a lot more agreeable for water sport than the often inclement weather in Asturias, but it is also true that no one exactly knows what goes on in the head of a 12 year old. Somehow, and for whatever reason, that’s when I decided to head back to the ocean as I’d done plenty of times, but this time with a board under my arm. I decided to really commit myself to the sport at Frexulfe, a beautiful natural beach in the western stretch of Asturias. After that, I started going all over the world just trying to enjoy the uncountable and wonderful experiences surfing has to offer, and of course, like all surfers, looking for “the perfect wave”.
CS: What are, in your opinion, the three best things about surfing?
HdB: One, surfing, as I once heard a pro surfer in Hawaii say, “is a sport, a lifestyle, and an art form where the wave is your canvas”. What I can add myself to this beautiful quote is that surfing is in essence a way of making a personal connection with something so absolutely changing and unfathomable as the sea. This connection might sound a bit mystical, but it is the truth, and if you let it and you pay enough attention, you can learn so much about yourself and your own abilities. That is, for me, the most beautiful part of surfing, even though it is frustrating at times, because you don´t always know exactly what you should be learning with each ‘lesson’.
Second, I would have to say, is without a doubt, the pure enjoyment and fun that comes along with throwing yourself into the sea to play in the waves and look for adventure. That is definitely one of the best things about surfing, and better still if these moments are in the company of friends and family.
Third, but no less important, surfing challenges you every time you head into the water – and as I said before, it is constantly changing with no warning, and there is nothing you can really do about that. But why do I say surfing challenges you? Well, you need to learn to adapt and react in the middle of everything, at high speeds. Also you need to correct errors from time to time, so you need to learn to be self critical and make an effort towards personal improvement – all things that can be subsequently applied to other aspects of life.
Of course, doing that alone won’t make you a good surfer, you first have to understand and internalize what on paper looks nice and easy. But as I said, that is the challenge, and the beauty of it.
CS: You and your family have established a surf school in Asturias – why Spain? And why Asturias specifically?
HdB: Probably being Spanish residents ourselves was a major influence in that decisions, but there were many other factors: Spain is without a doubt a country with impressive landscapes and the northern coast offers some of the best and most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, and I have to say I have visited many beautiful beaches in a variety of places.
Asturias, just like the publicity states, is a natural paradise, and all you have to do is visit for a day to realize how true that is. So of course, where better to surf than in such a dreamy place like the beach at Frexulfe, which is why I started out surfing there.
CS: So, you would say Asturias is a good place to start learning to surf? What about for veteran surfers?
HThe Asturian coast is the perfect place to start out, thanks to all the sandy beaches that offer easy access; this in turn assures safety during beginner surfing sessions. And of course, another important factor is that there are always surfable waves thanks to the swell from the Atlantic Ocean, so there is almost never a day that you can’t hit the water and catch at least a few good waves.
For those surfers already at an intermediate level, there are a few beaches that have good waves and also a certain level of difficulty, for honing skills and working on technique. Overall, the coast here has something for everyone, every level.
CS: So, tell me more about Alma Surf School, and what its objective is? Do you offer just surfing lessons or other activities as well?
The consuming passion and devotion for surfing in our family is what defines the school. We are dedicated to understanding not only the sport, but the life style, and how it is different for different generations, so that we can offer anyone who wants it the chance to open themselves up to the world of surf and learn to see things from different perspectives. The surf school teaches surfing, yes, but also helps our surfers get to know new people, as well as themselves, in a fun and accessible way. It helps combat getting in a rut, weight gain, and stress. This is because surfing reinforces self-confidence and healthy self-criticism, willpower to better oneself, and also just gives you a chance to socialize. And of course, the sea offers a type of relaxation and calm like no other place on earth.
At the school we offer not only beginner and lower intermediate classes, but also more advanced classes in technique that include video correction, and also ‘mental surfing’ among other things (check out our website for more information). Our latest addition is stand up paddle surfing, both sea and river routes, which entail floating down mountain and forest lined rivers, with stops for exploring areas of interest.
CS: I noticed a new program as well, called Surf the Lead – can you tell me about that?
This project, built ground up with great passion on the part of my family and our collaborators, is a program built around activities that let the participants not only learn the sport of surfing, but the philosophy as well, and then taking these lessons and benefits to the level of personal benefit and betterment. The program is designed to help translate what the participants learn about themselves and their own development to real world application, with relation to their social lives, work, or school. In order to get these results we have created a fusion course that joins the sport with a leadership workshop which is required of all the participants.
With Surf the Lead, the students get to stay in a typical house from the region, and at the opening night dinner we reinforce that our main objective is for them to have fun, and also be safe, and that the living experience will work out best if it is based on mutual respect. Over the next two or three weeks during the program, they will learn not only how to surf but also have the opportunity to try other sports like yoga, paddle surf, hiking, etc. We have games and downtime directed around leadership and trust building, and also English classes if they so desire.
We like to emphasize that it is fun learning, because we never want any of the development to be forced. The goal is to grow organically, at the individual’s pace.
And of course, the food, we can’t forget that. It’s always prepared fresh and with whatever requirements an individual might have, but based on a healthy diet that the participants need to keep up with the active lifestyle. We always adapt to whatever intolerance or allergy someone might have, as this whole program is, at its core, about well being.
Many thanks to Henalu for the great and informative interview. At Colorfully Spain, we prize partners like Alma Surf School who are so obviously invested in not only the well being and satisfaction of our clients, but also in finding new and refreshing ways to present their corner of the world to others.
Colorfully is happy to announce that starting in June of 2016 we will be offering tours Asturias and Playa Frexulfe so our clients can also enjoy the wild fun of Northern Spain’s World of Surf. So if you are interesting in surf classes with Henalu, paddle surfing and tapas crawling around the gorgeous river-fed landscape, and hiking around some 3,000 year old Celtiberian hill forts, then contact us today to book your trip.