Barcelona’s Secret Surf Scene


emil_hang5Words by Shelley Jones, Photos By Emil Kozak, Magazine spreads courtesy of ACID

With its blue skies, car-free streets and palm tree-lined plazas, Barcelona has long cemented itself as the European capital of skateboarding. But now a stubborn surf scene is blowing up and the culture’s flourishing like crazy because the waves are often crap.

Skateboarders dominate Barcelona. There are more shady characters – on a range of strange equipment, sometimes in tandem, sometimes holding hands – rolling around the lazy town than you can shake a Spanish sausage at. But surfing is the new guy in town and the locals are enamored. Surfers have been ripping up Barceloneta (the city beach) for decades but the last ten years has seen a real explosion in the scene and the culture around it. Just last weekend a new surf film fest – Movistar Surf City Festival – brought together talent from near and far to celebrate an abundance of creative projects.

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One of the OGs of the scene is photographer, artist and designer Emil Kozak, whose many impressive accolades include making custom board art for Kelly Slater. Emil moved to Barcelona ten years ago to set up his studio in its sunny streets and has seen surfing really take root. “Ten years ago there was nothing,” says Emil. “On a good day in Barceloneta you’d get max, ten people. Now you go to Barceloneta or Sitges and there’s like fifty people in the water. It’s funny having seen it change so much. In the last two or three years there’s been a huge boom.” Emil says you’re lucky to get one or two days of surf a week through the winter and much less than that in the summer. But the lack of waves is just turning people on more. “I think people here get more obsessed by surfing than in other places because they’re waiting, waiting, waiting,” he says. “If you live somewhere where you have waves everyday you maybe take it a little bit for granted. I think people here really get into it in a different way. There’s a lot of interest here in the culture around surfing, because obviously you don’t have that much time in the water. So I think people tend to embrace fixing their camper van, or skateboarding, or watching movies, or talking about surfing or whatever, just stuff that’s kind of related.”

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One creative project that’s already got a cultish following at home and abroad is ACID, an esoteric magazine that looks at surfing in a curious and unexpected way. Just on its fourth issue, ACID is a good reflection of the city’s unique surf culture. “We portray surfing in a humble, exploratory way and connect it to our interests outside surfing, namely art, humour, science, and love for beautiful ideas and images,” says one of its editors Olivier Talbot. “We want to showcase surfing in a way that’s a bit more grown up, outside of usual mercantile surf tropes and in a way that will still make you want to get in the water rather than buying a new piece of clothing.”

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Emil and Olivier also name check some indie surfboard projects in the city – Proyecto Sandez, Montjuic and Flama – and although their both adamant that Barcelona will never become a destination spot for surfers (“Not going to happen, man”), they think the up swell of interest is only going to keep growing. So in case you do decide to make the trip – with zero promise of a wave – here’s a breakdown of the best bits.

Everything You Need To Know About Surfing In Barcelona

Waves Go Two Ways

Barcelona surf has two wind and wave directions according to Emil. “And they’re usually going in the same direction because we get very local storms,” he says. “One is when you get a very heavy low pressure from the Pyrenees that ends up coming out of the Gulf of Lion, producing some waves that travel down the coast from the North East. And the other direction is basically the opposite.

November and April Pop Off (Kinda)

“November can have large swells (by Mediterranean standards) that clean up the morning after a storm, but it’s not happening often,” says Olivier. “And April can have punchy swells, with a thunderstorm and hail or rain. But that’s not happening often at all.” Lol.

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You Can Surf At Night

Mirko, the guy behind Proyecto Sandez surfboards, tells us you can stay in the water after it gets dark because the street lights illuminate everything. Pretty cool.

Fish Boards Rule Supreme

They just love those fatties. And longboards too. No real need for any guns out here so don’t bring the whole quiver.

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There Are Tons of Secret Spots

“There’s a huge coastline with loads of spots but people are not that creative when it comes to looking at Google Maps and they end up going to the same places – Barceloneta and Sitges,” says Emil. “Since it’s mostly windswell when the swell’s coming from the North East you need to find a spot that is protected from that wind a bit, but at the same time allows the waves to come, and the same in the opposite direction. It’s very rare you have beautiful swell with no wind. A couple of times a year you get a good one with a ten second period. But it’s rare. So you’re usually looking for someplace a little bit sheltered.”

Dawn Is The Time

There are no tides in Barcelona so you don’t have to worry about timing your surf around that. Dawn brings best waves and least amount of drop-ins.

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To see more of ACID mag, check out the gallery or go here:

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