Portugal’s surf history may not be as old as that of Hawaii, Southern California, or even Biarritz, but it’s come a long way in just a few years. Surfing in Portugal for most is a relatively new phenomenon, first gaining popularity in the 1990s. The Arquivo Nacional de Surf (National Surfing Archive) portrays surfing events from only twenty years ago as some sort of retro collection of lost footage. But there is much older footage than that.
An important part of Portugal’s surf history exists in footage of “bellyboarders” (early bodyboarders) riding waves in Leça as far back as 1927.
From Up Magazine:
Until this discovery, the oldest European record was an homemadefilm shot in Cornwall, in southern England, revealed in 2010 by the BBC documentary series “Sea Fever”. The TV station has dated the film back to the 1920s, but the swimsuit used by the main character is clearly a BVD, the famous brand launched in the beginning of the 1930s and made popular by swimmer and actor Johnny Weissmuler. Another homemade film, displayed in the same series, points to the period between 1929-1931 and also shows an initial British surfer (the film is stored in the collections of the Museum of British Surfing).
Take that, Biarritz!
It is believed that the ones bellyboarding in Leça in the 1920s are probably Brits, since a significant community lived in the area at the time and frequented the resorts there. Perhaps they were inspired by footage of the Edward Prince of Wales surfing in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii in 1920 (the first record of a European surfing). I doubt it though.
Portugal’s surfing history in Ericeira stretches back nearly twice as far as the National Surfing Archive’s footage and maybe farther. The first national surf competition in Portugal took place in 1977 at Ericeira’s famous Ribeira d’Ilhas.
The newspaper Diário de Notícias” from 21st of May, 1977 describes the scene (my translation from an article in Journal I):
Surfing consists of riding polyurethane and fiberglass planks over the beach breaks, exercising perfect balance and using the force of the waves.
Could just as well be describing Portugal’s surf history as its present. Some things don’t change.