Words Mimi LaMontagne
This article is an excerpt from Surfing Life 317, "As Good As It Gets". You can find out what else is inside right here.
There is a time in Spain when the wine runs out. The bars close for siesta and you’re forced to look beyond the indulgences of food and drink, and that is when you truly get to know the country. That is when you meet the people, and you fall under the spell of Spain just a little bit more.
Meet Lucía Martiño de la Arena, of Gijón, Asturia, Spain. As you sit there gazing forlornly at your empty table, watching the world go by, she is the first person you see – a patch of light in a sea of dark hair. She’ll come up to you – she’s the farthest thing from shy – she’ll lead you out of the overpriced, touristy restaurant that you happened to stumble upon, and into one of the best parts of one of the best countries in the world (unless you already read this all-encompassing guide to Spain that you’ve got in your hands right this second, in which case you’d already be in the cheapest, most local café drinking sangria to your heart’s content).
In the north of Spain you have the Basque Country, which you read about just before, you have Cantabria, you have Asturias and then Galicia. And while the Basque Country is known as the most popular surfing region, a coastline of swell and surf and deliciously clear waters is hidden in Asturias. This is where Gijónis situated. It is where Lucía Martiño de la Arena lives. And it is where you should visit.
Pretty handy on the backside blast, no? Photo: Mamat/Lakey Peak
“I have lived my whole life here in Gijón. It is a city about the size of San Sebastian, and it is a city with very good surf. I think that we have the same quality surf as the Basque Country, but the difference is that here is empty – you can find a great break with no-one out on any day. Very few people surf around here – we’re not a big population, and it’s not a well-known sport where I live.
“The best season here is from September to December, for surf – if you wait until January the water is too cold and the swell is too unpredictable. Just after summer you’ll find good banks and everything works. But if you do happen to stay through the winter, make sure you bring a pair of booties.
“There is a wave about 20 minutes away from the main part of town called Rodiles, and if you catch it during the right time of the year with good banks, it’s a left that’s very, very similar to Mundaka – only in comparison, Mundaka can have 200 people out on the best day and Rodiles maybe 30. If it’s not working, there are tons of good beachbreaks in the winter, the best of which you’ll find in Salinas, about 20 minutes in the opposite direction. On a solid swell, stay in the city – we have a big right just out front of the main area of town, and when it’s big it gets really, really good. It is called El Mongol, and normally in the winter it works every day. That’s my favourite wave to surf in the entire world.
“I am always telling my friends in France and the rest of Europe to come visit me down here in Gijón, because fuck, it’s just so nice. It is really green and there are so many empty waves – the water is clear, the food is cheap, and the city is really fun.”
Oh yes, Gijón is fun! In fact, that’s a bit of an understatement, because although small, Gijónreally knows how to party. It’s a place where summer holidaymakers start their escapes, where the landlocked of the Spanish come to party and sunbake and wander the streets of an idyllic town. It’s where food and drink abound at a ridiculously low price and the whole of the country knows about it.
“Yeah, the summer is a big party. Everyone comes for holidays. But then in the winter it’s really good because there are universities – a lot of people come from the middle of Spain to study here. The main part of the city is packed with little places and little bars, and we have a lot of specialties too. If you come here you must order cider – the north of Spain is very famous for their cider and this is where it all started and was created. They pour it from very high up so you get a lot of bubbles, and it is what everyone in the town drinks.
“And when you go somewhere to have a cider you need to have either a fabada, which are like legumes, but a special type that we have here – or you should have a steak that we call cachopo. You put cheese or jam or champions in it and fry it up, and it tastes so, so good. There are a ton of places that you can go around town for cheap food and drink, and when you go out to party, you always go out around eight or nine to drink cider and have steak or something beforehand.
The Spaniard is a guapa chica, another of the travelling surfer's most beautiful sights. Photo: Bernardo Baragano
“As well, there is one other thing you must do if you visit Gijón. If you visit in the time from September to December, you must finish your trip by going to the mountains. The snow is only 50 minutes away and there are small villages with very local restaurants and drinks – you walk into a bar and you could have a grandmother cooking for you. The stations are small but very good for snow – you have Pajares and San Isidro and Fuentes de Invierno, and it’s the perfect way to finish your trip.”
So in a town where landlocked activities abound and very, very few people surf, how did Lucia get so bloody good at it? In a town that isn’t blessed with the culture of surf and sun and boardrider clubs and post-surf-pies, how did she make a name for herself?
“Here, when I started surfing at the age of 10, I was the only girl that would paddle out in winter. In the summer there were a few other people, but it’s quiet. The only reason I started surfing was because I am a very sporty person, and I grew up doing karate, swimming, sailing and bodyboarding, and then one day my mom saw someone running down the beach with a real surfboard and said that I should give it a try. And I did, and three years later I was competing.
“But it was hard – I remember going out and surfing in winter with booties and a really thick wetsuit, with no-one out, and my mom would sit on the beach and film me. It was good on one hand because I didn’t have to deal with anyone else trying to take a wave I wanted, but on the other hand it’s hard to progress – you can’t compete or train or even surf with another friend that will push you. To make a name for yourself is hard in Gijón because no one is here to see you. The industry is in France, and maybe the Basque Country, but here there is nothing – no-one looks at you and says, yeah, that kid has potential and we should help them. That is sad for me, but it’s also why I’ve gone to France during the summers since I started surfing. It’s a place where performance is high, and it’s helped me a lot in competition.
“At first I started only in Spain, nationals and all that, and then when I was 14 I started the World Juniors. I was really small, but I guess I did a good job because I kept on going. Since then I’ve been picking and choosing on ‘QSs. I guess I like to compete because when you work or train hard, after you compete it’s like a conclusion. Eventually you are paid off with a result.
“I’m always trying to improve my surfing with more power in my manoeuvres, and I go to the gym and kickbox every day, but lately I have been training a lot in the competition mindset. All the time I go into competition and all of a sudden I can’t surf – when I am out of a jersey I surf so differently. Two years ago, I had a good year in all the competitions and I was doing well in every heat, but last year I felt a little bit lost – maybe because of nerves, maybe because of pressure, but it was the worst. Now I don’t care if I lose or not – fuck, I just need to do my best and surf how I surf every day.
“I was actually thinking about the guy that I have to Objectify for this article, and I want to choose Leonardo Fioravanti. I have spent a lot of time in France with him and his family, and four years ago I lived with him for the summer. I think that he is doing really well this year and is really ripping, and his mind in competition is one of the best minds in the world. I really appreciate that, and I know that it’s helped me improve my surfing. His mind is perfect, and I think that he’s a good guy to look to in surfing because you will always learn more and more.
“For me, the biggest accomplishment you can have in surfing is to get good waves, travel with friends and surf a really good session that you’re proud of. You need to enjoy how you surf a wave – even if it’s shitty conditions, that shouldn’t affect how much you enjoy your surfing. Leo is one of the nicest people I know, and I love travelling and joking and surfing with him because he gets enjoyment out of it. He has a strong mind, he loves what he does and he’s doing an amazing job because of it. And in the end that’s what matters, and that’s what makes it all worth it.”
Lucía’s got a good thing going in a great part of the world. You should take a trip to Gijón, sit down in a bar, have a cider and look out for the blonde head walking out of the surf. She might even be so kind as to show you around…
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