Meet Lunden. I guess she’s from Germany or Austria or the USA? Anyway she’s superfit, lovely and is Runtastic’s Fitness Coach & Healthy Living Motivator. That’s quite a tag line but this video is pertinent as I often use Runtastic to track my paddle boarding sessions (until the time I took my iPhone for a swim… but thats another story altogether).
If you’re contemplating getting on a paddle board for the first time, then this video is a perfect intro. We’re about to kickstart a series of “Learning to SUP” holidays, so if you’re keen on perfecting your SUP technique or learning stand up paddle from scratch, then stay tuned to our blog (or give Nick a call!). News on those holidays is coming soon.
There is a guy on the web (actually he is a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year) who coined the term #microadventure . It’s a fantastic initiative designed to get people out of the humdrum of 9 to 5 and to delve deep into nature during their 5 to 9. Alastair Humphreys has a way with words (he’s also written quite a few books) and the #microadventure initiative is a simple and easy way to get people outdoors.
I have been meaning to get outdoors and complete one for at least a year. Slack, I know! When I least expected it, in the depths of a Portuguese winter, the idea struck me.
Drive to a remote lake,
camp on a perfectly flat little section
and paddle back in the morning.
It sounds easy, right?
It WAS easy and supremely enjoyable. I guess the aspect of it that really got me going was that none of my mates would come with me in the middle of winter. I was on my own, which sounded pretty exciting. The timeline was all sorted out and as I realized I had to leave at 3pm to make camp before sundown, my watch ticked over to 15h00. I was nowhere near ready.
Hustling through the house, chucking camping kit together I rustled an old sleeping bag out of the closet, which my wife assured me was the warmest thing ever. Managing to gather all the necessary goods into my car, I raced off for the lake with an eye on the sun as it arced downwards, startlingly close to the horizon.
Arriving at the lake, my RED paddle 12’6″ Explorer (weapon of choice for this little trip) was pumped up in the nick of time and as I pushed off into a misty sunset, a golden glow settled upon my still lake. Slicing through the water, the Explorer ate through 4km in record time. As the bow scraped mud under my chosen camp site, the afterglow of the sun was still illuminating a clear winter sky and I breathed a sigh of relief. There was still time to gather wood for a fire. “Thank heavens for that,” I thought as packed kit into meaningful areas of my new living area:
comfy bed-roll spread out,
bottle of wine opened,
I wouldn’t consider this an “Extreme Sleep” as coined by Phoebe Smith who wrote an incredible book about wild camping in crazy places in the UK, in even crazier weather. The only thing extreme about my little #microadventure was the cold. I looked online at some microadventures after I came back and even that wasn’t as extreme as some enterprising young lads’ sleepout in Antarctica. How do you top that?
Anyway, I wasn’t in it for the competition, just for the experience. Paddling out, setting up camp and paddling back on my own was an enriching experience. Hopefully we’ll be able to entice some Algarve SUP clients to try an “extreme sleep” in 2015!
The Algarve has six man-made dams or barragems as they are known in Portuguese, however not all of them are suitable for stand up paddling. Starting from the west.
The Six Dams of the Algarve
Here are the six large dams in the Algarve, including the height of the dam wall (in metres) and maximum capacity (in millions of cubic metres) to give an indication of how large they are.
Bravura (also known as Barragem de Odiaxere), 41m, 35 million cubic metres
Odelouca ,76m, 157 million cubic metres
Arade, 50m, 28 million cubic metres
Funcho, 49m, 47 million cubic metres
Odeleite, 65m, 130 million cubic metres
Beliche, 54m, 48 million cubic metres
In order to pinpoint these Portuguese Dams on the map, we’ve provided a handy Google Map below, from which you can work out directions to get there. It’s always a little challenge finding a launch point, but with a bit of common sense and a little driving about, you’ll be able to figure it out. If you need more advice just drop us a line and we can help you out or even take you on a stand up paddle trip.
Important info about Odelouca Dam
The Algarve’s largest and most intriguing dam is sadly closed for water-sports. It is completely prohibited to swim or use any type of water craft (both powered and without motor) on the Algarve’s largest dam. So that means no paddle boarding, no sailing, no wake boarding… zero. Sorry about that.
It’s a pity as it’s a stunning location and is fairly similar to the Barragem do Funcho, however being situated in more mountainous territory, it snakes through fairly steep canyons at times producing wonderful vistas. Looking down on the dam from the mountains above with the Algarve laid out behind is truly spectacular. Take a drive from São Marcos da Serra to Monchique on the N267 to experience glimpses of the dam.
The two best dams
In our opinion, the best dam to paddle on is the Barragem do Funcho, due to it’s size, easy access and beautiful surroundings. The Barragem de Odeleite is a little more out of the way (near Portugal’s Eastern border with Spain) but slightly larger and with more arid natural vegetation. However the best way to make your choice is to get out there and paddle each dam itself.
Check out this video we took at the height of summer on the Barragem do Funcho, with not one single person out there…
If you need any help exploring drop us a line, leave a comment or organize a SUP adventure with us! We’d love to host you. Oh and do you agree with our choice of best dam in the Algarve for stand up paddle?
That’s right, Algarve SUP are selling our 2014 paddle boards at rock bottom prices (to make way for the new 2015 boards). Get into paddle boarding with these rare bargain boards. All four are up for grabs but don’t hang about, we have had a lot of interest from many people. See below for more details.
Red 10′ SURFER (white)
Rack price €950.00Now only €690!
Thickness: 3.93″ / 100mm
Volume: 193 litres
Rider Weight: Up to 90kgs
Stand up paddle for 32 kilometres? It sounds like a long way but if you hit it right and take advantage of the tides and the winds, you’ll have no problem. Miss a trick and you could be in for a tougher (but no less fun) time. We planned this trip as much as we could, but didn’t realize the amount of impact the tide had so high up the river.
An early start on the River Guadiana
We drove north east from the central Algarve towards Mertola. It’s situated right on the Guadiana River, 130km away from our base in São Bras de Alportel. Sailing down the modern highway we arrived at 7:30 am, in time for a quick coffee with a gathering group of eager hunters. It was a Sunday morning in rural Portugal and hunters are literally everywhere. Shaking them off, we headed down to the rivers edge and woke up the local caravanning community who had parked their movable houses on the local quay. A few curious heads popped out and were clearly intrigued by our wheezing pumps as we inflated the RED paddle boards.
Choosing paddle boards for the Mertola to Alcoutim trip
On this section of the river there are no rapids whatsoever, so I chose a 14′ RED ELITE Race board and my good buddy Pedro stuck with the 12’6″ RED Explorer. Great news for me as he was obligated to carry all the kit we needed for lunch! We were planning to reach Alcoutim by nightfall but honestly had no idea if we were going to come across a serious headwind, tidal shifts or anything else. So we planned for the worst and brought warm weather gear along as well.
Mertola to Ribeira de Carreiras (4.7km)
It was a swift glide down to our first “mile post”. Ribeira de Carreiras was 4.7km away and drifted down rapidly through thick early morning mist towards this little tributary. The river flow helped a lot and it only took about half an hour before we ticked Ribeira de Carreiras off the list. The water was like liquid glass and moved silently under us and sliced through the eery stillness. It was perfectly peaceful and so well worth it to do this trip.
Penha d’Aguia (10km mark)
Slowly the sun started burning off the mist and a serenely rural scene unfolded on either side of the Guadiana River. Rich green hills rolled away towards drier areas and the occasional jangling of goats bells punctuated the idyllic silence of the countryside. We were still moving fast downstream and came across Penha d’Aguia before 11am.
There’s not much at Penha d’Aguia, just a small restaurant overlooking the river. It’s a pity the owner wasn’t open for coffee, otherwise we would definitely have stopped in. He was down on the river bank doing some gardening and we chatted amiably as we drifted by. Next year he said he would have some rooms for overnight guests which, considering the incredible riverside location, should not be missed.
Lunch break (13.5km)
We pressed on, eager to stop for a spot of lunch as it was approaching midday and the morning’s exertions had left us feeling a little peckish. Luckily my beautiful wife had prepared three fantastic gourmet sandwiches each and once we had arrived at a suitable spot, we floated over to the bank, unleashed and scrambled up onto dry land.
Relaxing on a grassy hill overlooking the meandering Guadiana River, we filled up on tasty sandwiches, gulped down some fruit juice and drank in the beautiful scene. It really was a pristine area smack bang in the middle of nature and we were both really enjoying the stand up paddle trip. Pedro and I chatted about how we were looking forward to bringing visitors to see this amazing part of Portugal.
The next stop was Pomarão and as it’s an actual village there are two boat jettys. We tied up at one and traipsed up to the riverside café for coffee and coca cola. The weather forecast had been warning of possible showers in the afternoon and as we looked around a southerly wind blew up, the tide turned and life looked like it was about to get tough.
Returning to our stand up paddle boards at 14h00, we realized it was much slower going than our early morning down stream glide. We pushed on into the grim weather and struggled southwards to the border of the Alentejo and Algarve provinces. This was demarcated by the Rio Vascão at the 22km point.
Puerto de la Laja (24km)
We stopped for a break and then cracked on to the Spanish town of Puerto de la Laja two kilometres further on. With no reason to stop we paddled on. It was now 15h30 and we knew we were fairly close to Alcoutim.
The last 8km between Puerto de la Laja and Alcoutim actually weren’t too bad at all. The wind had died down and it seemed that the tidal current was relaxing it’s onward push. Sure, we were tired but that is what made rounding the bend to Alcoutim all the more enjoyable.
I’d do it again in an instant. Who’s coming to join us?
Like many others, I have seen images of this spectacular coastal cave floating around the internet. It looks like this particular ocean cave belongs in a fairy story or could even welcome the entire cast and crew of the Hobbit. There is no doubt that it is impressive, however it has one problem: The only access is from the ocean.
For us here at AlgarveSUP.com, that particular problem doesn’t worry us.
Early one morning in September, I rolled out of bed and eased my aching old body into the shower. As the jets of hot water loosened up my stiff muscles, I reflected on what I would have been doing last year at this exact time of day. I would still have been in the shower, having spent a stressful night tossing and turning worrying about work, now I sleep like a stone.
Having co-founded a stand up paddle board company we’re out on the water every day, soaking up nature and all it’s elements. Today would be no different, barring the fact that we were going to visit one of the most spectacular coastal caves in Portugal. A cave that I have read much about and looked forward to visiting immensely.
The air was strangely chilly down on Benagil beach, after an hour’s drive along the motorway. Our warm up routine of pumping up the RED inflatable paddle boards soon had us glistening with warmth and vitality.
We pushed out on to the ocean.
A larger swell than normal was running, but the water still moved slowly like liquid mercury in the early light. It roiled around sluggishly, moving with an entrancingly slow rhythm as we sliced through the rich liquid towards Benagil cave.
Benagil coastal cave
The caves have a strange feeling, where all vocal sounds are dampened and as you look around the voluminous cavern you can’t help but wonder when the next hole in the roof will be created. To really experience what we did, you’ll need to book a tour with us, however hopefully this video will serve as an enticing teaser?
Praia de Carvalho
After our cave visit we travelled back west towards Praia de Carvalho and beached for a little break. It’s another impressive beach and is notable for it’s access through a stone tunnel under the cliffs.
We however didn’t need to bother with that of course, paddling straight in from the ocean.
We have explored the Algarve from end to end and have finally discovered a few incredible Stand Up Paddle routes. They were chosen for their spectacular differences. You can experience them too giving us a call and booking one or more of our four adventures.
1. Alvor Lagoon
The Alvor Lagoon is a tranquil base in the heart of a picturesque Portuguese fishing village. Read more.
2. Secret Beach
The spectacular cliffs and caves should be on EVERYONE’s list… More info coming soon.
3. Coastal Cliffs
The Algarve sports some terrific cliffs and coves. You’ve all seen the postcards, now paddle through these wondrous rock formations. You’ll be amazed. We certainly were when we first did it!
Check out tons more info on this tour (plus an amazingvideo – count how many times I say amazing in it!).
4. Faro Marina (Ria Formosa)
The Ria Formosa coastal lagoon stretches from Faro all the way eastwards and passes Tavira. It’s a 60km long stretch of paradise for birds, fish and other creatures complete with the inhabited islands of Armona, Culatra and Farol. On a still morning you won’t believe how beautiful it is. We depart from the Faro Marina. Please make an appointment to paddle.