See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine September 2016
Climbing, jumping, and swimming; with coasteering the coastline is your playground. This month Enjoy the Algarve heads to the cliffs near Carrapateira to try this outdoor activity. But between splashing and frolicking in the water, there’s also a rock of 12 metres high. To jump or not to jump, that’s the question…
A few days before the planned session at Ingrina beach we get an email: the waves are too high in the south so we’ll move to the west coast. Wait a minute: isn’t the swell usually bigger in the west? When we meet our guides just north from the famous surf beach of Praia do Amado, owner of Coastline Algarve Nelson Louzeiro (31) explains that once a year a lot of sueste winds mean higher waves in the south Algarve.
Having spent his childhood near the sea, followed by some years working as a surf and SUP instructor, Nelson knows what he’s talking about. He also isn’t offended when I ask him if climbing on and jumping from cliffs is really a clever idea in the Algarve. After all, this is a region known for its instable cliffs, with rock falls and crumbling cliff faces as a result – the most recent one in August at the Maria Luísa beach in Albufeira. Nelson patiently points out the differences between the crumbly sandstone cliffs in the Lagos and Lagoa area, where about 12 cliff falls a year happen (in other words: a no-go area for coasteering) and the solid limestone rocks here. I’m almost completely reassured when he adds as an afterthought: “Still, it’s nature and it can always surprise us.”
Coasteering was invented about 30 years ago, in Wales, where athletes wanted to explore the coastline without additional equipment. Nelson first came across it when doing a lifeguard course in Newquay (UK), where he saw a strange bunch of what looked like surfers who had forgotten their boards. This is probably how we’re viewed today, making our way down to the sea after the safety briefing, covered in sweat. Even though the water temperature is 23˚C, we’re wearing 5mm thick wetsuits, shorts, boots, life vest and helmet. This equipment isn’t so much against the cold as protection against the rocks: even through the surfing boots you feel the razor-sharp rocks almost piercing the soles of your feet. Despite the shorts we wear on top, a single moment of inattention adds a scratch to the wetsuit. Nelson buys new ones every year and spends many a winter afternoon repairing them.
We start off with an easy jump in the Atlantic – Nelson shows us some awesome flips – and soon discover that even though splashing into the water might be easy, getting back on the coast isn’t easy at all. I feel like a Navy Seal doing some kind of hard-core Marine exercise, trying to time it so the waves help me up on the rocks instead of dragging me back into the sea (the first four times) or slamming me into the rocks (which also happened). The key, apart from getting the timing right, is getting up feet first and finding a steady bottom, thus reducing the risk of slicing your hands open on the rock edges. Seen from the clifftops the waves didn’t even look high enough to surf in, but when you’re in the water, they have suddenly increased in size…
Strangely enough the rocks themselves seem to have grown as well. The cliffs we jump range from 2 to 10 metres in height. And they do look a lot higher when you’re standing on top of them – especially the bigger ones. The 10m jump is just too scary. I stand atop the cliff, look down and hesitate. Wrong. “You shouldn’t hesitate,” says Nelson. Fellow guide Micka Toesca (27) agrees: “Give yourself 15 seconds standing there, but if you haven’t jumped by then, better go back.” I think my faffing around is getting closer to half a minute, but eventually I jump and all is fine. I’m wearing a lifejacket and have been taught the right position to hit the water, aka straight pencil position – what can happen anyway? It’s just irrational fear.
“I’m a little bit afraid every day,” reveals Nelson. Same goes for Micka: “I was jumping from 12m cliffs at the age of 12, even in super-insecure areas like Lagos. Not thinking at all, just following my friends. Getting towards the point that I’d jump off a 17m cliff, however, took me the next 10 years. It’s when you get older that you start thinking about possible problems.” Struggling to get out of the water after the crazy high 10m jump, I ask the guides if participants sometimes refuse to jump. “Yeah, definitely. About 50% of the people don’t do this one as they’re too afraid,” is the answer. “You can never tell before” adds Nelson. “Some days ago we had a group of seven tall strong French guys, who I expected to be able to do pretty advanced stuff and two American girls who I thought I’d better keep an eye on as they were already doubtful and apprehensive when putting on their wetsuits. In the end, the guys didn’t jump higher than 4 metres and the girls did every jump.” If you’re really scared, though, it’s better not to jump. Micka: “You shouldn’t force it, coasteering should be fun.”
During the entire session, the coast is our playground, and to unwind after all the excitement, we swim into a giant cave. Unlike most of the sea caves in the southern Algarve, this one doesn’t have a hole in the top. Inside, it’s pitch black. After 50 metres, the only way to recognise the others is by the slight glow of their life jackets. Another 10 metres in and even their silhouettes aren’t visible anymore; if it weren’t for the talking and splashing sounds, I’d be afraid again – this time of being alone in a dark sea cave. Swimming back to the light, the water at the cave’s entrance is unreal, a gorgeous green-blue.
Back on land, we explore the cave from the outside and jump of its v-shaped platform. It’s a trickier jump and one that I’d never try on my own, but Nelson has thoroughly explored all his routes to see if they’re suitable for coasteering. He can be found near the sea every single day. “I’ve grown up connected to the rocks and the ocean. I think the coastline is the most beautiful part of this planet. Also, jumping of cliffs is challenging, it makes me feel alive.”
As we do another jump from the cave, even higher, 12m, I get what he means. Instead of hesitating, I decide to just go for it. Turns out there’s enough time to be afraid on the way down. Gustave the dog, who has joined us scrambling on the cliffs, is a bit out of his comfort zone as well; he can be heard mewing for miles. Probably not as bad as my screams when I throw myself into the deep blue. Coming up to the water surface, my ears hurt, my nose drips, my hands are raw from scraping them on the rocks in the last few hours, but I feel pretty badass. Now if I could only manage to get back on the rocky coast in a halfway decent manner, I might jump again…
When to go?
All year round, but obviously it depends on the weather conditions. From March to November you’ll have a better chance of your planned coasteering session going ahead; in December, January and February chances are the waves are too high and/or powerful and the session will have to be postponed.
Usually coasteering is done from Ingrina beach in the south coast. Take swimwear and a towel. Wetsuit, shoes, helmet and lifejacket are provided.
Want to go? Book a session via their website www.coastlinealgarve.com
Coastal explorers looking for a thrill! This activity will appeal to adventurers who don’t mind getting wet. Being physically fit helps a lot – you’ll be knackered after a 3-hours session.
All participants have to be able to swim at least 50m in breaking waves. The minimum recommended age is 12 and children should be accompanied by an adult. There are no height and weight limits, but participants should be able to fit into a wetsuit.
Lessons in SUP are also offered.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine September 2016