Pave Paradise: Concrete vs. Madeira – Wavelength Surf Magazine
[As Wavelength celebrates its 40th birthday in 2021, we’re revisiting some of the more colourful chapters in European surfing history. In this editon, we’re looking back on a WL trip to Madeira in late 2003 to investigate the fate of fabled big wave break Jardim do Mar.]
Before the internet and its social media phenomenon became the rallying cry for local and international outrage, resistance to threats against popular surf and beauty spots was at the mercy of more analog communications; heavily written letters, fax scribbled in anger.
Local communities could come together, walk, demonstrate, but locally their message could stick. If you wanted to find out what the situation was like at a remote surf spot, you pretty much had to go there and find out.
What is precisely this Wave length in 2003, when rumors of the destruction of Jardim do Mar, Madeira, one of the most beautiful and underrated big wave spots on the planet, were swirling all over the surfing world.
At the turn of the millennium, the Macaronesian idyll of Madeira, some 500 km off the Moroccan coast, was under the double threat of being a semi-silent and obscure destination little known to the main surfing communities, and with an inclination local for brutalist construction. projects well enriched thanks to EU infrastructure funding.
It was hard for the wider surfing community to make a big fuss about a threatened spot that they knew very little about. The spectacular southwest coastline of the island had seen lost / altered surf spots before due to coastal construction, but what particularly resonated about Jardim to those who had been there was the sheer beauty of the place. , which made it one of the iconic sights of the range on the planet.
As one of the first meaty swells of winter 03/04 lined up in the Atlantic, a surf team of Jose Gregorio, Ian Battrick and Martin Connolly by my side and WL Shooter Remy Whiting went to investigate whether concerned parties’ concerns about threats against the wave were as serious as conservation groups like Surfrider and Save The Waves had feared.
In short: the wave didn’t seem as endangered as feared at low tide, but backwashing started earlier on rising tide, shortening surfing time. But the swell never really materialized on the scale expected, so Jardim’s true big wave qualities were not tested by visitors.
The village, however, has been changed forever. With concrete blocks poured onto the foreshore and a road built around the point, the inherent charm of the village, previously only accessible by a maze of tiny mosaic paths and hailed as the most beautiful village on the island, seemed violated .
Photos for number 130: view of Cecilia; Ian Battick rages against the machines; Martin Connolly escapes reality. Photos: Remy Whiting
Public opinion on the construction was divided locally. The local newspaper of the island, Do Madeira Journal, appeared to be very supportive of the government when they released a photo of Vans team manager Chris Ingram – who had come to make sure Jose and Batty’s Old Schools were properly laced – dropping a wave of Jardim across his blanket on next day, splashing, “International surfers back to Jardim: the wave is fine”.
Barely the point of our trip, to serve as propaganda fodder for the bad guys.
Yet a blanket is a blanket.
“How many international surfers cried out in pain when they poured concrete into the sea to build the airport so we could all make it happen? ” my story that ran in issue 130 reflected. “ Is a bit of coast more valuable if there is a good surf spot? We stand in the sun drinking passion fruit juice, shake our heads and frown at the concrete, then paddle. A fat politician in a leather chair pulls on his mustache and then signs a contract with flamboyance, while another man throws mud from his boot, gets into a digger and starts the engine … “
It has been almost 20 years, and we being strictly foreigners then and now, we contacted Madeira’s surfing legend Orlando Pereira for a more updated and informed view:
“After the promenade was built, the wave was not affected as much as the time we can surf between the tides; you can only surf until half-tide, depending on the size and direction of the swell. Getting in and out on the boat launch is however much trickier, especially on big days when it is difficult to get out of the sea. The promenade, however, has attracted more people to Jardim do Mar, activating local commerce, restaurants, bars and AirBnBs for the local economy.
While our post at the time reported rumors of threats to the adjacent rupture of Ponta Pequeña, a dreamy long straight point backed by vertical volcanic cliffs, Orlando confirmed that unlike the ruptures of Lagoa de Baixo and Punta Delgada, it remains untouched by coastal works. .
While other places comparable to the Canaries and even the Azores have seen a concerted effort to push surf tourism, Madeira remains a relative backwater to this day. The giant waves on reefbreaks and the lack of sandy beaches make it less of a sunny winter spot for beginners, and even with decent forecasts scoring good waves is still there with a set of ultra-fickle variables. even by surf standards.
But as evidenced by Bill Finnegan’s full tribute to Jardim in Barbarian days, do it right and the sheer beauty of the place, combined with the raw quality of surfing, makes the Madeira surf experience one of the most beautiful on the planet.
Cover image: Paul do Mar, by Ben selway