On the West Coast of northern Spain, on a coastline buffeted by storms, lies Cape Finisterre. Once believed to be the edge of the world, the word Finisterre literally means ‘the end of the earth’.
It’s where we derive our own name, adopting it from the shipping forecast region off its coastline, later to be renamed FitzRoy. Taking the crew to this rugged part of northern Spain was something of a personal pilgrimage and, when the opportunity arose, we grabbed it with both hands.
The north west of Spain juts out into the mid-Atlantic. A craggy corner of land squarely in the eye of many a storm and aptly named the Costa da Morte, due to the plethora of shipwrecks that dot the shoreline. Windows of calm are rare outside of the summer months. Storms rumble through, joining the dots of Finisterre and Land's End. Like the toe of a child's shoe kicking at a stubborn limpet, the farthest reaches of the land are rattled. It was during this most tempestuous of times that we planned to travel to Galicia, and certain members of the team were becoming nervous.
From the moment the dates for the trip were confirmed until a couple of days before we were due to depart, the storms raged. From a surfing perspective this wasn't really an issue. In a similar way to Cornwall, Galicia is blessed with a varied and multi-faceted coastline but from the point of view of the photoshoot, relentless storms would be difficult to cope with. So in the final few days before the trip weather forecasts were feverishly checked... it looked like we would be lucky. The Costa da Morte had entered a period of relative calm which would prove an oasis of opportunity, the calm being swiftly swept away with a fresh gale upon our return home.
We gathered at Wheel Kitty on the morning of departure, still a couple of hours before dawn and under a star spritzed sky. Fuzzy tongued and thick headed, old friends greeted each other with supportive hugs. Soon-to-be friends squinted at each other in the half light, mentally matching faces to pixelated WhatsApp-group icons. David's VW van was loaded with the mound of luggage and surfboards. Humans slotted in where they could and we rolled out of the gravel yard for what was to be an entire day of travel. Everywhere is a long way from West Cornwall and it wasn't until the smooth pastel dusk that we arrived at our house in the quiet fishing town of Caión.
Caión's cluster of buildings are a mixture of traditional tiled houses and modern concrete angles that tumble down a steep hill towards the sea. The focal point of the cascade is the large church of Santa Maria whose north west facing wall looks out over the churning Atlantic. The church is situated on a crowded isthmus and to its east is the spacious but slightly unnerving natural harbour. The facilities are modern and the concrete sweep of the harbour is crowded with boats, but there is a conspicuous lack of activity. As we strolled through one windswept morning the industry of the place is entirely focused on an elderly man sitting on a rusted mooring and fishing with a hand line. On the western side of the isthmus is a white sand beach, over which we look on our first evening. From the front step of our accommodation, the excellent Caión Surf House, we watch the dark shapes of night time waves. We had planned to cook but the day of travel had left us lacking culinary inspiration. Instead we walked into town to buy pizza and beer. We slept early that night, our dreams awash with visions of the next day's surf.
The next morning we wrestled with the chrome coffee machine, individually failing to coax it to life before a desperate groupthink prevailed and it hissed awake. Coffee now achieved, we sat around and waited for the light. The mornings were startlingly dark. At 8am I was already in my wetsuit and could wait no longer. I paddled out in the half-light and felt my other senses heighten to make up for the lack of sight. The first few waves were heard and felt as well as seen. Waves ridden in darkness are difficult, manoeuvres are often mistimed and sections race off without you. But to simply stand in trim is an immersive exercise in speed. The rest of the team soon joined me, but it wasn't until 10am that the sun climbed above the crest of the hills that back the beach. Dan, Luke and David paddled out on wide, blue soft tops while Steph and Amy had their own boards, a versatile quad and bottle green fish respectively. It was a weekday and we had the beach to ourselves for over an hour. The waves were 2ft and playful and the white sand gave the water an iridescent quality. But it was not until the sun finally hit the water that its true clarity was revealed. Dazzlingly bright, it was almost blinding in its brilliance.
The morning was cloudless and frigid, the sun deceiving. By the afternoon we had warmed up and headed out to explore to our west. A dusty track ran along the coast at the base of the scrubby hills and above the rocky foreshore. As the sun sank lower in the sky the dust kicked from our feet lent a sepia glow to our progress. The track followed the meandering coast and dragged us ever onward. We came across a sink-hole on the seaward side of the road. The hole fell away to a pebble strewn base before passing under a natural arch and through a pool to the ocean. Such quirks of geography are magnetic and we climbed through the caves and swam in the pools until early evening.
The next day we headed to Cape Finisterre, what Roman's believed to be the end of the world. While not actually the most westerly point in mainland Europe, or even Spain – Cape Touriñán a few miles north takes that prize – the peninsula at Finisterre is striking. We arrived early and after a dreary, rain filled drive, were greeted by a change in the weather. The stall holders were yet to set up as the sun began to push its way through the clouds. As one we scattered from the parked cars, drawn to the edges of the high golden cliffs to stare out at the expanse of water. The peninsula of Finisterre is also known as the ultimate end for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Though our journey was minuscule in comparison to the many pilgrims from across the world, it was easy to slip into lengthy reflection. In its early morning emptiness, the place was imbued with finality and an energy of completion. This energy was soon dispelled by the throngs of tourists who began arriving despite the low season. We packed up and, dodging the arriving coaches, headed a little way north to an overlooking cliff to find a spot for lunch. The high vantage point we chose gave context to the place and, dare I say it, an air of the ridiculous. We ate our stuffed baguettes and watched the steady stream of cars plodding towards the congested car park at what was once the end of the world.
On the way home we headed to a forest-backed beach that was tucked in the corner of a wide bay. The swell had risen dramatically from the day before and we required shelter. At first the waves seemed too small. But after further consideration, and a delicate recalibration of our expectations, we started to see wedges and zipping peaks created by the refractions within the tight cove. By this point we had been joined by Portuguese surfer Ria; as adept on a shortboard as she is elegant on a longboard she quickly got to work hunting down the elusive side waves. Surfing inside a bay or estuary is a special experience. With no sight of open ocean it feels as if you are tricking nature, defying the laws of the planet. Although the waves weren't of the highest quality the surf itself was a memorable one punctuated with diving gannets, shafts of celestial light and a glimpse of an otter.
Compared to the renown of Finisterre, Faro de Punta Nariga is barely visible. Even in the internet age of boundless knowledge, information on the lighthouse is scarce, limited to a handful of Spanish sites that mention it only briefly. For all Finisterre's cultural importance it feels as if it may have fallen foul of its own significance and as a result is daubed with the many trinkets of tourism. Faro de Punta Nariga could not be more different. The lighthouse stands imposing and alone at the end of its geographical namesake. Free of the meaning of the points of a compass it exists in glorious obscurity. Water whips off the bronze statue that stands at the point of the lighthouse's triangular base, it is gnarled and alive, a humanoid form lunging fearlessly at its lonely corner of ocean. The surrounding rocks fragment beneath our hands and twist and slide beneath the geometric brutality of the lighthouse. Sculpted by the elements it is as if the sea has crawled onto the land, petrified waves breaking for eternity. Punta Nariga acts as a reminder that one's own land's end can be anywhere. Finisterre possessed undeniable majesty but Nariga felt just as powerful.
Our final day saw us exploring not the edges of the land but deep inside an estuary. Where the Rio Mandeo flows into the sea, just past the Puente de O Pedrido, it forms a narrow bank of sand over which, during massive winter swells, long clean waves can break. It was here during one such massive swell where we shared a final surf. We each tackled the long paddle out and were rewarded with lengthy, sloping rides. The swell was a precursor to the return of winter. The day after we left the storms rolled back over Galicia and the town of Caión was once again buffeted by a haze of Atlantic salt.
Words by Mike Lay