Welcome to my hometown. I will naturally be a little bit biased (OK, very biased) in this review of El Médano as a windsurfing spot since this is where I grew up, learned to windsurf and had the most epic sessions of my life. Even so, I will try to be as objective as possible.
Windsurfing El Medano
Entry and Exit
El Médano is a pretty small spot when compared to so many other places out there. It is a relatively small bay with a pretty restricted entry and exit point. All in all you might have a stretch of 100 metres of beach on which you can try to get through the waves on, and that includes a few moments of unease from kite surf beginners having their kites hovering above your head. The kitesurfers section is exactly downwind of the windsurfing section with no signs or anything. It is just common knowledge that leewards from the bunker is the entry and exit point for kiters. They have their own problems among themselves with beginners and experienced riders having to use the same zone so it’s not like we as windsurfers can complain. Once you are past the shore break however, the water belongs to everybody.
General Sailing Area
Disclaimer: Reading over this breakdown of areas in the bay, I feel like I have painted a pretty scary picture of my favourite spot in the world. Trust me, if you just stay away from the Pigs Bay and remain inside the bay, you will have an amazing here.
The bay is limited by three factors. The first is the downwind area, the place you would arrive at if you have and accident. Here we call it the Pigs Bay. The second is the swimmers zone which is marked by buoys. The third is the outside of the bay, in other words, the open ocean. Aside from these limitations there are two other spots which are good for riding, the harbour wall and El Cabezo.
This is the place where the normal winds blow to and in which the current goes. After a certain point there is no more sand on the shoreline and only rocks. For a few hundred metres these rocks are flat and slippery and just a pain in the neck to get over with the gear. The most likely scenario is that you will ding your board, scrape the fin and in general have a bad time. This is the second place I warn people to stay away from, especially if you are not a very experienced sailor. This is a popular zone for kite surfers as you have some decent waves here. For windsurfers on the other hand, the mountain (Montaña Roja) creates a vacuum of wind and therefore unreliable wind. You need a bigger sail than in the rest of the bay and you will very often find yourself without wind. I have had many frustrating moments of being stopped in my tracks, having to balance on the sinker board and just get washed away by a shoulder high wave.
A little bit further, towards the edge of the bay, the rocks become pretty mean. Sharp and with a few sea urchins.
There is a chain of buoys which marks this area. Depending on how much money the city hall is willing to invest, they may all be there, or not, in different sizes and colours. At the moment of writing this they are yellow and a few are missing. While they are marked for swimmers, it wouldn’t really be necessary. The wind that arrives there is what has passed through the buildings of the town and is very light, gusty and unreliable.
The Open Ocean
The most dangerous area to be in. There are two reasons for which I say this. The first should be a no brainer: if anything happens to you (injury or equipment breaking), it is hard to spot you. For one thing, it is far away, and for another, the waves build up a lot making the moments in which you would be visible more scarce. The second reason is that the current out there does not go into the bay but past the mountain. Right next to the mountain the water compresses and builds up speed. A friend of mine measured it with a motor boat and said that it ranges from 4 to 6 knots out there. I know from first hand experience that even though you are sailing on a close hauled reach, do a perfect tack and sail back on a close hauled reach, you still arrive at the same point you started off on. Not further upwind. This means that if you are out there and you have a problem, no one will see you and you get carried away by the current in no time, direction Florida. The only thing you can do there is swing perpendicular to the current until getting ashore somewhere (no more nice sandy beaches available) and hope that you are missed. So they come looking for you. I don’t like to be a scaremonger but two people were lost in the beginning of 2014, to be found dead 2 days later. El Médano is a relatively safe bay, but only if you stay inside the bay.
The Harbour Wall
If you want to get into wave riding, this is the place. If you take a session to slowly test out how close you can get to the shore and always stay on the conservative side, you will have a good time here. There is nearly always a decent wave that builds up here. The only time to avoid is from two hours before to two hours after high tide. At that time the waves hit the harbour wall and bounce back forming a backwash that mixes with the original waves and results in VERY choppy water. Good luck gybing successfully in that, let alone riding a wave. In that area the wind is also usually a little bit stronger than in the bay so if yo would sail a 5.0 in the bay, take 4.7.
Where do the pros go when they get bored of the bay and the wall? El Cabezo. More wind, and much bigger waves. Oh, and sharp rocks in shallow water. Yep, El Cabezo is great fun if you know (and I mean KNOW) what you are doing. The waves are powerful and once you land near the rocks, the wind is very unreliable due to the buildings that are downwind (yes, downwind). I personally have only partially lost a fin on those rocks but if you hang around for a while you will get to hear heaps of stories, especially about the Godzilla Rock which is hard to spot in time.
One big downside I see in El Cabezo is the localism that still appears to prevail. If you are just going to ‘try’ to ride a wave, be prepared to have a few ‘hot shots’ sail up close and shout at you. If you are going to go here, you should know how to ride well.
Here is a slightly outdated video which sums up El Médano nicely 🙂
Prevalent wind directions and sources
The most common wind direction in El Médano is side-onshore from the left. This comes due to the trade winds (Pasat or Aliseos) that hit the island from the north-east. This in itself is a pretty reliable wind direction which would be a great thing in itself. However, there is a nice bonus to having Spain’s tallest mountain here.
What happens is that all the air that hits El Teide naturally has to go somewhere. Some of it goes over the mountain but the vast majority will compress to go around it. This results in us having more wind in El Médano than in the north of the island.
Therefore it is safe to say that if WindGuru predicts 20 knots, we may expect something more along the lines of 24-25 knots.
The only thing ruining this great wind a little bit is that the town on El Médano has expanded bit by bit and every additional building makes the wind near the shore a little bit more gusty and unreliable. However, once you get out about 30-50 metres you will get pretty constant winds with smooth ocean waves.
It is pretty rare that we get winds from the west. When this happens the wind is offshore. In these conditions we are extra wary of renting to people who aren’t very experienced.
The thing is that if the wind turns a little bit to come from the north, the big mountain that was such a benefit in the north-east winds, now acts like a wind-shield and blocks the wind entirely. Not a great turn of events if you are just on the tack outwards. Basically the same reason for which there is no wind in Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos (for those of you who may have been) during the trade winds is what we experience if the wind comes too northernly. Even if the wind doesn’t disappear, we also have to realise that the wind that reaches El Médano from the west has loads of mountains in the way, and one right next to the bay itself, meaning that it will be pretty gusty.
There is one benefit that this wind however and that is that the waves do no have time to build up and so we have flat water for practicing those planing gybes or the freestyle moves. And if there happens to be a south swell running (or just after a storm) we get some nice, long and tidy waves rolling into the bay, making for some mini Hookipa conditions. When this happens the bay usually fills up with lots of surfers, kitesurfers and all the windsurfers from El Médano AND El Cabezo since no one wants to miss out on such an epic event.
One of the biggest hurdles for most people visiting El Médano for the first time is the waves. Not many people are used to having to overcome a decent shore break with the beach start (as well as controlling the kit in the waves) or sailing on the ocean waves. This is something that has to be taken into account but I can also assure you that it only takes a few hours of practice when you know what to do. So if you plan on coming to El Médano, be sure to check out mu posts on how to windsurf through waves and how to windsurf with waves.
One amazing plus that Tenerife has, and that is the weather. With its subtropical climate, the summers are warm and dry and the winters are not cold. Definitely a shorty for the summer (although I just use my very worn out long suit) and maybe a 3.2 long wetsuit in the winter. As for regular clothing, usually a sweater will do at night, board-shorts and T-shirt with flip-flops during the day regardless of the season.
Surf Centers in El Médano
There has been an increase in the number of windsurf centers in El Médano. Here is the list in order of appearance:
Surf Center Playa Sur
My dad took this center over back in the late 80’s after getting to know my mum and deciding to stay. They used to do everything themselves and gradually became bigger until today that they have 2-3 windsurf instructors (depending on the season), my sister has taken on the being in the office (I can’t imagine a more appropriate person to be taking care of our guests), and a team of 6 that do everything related to kitesurfing. We are at the very end of the beach, where the kitesurfers launch. We used to be on the other side of the Hotel Playa Sur as we were part of it (hence the name) but moved to where we now get to enjoy the sun until it sets.
The opening times are from 10:30 – 19:30 in the summer and from 10:00 – 18:00 in the winter. We often get asked why we don’t stay open longer. Basically because that is when the lifeguards end their day.
All the kit is Naish. The boards go from 62 litres all the way to 140 litres including wave boards, freestyle boards and free ride boards. With regard to the sails we have from 3.0 m to 7.1 in 0.5 metre steps. Up to 5.7 its all wave sails and upwards its just free ride slalom. We try to get the new kit in every year.
We rent our kit in the following manner: everyone who comes to rent will pick a fixed board. That will be their board and theirs alone for their stay. No one gets to touch it. Should the conditions not be ideal for their board, they can take any of the others as long as it is nobody else’s fixed board. The sails on the other hand are free for all, but since we have 9-10 sails of each sail rigged all the time, there is rarely any shortage. If you want to come here I strongly advise you to book your board in advance, specially in the high seasons (summer, christmas and easter).
You can check out everything on our 90’s style website here.
TWS (used to be OTC)
Harko took over this underground (as in its a pimped cellar, not that its clandestine) from what used to be the El Médano base of the OTC. They have kept the same idea of having a test centre where you can switch between boards and sails as you want as long as they are not in use. In essence it’s: first come, first served.
They are located in the first building after the Flashpoint Bar, Café and Restaurant when walking along the wooden promenade towards the Hotel Playa Sur.
You can check out their website here.
This centre is right next to the Hotel Playa Sur at the end of the wooden promenade. It is where we used to be until the year 2000. Now it is run by a group of Russians who took it over from Luca Orsi a few years ago. They rent out a small selection of different brands: Flikka, Novenove and RRD for the boards; and MauiSails, RRD and Point7 for the sails.
Here is their website (it is mostly in Russian).
The newest kid on the block. It is run by Rafa and his wife, two Canarian locals who also own the Bahia shop near the town square. Despite the name which comes from their main business being kitesurf lessons, they also rent windsurfing equipment. All their windsurfing kit is Gaastra. To check out their website follow the link below.
When it comes to shops related to water sports there are four main options:
This one is pretty central to the town. To get to it, the best point of reference is the hotel Médano which has a promenade leading to the main road that goes from the entrance of El Médano to the harbour wall. About 30 meters before you get to that road you find the El Picacho shop on the left hand side. They are more focused on surfing so the only windsurfing related kit you might get (at a good price though) is wetsuits.
Canarian Surf Fruit
This one is the closest to the windsurfing beach.It is right next to the Flashpoint (bar/restaurant,/café). They also don’t really focus on the actual windsurfing kit but more on accessories such as wetsuits and harnesses.
Cabezo Surf Shop
This one may be the furthest away from the El Médano beach but it is by far the most complete for windsurfing. Pretty much anything you might need for windsurfing you can find here. It is on the El Cabezo side of the red square. Basically you just have to follow the road that goes from the bus stop at the red square to the El Cabezo bay and you will find it on the last corner on the right hand side.
Godzilla Surf Shop
This one is the newest, but also the smallest shop of all the above. Nevertheless, they are also more focused on windsurfing so you can probably see them about harness lines and fins or foot straps. They can be found 20 metres before reaching the red plaza bus stop on the right hand side when going from the town entrance to the harbour.
El Médano, the town
The great thing about El Médano is that it is a pretty small town but in which there are plenty of places to go. This means that everything is within walking distance. There are plenty of accommodation options to choose from as well as a large range of restaurants and cafés.
My dad created a list on the Surf Center website but the most complete version is in German (the site as grown a great deal and so staying on top of everything in all the languages is nearly a full time job in itself). I have done a more minimalist list here:
- Hotel Playa Sur
- Hotel Médano
- Hostal Carel
- Apartamentos Los Balos
- Casa Grande Surf Hostel
- Los Amigos Backpackers Hostel (not in El Médano but 20 minutes walk towards Los Abrigos)
- Camping Grounds in La Tejita
You can also get other options through
- the El Médano Tourist Office can also help you out (the link is in Spanish but you can always use Google Translate ;))
Restaurants, cafés, bars, etc.
There are quite a few places to go for food and drinks in El Médano. There is a pretty comprehensive list on Tripadvisor which you can check out here. My personal recommendations are Flashopint (surf bar with some incredible burgers), Wairua (amazing and huge Italian style pizzas), Hao Ying Ying (Chinese) and La Boheme (creperie).
Alternatives to windsurfing
Windsurfing is a nature sport, and sometimes nature just doesn’t do as we would like. It happens from time to time that the wind just doesn’t come as hoped/anticipated/forcast.
Luckily for us, we are not in the middle of a desert and have plenty of other sports and activities that we can do if it were necessary. Here is a list of the things you can do:
- Rock climbing
- Mountain biking
- Playing tennis
- Horseback riding
- … and heaps more
So there it is , my guide to windsurfing in El Médano. I will try keep it as up to date it as I can. If there is anything you think is missing or iincorrect, please let me know in the comments. I want to keep this as updated and accurate as possible so any comments on how to improve it is appreciated.