The temple of surf

The mysticism surrounding surf has made Jardim do Mar into a site of pilgrimage for surf lovers.

A rudimentary beauty adorns the small houses and agricultural terrains of Jardim do Mar, a small parish in the municipality of Calheta.

A barren slope commands the respect that is owed nature in its purest state. It is, however, the strength of the waves that can reach heights of up to 15 metres that impresses upon residents and visitors alike.

It is that energy oozing from the Atlantic Ocean that makes Jardim do Mar one of Europe’s most acclaimed places for the practice of surf, to the point it is considered like a temple of sorts for this sport.

And some even go as far as making Jardim do Mar their home, at least for part of the year, so they can enjoy the serenity that the deep sea has to offer. That is the case of Mickael Hanchana, or Chino, as he like to be called.

Chino combines seasonal work with his passions and travels according to the seasons of the year searching for the best places to practice hiking, snowboard, mountain biking and, of course, surf. In Jardim do Mar he found the ideal place where he can ride the waves.

There, ‘one learns a lot about oneself and that is what makes this place so special to me’, the Frenchman from Montpellier explains.

The first he heard of Madeira as a surfing spot was during a trip to the Philippines in 2018 from two young Madeirans who were also surf aficionados and who revealed to him the small secret in the heart of the Atlantic.

The second time was in the following year when, flipping through the pages of William Finnegan’s ‘Barbarian Days: Surfing life’ book. He was in Panama working as a surf guide in the Pacific coast and yearned for a new adventure.

In the New Yorker journalist’s book, Chino read about the ‘intense and captivating surfing conditions, with enormous waves during winter’. Persuaded, he decided to contact the youths he had met in the Philippines and by October 2019 he was already riding waves in Jardim do Mar.

It was fate that his arrival to the temple of surf in Madeira coincided with the religious festivities in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, one of the highlights in the yearly calendar of the little over 200 inhabitants of the small parish.

‘Jardim do Mar was magnificent. There were lights everywhere and the streets were filled with flowers and mosaics. I felt a powerful yet also soothing energy’, the Frenchman recalls.

He ended up staying for some time. A year after his first stay, Chino returned to his ‘family’ in Jardim do Mar. And he has stayed there since, at least for now. That is where during surf season happens between late summer and early spring.

In the 90s, when surf made its return to this corner of Calheta after a timid take-off in the 70s, longer stays were usual, especially by Australians, North-Americans and New Zealanders.

Orlando Pereira, a native of Jardim do Mar and one of the main promoters of the sport in Madeira explains this long stays: ‘With such a long journey, it was normal for them to want to stay longer and make the most of it’. On account of this, surf quickly started to be a part of the community’s shared experience as well.

‘Back then, people rented rooms in their houses to those who wanted to enjoy the high season and stay during the winter months’, explains Orlando Pereira. Nowadays, the accommodation on offer is more wide-ranging.

When the waves stubbornly kept from appearing, seasonal residents helped the local community with jobs related to agriculture, promoting a perfect symbiosis.

As the years went by, visitors’ stays became progressively shorter but the situation has once again changed. ‘We’re now seeing an increase in the number of people working remotely and who choose to spend a long season in Jardim do Mar’, says Orlando Pereira. What they have in common is the search for the perfect wave and the will to overcome the challenge that is surfing there.

The wave at Jardim do Mar is not for beginners. It is a direct wave – a wave that breaks to the right side – thick and of intermediate level. On a good day, the waves can reach heights ranging from 10 to 15 metres.

These specificities, however, do not stop surf aficionados from challenging the sea at this time of year. Chino is one of them. The Frenchman describes the experience of surfing in Jardim do Mar as something powerful and intense and notes that it is necessary to have a religious respect for the sea, otherwise it will remind us of its strength.

It is with this mysticism that the sea is regarded at Jardim do Mar, always in a relationship of proximity between those visit and those who live there. In that temple, Chino has rediscovered the familiar spirit of his predecessors from the 90s and enjoys the sunset, the peace, and the quiet that reign supreme. And, of course, the omnipresent ocean.