Surfing in Sicily: Chasing Waves, Vulcanos, and Arancinis

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Sicily, or Italy for that matter, is not your average surf destination. Lately two surf movies “La vita e bella” and “Peninsula” put Italy a bit more into the surf world spotlight but surfers around the world are still surprised that there are waves in Italy, let alone on it’s east coast in the narrow sea of Adriatic. Or sometimes they are not surprised they just think the waves are shit. But if living and surfing around here has taught me one thing it is this – if there is a sea, there will be occasional waves. How often that “occasional” happens depends on weather patterns. These are the most favorable for another Italian island – Sardegna which can get from 200-250 surf days a year. Sicilia comes second best exactly because of its northwestern “neighbor” which blocks the waves from the most consistent wind in the Mediterranean. So what makes Italy’s surf spots tick?

Cannoli

This is photo proof that we were really in Sicily and a proof that we stuffed out mouths full of cannoli. Cannoli is tasty pastry typical for Sicily and great for stuffing it into your mouth. It is mainly made out of ricotta cheese and very good:). Add it to your must try list.

Weather Patterns That Pump Waves Towards Sicily

The most consistent wind for Italy is the north/northwest Maestrale (Mistral), that comes down from the Alps and hits the sea somewhere around Marseille. It is directed straight into Sardegna and brings most of the waves to this island. Lots of time this wind extends past Sardegna and then turns into west wind bringing surf to Sicily’s west coast and part of the southwest coast. It can also turn west right after hitting the sea north of Sardegna bringing waves to Liguria. It can also extend over Sardegna and make waves for spots around Palermo, spots facing north and northwest.

Two other winds (that are not that common) are the northeast and the south/southeast. The northeast brings waves to the eastern coast of Sicily and the south brings waves to south coast of Sicily. So basically – if there is wind in the Mediterranean you are covered:). Sicily can get waves most of the year but the most consistent season is the winter. Best bet could be December but again, we are talking about weather so nothing is fixed.

The main winds that bring waves to Sicily are Mistra, Gregale, Scirocco and Ghibli.

The main winds that bring waves to Sicily are Mistral, Gregale, Scirocco and Ghibli.

I had my eye on the Italy islands for a while – when checking home forecast they are always on the map, and they always look better than our home breaks. For the December Sicily trip I’ve waited for the long term forecast to show some movement before I purchased the plane ticket even though it was priced higher every passing day. But after following the December / January forecast for Sicily I kind of feel that the waiting was pointless. There were waves breaking somewhere in Sicily almost every day of the period. So just but the ticket and go.

Scala Dei Turchi, Agrigento, Sicily

Down south, near Agrigento there are two things worth visiting. Valley of temples and Scala Dei Turchi. Here is the later with a glimpse of something else that asks to be visited and smacked more than just once :).

 

Sicily Surf Forecast

There are surf destinations where surf forecasting is as easy as opening Magicseaweed or Surfline and checking your chosen surf spot and then there are surf destinations where every surf forecast you check is different and at the end they are all wrong. I am no expert in Sicily surf forecast but to me it seems this island falls into the later category. Surfing windswells in the Mediterranean means a fine balance between wanting a strong wind to make waves for your coast and not wanting a strong wind at your spot since it will destroy the very waves it made. So best conditions happen right after the wind dies or on spots protected from the wind. The existence, direction and strength of the wind on the spot makes the difference between an epic and a shitty session.

Checking multiple forecasts for Sicily I’ve learned two things: first – don’t trust wave heights from different wave models, you will find different models showing wave heights for the same coast that are 200% different; and second – don’t trust the wind strength forecast. If gale force winds are predicted then there will be strong wind for sure, if massive waves are predicted, there will be waves for sure, but if it’s more of a fine tuning thing, you can not really rely on any of the forecasts that we have checked.

Offshore wave in Sicily

Most of the time the wind & wave forecast were off. Forecast promised glassy morning surf and stronger winds in the afternoon. It was dead wrong.

Still, the best sites to check are:

Sicily Surf Spots

There are numerous surf spots on all four coasts. You can expect some crowds when conditions are good around bigger cities (Palermo, Catania), the rest of the spots you will probably surf alone or with only few people. Lack of crowds and lack of visiting surfers make Sicily surf community pretty friendly. Many surfers are kind of excited and amazed that you have chosen Sicily as your surf destination are are happy to help you. Still, show respect to get respect. I won’t mention any spots here, because you can find them yourself and because there are plenty available online:

Two surfers standing on a shipwreck south of Syracuse, Sicily.

Me and Miha exploring an abandoned shipwreck south of Syracuse while on the search for a protected spot that would offer rideable waves during the strong south easterly winds.

But the real problem with surfing the island is not finding the spots, it is choosing the right spot for the given forecast. As with all islands you always have a choice to go a bit more around the corner and look for a beach that is more protected/exposed from wind/waves. Or to sit in a local coffee sip on latte macchiato and feast on pasta or something. If you combine that with an unreliable forecast and the fact that it takes about 3 and a half hours to drive from east coast to the west it can happen that you are not surfing the best spot at the moment. It also seems that local surfers are not that keen to drive around the island, they have enough waves throughout the year at their home breaks, so they have them dialed, but for the rest of the island their info can be vague. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the travel and the experience that counts.

Surf Shops, Surf Schools and Renting a Surfboard in Sicily

Nine days are not enough to become Sicily surf culture expert so just a few notes. There are only a few surf shops on the island, don’t expect a surf shop with surfboard rental in every coastal town where you arrive to the beach and notice there are waves – so plan ahead. Best bets would be Palermo and Catania which would also be best bet for surfboard rental and possible surf school. For rent expect beginner boards and foamboards. Because of inconsistency of waves, especially in the main tourist season in summer, also don’t count on getting surfing lessons. If there are no waves, you can’t surf:).

The South Coast

The south coast of Sicily is huge so this is the most likely place to surf alone and on the beach not mentioned in any of the guides. Waves on most of the beaches are pretty mellow. We surfed a few spots and “spots” around Siculiana and Agrigento with not another person in sight. Here are a few photos from the south:

Wetsuits drying on the balcony.

It takes between 3 and 4 hours to drive from Sicily’s east to west coast. So usually it is best to find a place to sleep on the coast that “works”. Airbnb works great, but not all places have a designated wetsuit drying area:)

Castle at Siculiana

Siculiana’s main attraction besides the sandy beach is a castle. That’s all I have to say about that:)

Someones statue in Siculiana, Sicily

The center of the old town of Siculiana is a lovely square squeezed between the castle and the church.

Narrow street in Siculiana, Sicily.

Narrow streets are Sicily’s towns trademark.

Trash hanging on the door handle.

Narrow streets and plenty of cats mean two things: 1) garbage truck can’t make it to your doorstep and 2) cats will get into your trash if you leave it on the floor.

Clothes drying over the narrow street in Siculiana.

Drying your laundry the Italian way.

Two cats under a car in Italy.

“I swear, the trash bag attacked me, I was only defending myself…”:)

Siculiana, Sicily, Italy.

The town of Siculiana.

Sea south of Sicily.

Lines approaching Sicilys south coast.

Waves in Sicily.

Here we are on the top of the cliff checking the waves.

Car wreck under the cliff.

Going down the cliff we found this car wreck. Too much pistachio liquor or something? (Ask any Siciliano what’s his favorite food or drink and I bet you a cannoli that it’s something that has pistachios in it.)

Surfer on a wave

The water temperature at the end of December was around 17C, air was between 14C and 22C which translates into occasional boardshorts on the beach and sweating or into a jacket on a windy day looking for a beanie cold ears day. A not so new 3/2 had me shivering when there was wind and no sun so a really good 3/2 or even better a 4/3 is the best option for the winter time.

Scala Dei Turchi

Scala Dei Turchi = Turkish staircase. Because the cliff looks like stairs and because Turks invading Sicily usually landed somewhere in this area.

Stairs of Scala Dei Turchi.

Stairs of Scala Dei Turchi.

The West Coast

The west coast starts somewhere south of Mazara del Vallo, goes past Marsala and Trapani and ends at the Capo San Vito. I think this is the most consistent stretch of Sicily’s coast that holds our favorite spot of the trip.

West coast of Sicily.

West coast of Sicily is probably the most consistent one. And this spot here alone is worth the drive.

Wave breaking in Sicily near Mazara del Vallo.

The first session was like:”Wow, there are actual surfers in the water, this is a surf spot?! Yes, score!” It’s funny how after 3 or 4 alone sessions you are actually happy to see other surfers. This happiness does water down a bit after the first wave that you have to share lol… but the vibe was good.

Evening session.

Evening session and the only one during the whole trip that was “crowded” meaning there were like 12 surfers in the water.

Car under the sunset sky

Last one out of the the water, last car in the parking lot.

Lighthouse under the stars

Lighthouse stands on the point around which the wave wraps.

Stand up paddler in Sicily

Lava reef and stand up paddler balancing act in the west of Sicily. This session we were again alone if I don’t count this guy.

Surfer entering water in Sicily

Best spot we surfed while we were in Sicily was a right pointbreak that started with a possible tube section and then slowly turned into a workable wall and later into mellow longboard wave.

Empty wave in Sicily.

Alone session number umpteenth.

View from the point.

The second session of the day lasted till sunset.

Lighthouse in the night.

Lighthouse in the night.

Surfing in Sicily

When a wave lined up all the way to the inside it was time to smile:)!

GoPro problems

Another one from the point.

The East Coast

Surfwise the east coast consists of the huge sandy Playa Catania and the south of Syracuse region. The sea floor south of Syracuse drops down pretty fast which gives more power to the waves around here. Unfortunately we did not score this region at its best, we only had one windy session in the Syracuse region while looking for a protected spot that could handle the galeforce SE winds. But we did have few sweet small glassy sessions at Catania beach. Photos:

Deserted beach property

Playa Catania is a long sandy beach in front of Catania city. There are only few places on the whole beach where you have free access to the beach with your car. This is the far south end of the beach and some prime beachfront property:)

Checking the surf from the door

The far south of Playa Catania is Agnone.

Surfer standing in the forest

Some funny looking trees and a funny looking guy near Agnone.

Playa Catania surfing

Riding my friends finless surfboard on Playa Catania, just aim for the volcano.

Catania bay, Sicily

View of the whole Catania bay with some small lines coming in. On the right side of the road that is just starting to climb the small cliff above the south end of the bay is a must eat local sandwich place. Check it out.

Castle

Random things on the road: this guy decided to build a castle. Then he changed his mind and left it half finished:)… or something.

Morning, breakfast on the balcony in Catania.

Small balcony above the busy Catania street is a perfect place for morning bowl of cereal. And for drying your wetsuit. It’s late December and if it’s sunny without wind it’s still t-shirt time.

Green and violet broccoli.

What you can learn from this picture is that violet colored broccoli in Sicily is twice as expensive as green broccoli. Catania market place is an endless source of cool photos. Here is my selection from a few shopping/photo trips to the market.

Snails for cooking.

I assume these snails were meant for cooking. I am wondering what happened to them…

Fish market Catania

Fish market in Catania has some colorful characters. And lots of fish.

Buying squid.

Squid transaction is taking place under the watchful eye of my friend Miha:)

Selling fish

These guys are probably not very happy with me taking photos of them.

Swordfish

Swordfish for sale.

Two old ladies buying fish.

I’m not sure how these fish are called but they sure are shiny.

Cheese

Market also has cheese, bread, poultry, bacoooon, lamb, all sorts of vegetables, eggs, baked onions,…

Swordfish

Selling fish is bloody work.

Santa Clause is also a fisherman.

Santa Clause is also a fisherman, Christmas time in Catania. Got some free shrimp with our fish from this guy.

Fisherman in Sicily

One kg of tuna fish is about 18 euros.

Big fish

Fish=pesce

Piazza Duomo, Catania

The old center of Catania, Piazza Duomo

Chasing pigeons

Come to the dark side pigeon! :)

Playa Catania and Mount Etna in the background.

During my 9 day visit to Sicily we scored waves on 7 days. This was supposed to be a layday but we still found some leftovers.

Miha surfing

I wanted a photo with a surfer and Mount Etna in the background but the angle was not right.

Kneehigh waves at Playa Catania.

Knee high waves at Playa Catania…when chasing windswells in the Mediterranean you take what you can get.

Tuna surfboard

Miha pulled out his prototype small wave Tuna surfboard and we took it for some finless sliding.

Palm trees in the evening sun.

Palm trees, sun, sandy beach, late December. Not complaining.

Syracuse

One of the must see places is the city of Syracuse, especially it’s old part called Ortigia.

Old house in Syracuse, Italy.

Old house in Syracuse, Italy.

Ortigia

Ortigia

Old house with balconies.

More breakfast ready balconies in Syracuse.

Gelateria.

If you want to eat ice cream Italy is the right place to visit. It is also the right place to visit if you like pasta, pizza, cannoli, fish, arancini, foccacia…actually anything food related.

Church in Syracuse.

This church in Syracuse used to be a Greek temple and was later remodeled into a Catholic church. Sicily is actually the best place for Greek ruins sightseeing with lots of  preserved remains from Greek times. We didn’t do any ruins sightseeing, but just in case we wanted to, we could.

Syracuse at night

Old town of Syracuse is one nice looking city.

Fountain in Syrause.

Fountain in Syrause.

Fountain in Syrause.

Fountain in Syrause.

Old car in Taormina.

Taormina is a cute posh tourist town north of Catania near one of the surf spots that don’t work that often. But it is a nice place to visit if you have time after your surf session.

Narrow street.

It is also home of the worlds narrowest street (so they say).

Taormina vine bar

And home to numerous vine bars and restaurants.

Sicilian riviera by night

Sicilian riviera by night

Mount Etna

This is not a surf spot:) But when the sea is flat you can easily spend your day hiking around the volcano. Or if you are lucky even snowboarding or mountainbiking.

IMG_9313

Mount Etna trip is a must. You can drive your car somewhere up to 2000m and the rest of the way it’s either with an organised bus service or by foot. Here is me doing it by foot somewhere in the lower parts of Etna.

il Padrino

When mentioning going to Sicily 90% of the people you talk to will mention mafia. This is the only encounter we had.

Ski resort on Mount Etna, Sicily

With Etna volcano elevation around 3.350m (it depends on the latest lava eruption) the upper parts of volcano get snow, even if the seaside has hoodie weather most of the winter. There is even ski resort on the volcano, they say it usually works in January, February when there is the best chance for snow. Etna had some snow during our visit, but not in the ski resort area.

road on volcano

This is where the bus takes you to the upper part of the volcano.

walking on lava

Lava rocks, lunar landscape, sharper than coral reef in Indo.

Ladybug on volcano.

There is life in this sharp and pointy lunar landscape. And it’s a ladybug. Plenty of them.

Crater

Climbing one of the craters on Etna.

Looking into the dead crater.

Looking into the crater that no longer works. But Etna is the largest alive volcano in Europe. And by alive I mean – it was erupting during my flight back home.  I thought there we going to be problems with my flight, but it was all business as usual for Sicilians, they actually like living under the volcano and are kind of proud of it.

Main peak of the Etna volcano.

Main peak of the Etna volcano.

Walking on volcano.

On a path to nowhere.

juggling rocks

Lava rocks are hot. If you want to hold them you have to juggle.

Lava tunnel.

Flowing rivers of lava make these interesting tunnels.

Grass and black rocks.

Grass and black rocks.

3 Comments

  • Nick says:

    This is a great post about surfing in Sicily. Its definitely a finicky place, but when the waves are right its very fun! Can you share with me the spots you found on the west coast? You can via my email if you don’t want to share to the world :)

  • Vasco says:

    Tnks a lot for this! Erasmus student from Portugal and this helped me a lot. Cheers guys ;)

  • cy says:

    Grazie, toughtful reliable post
    and very cool photos

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