Home Story 32 Degrees North: Bikes and Waves on Maderia
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Feature type Story
Read time 5 mins
Published Jul 13, 2022
Author Sami Sauri
Photographer Sergio Villalba
Sami Sauri has an affinity for two things: riding bikes and riding waves. After a tough year of lockdowns at home in Girona, Spain, she knew she had to get out and reconnect with them both. With its tarmac switchbacks, rolling mountainous gravel and 360 degrees of coastline, the Atlantic island of Madeira would be the perfect fit.
The plan was pretty straight forward, with my board strapped to a trailer, I’d ride a lap of the entire island looking for the best waves. I wanted to hit some of Madeira’s more famous spots and also to stumble across something new and meet local communities along the way.
Even from the plane, we could see those crazy coastal climbs winding up and down, cutting through every shade of green. Stepping onto the runway, It was so humid it felt like we’d arrived in the jungle.
A friend of mine in the Canary Islands had made a me special board specifically for this trip. So this was to be my partner in crime – strapped to my makeshift trailer along with my wetsuit and towel. When we found waves, I’d be changed and ready to go in less than a minute.
Setting off, I was full of excitement. With the ocean almost always visible, we were surrounded by millions of flowers of all different species. It was only through the pure joy of being there that I could drag my board up and down those climbs. But it didn’t come easy.
I had come into the trip off the back of an injury, several months of non-stop work and some mental health struggles, so my fitness and mindset wasn’t as good as it could be. It was never going to be an easy trip. I knew that, having seen the elevation profile on komoot, but some time on the bike and in the water was just what I needed.
I had come into the trip off the back of an injury, several months of non-stop work and some mental health struggles, so my fitness and mindset wasn’t as good as it could be
The second day brought the first opportunity to surf but with a huge swell forecast for later in the week, I was nervous. Madeira is famous for its big waves but I was just hoping for something a bit more cruisey on my singe-fin. Soon enough, after a big winding descent down to the ocean, we found some playful waves. After a quick surf, I was back on the bike. With a big salty grin, I rode until sundown.
The next morning I was cooked, and I dreaded the day ahead. There was so much climbing to be done but the tank was already empty. It was going to be the day from hell. And it started right away, the road went straight up from the very first pedal stroke. It took me several hours to get up the first section of the first climb. It felt like it would never end and as soon as it did, the wind and the fog arrived right on cue. Right when I needed it the least.
There was so much climbing to be done but the tank was already empty. It was going to be the day from hell
Arriving on the south coast, the sea was totally flat. According to the forecast though, that evening it looked like the big swell would arrive on the other side of the island. We had to complete the loop, so I put my head down and just kept the pedals turning.
When I rode into the island capital Funchal, we received a call to say the waves were good on the east side of the island, almost right back where we’d started. There was no way I’d make it before dark and this was our last chance to surf so we couldn’t miss it. We made the call to pack up the car including the bike and trailer and head straight there. I got two amazing hours of surfing right up to sunset and like that, the trip was done.
How we choose to spend our time is important. And on condensed trips like this, with the clock constantly ticking, it can feel like a metaphor for life. We calculate what we can wisely but it doesn’t always go to plan.
This wasn’t a trip to chase a record or even to complete a challenge of any kind. I went to chase what I love in the hope we might inspire some people to do the same.
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