Surfing in Santander – Spain Road Trip: Family Travel in Northern Spain

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Surfing in Santander, the port town that serves as the capital of the Cantabria region of Spain, fit perfectly into our road trip plan.

If you or your kids want to learn to surf in Spain, then the northern coast of the Cantabria region is an excellent place to consider.

I’m not a surfer by any means (if you know me, you can stop chuckling now), but our boy loved his first surfing experience in Mexico a few years ago. At the time, our girl was uninterested, but now she was as keen to ride some waves as our boy, so we looked for surfing lessons in Santander and other places on our way.

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If you want to learn to surf in Spain, there are many opportunities along Spain’s northern coast worth checking out. Beaches near Gijon, Bilbao, and San Sebastian have instructors and surfing lessons nearby. We chose to try surfing in Santander for two main reasons: timing (we were in Santander at the time) and price (San Sebastian is more expensive). Both kids had a great experience. Details below.


After some research on the web, Keiko selected Escuela Cantabra de Surf on Somo Beach for our lessons, and it turned out to be an excellent choice. There are a number of places to learn surfing in Santander, and even more in San Sebastian a few hours to the east, but our experience with Escuela Cantabra de Surf was excellent and we’d recommend them without reservation. Private lessons are available, but our kids joined group lessons.

All of the instructors were friendly and accommodating. Our kids had two other English-speakers in their group and had an instructor just for them. The lesson was two hours long. You should know that well over half of that first lesson was spent on the beach, learning the basic process to get from lying across your board to standing up.

The kids learned how to get up on the board, and how to choose the right wave. The instructor drew in the sand for added clarity.

After that, everyone went into the water and the instructor worked with them one at a time, holding the board and pushing it for them at first so they could catch the wave at the right moment.


You’ve booked your lessons, you’ve packed your sunscreen. You’re ready to learn how to surf in Spain. But are you really ready? We’re not going to advise you on the surfing itself — that’s what the lessons are for — but we do have a few recommendations to make before you hang ten.

Get there early / Confirm the location

The kids’ lesson started at 11:00, and the school suggested that we arrive about 15 minutes before the lesson began. We knew that trying to find parking that close to the beach might be a challenge, so we left extra early, with the goal of arriving 30 minutes early. It turned out that we got lucky and found a space quickly, but then we walked to the wrong place.

One surf school is called Escuela de Surf Sunset. Our surfing school was Escuela Cantabra de Surf. Similar names, not the same place.

Fortunately, they’re only a few blocks from each other, and so we still arrived early, but there were already two dozen kids or so there, getting ready. It’s a little chaotic: there are multiple lessons going on at different age and skill levels.

Instructors are shouting for their group to stand here or there, kids are running around getting their wetsuits and other gear. The earlier you arrive and get sorted, the better, I think. Especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

Get the right size wetsuit

Make sure that it’s snug but not too tight. Wetsuits are supposed to be close to the skin — that’s how they keep you warm when the Atlantic is chilly. But too tight is a pain, as well. Our girl learned that during canyoning, and fortunately changed sizes before we set out.

Wear your sunscreen

No seriously. Sure, you’re wearing a full-body wetsuit and the weather in northern Spain can be quite cloudy, but the UV is still going to get some of you if you’re not careful. Some of you simply tan. Some of you don’t. You know who you are.

You’re going to wipe out — accept that now

Sometimes kids want to quit if they don’t nail something right away (adults too). If you’re surfing in Santander for the first time (or the second, or the fifth, etc.) you’re not going to dominate the waves like some GoPro video. It takes time and plenty of patience.

Make sure the kids know that surfing is a skill, and it’s not something you’re going to master in a few lessons. If they don’t stand on the board after an hour or two, that’s normal. Then again, kids often pick things like this up faster than their parents.

Cut your toenails before you go

You weren’t expecting that bit of advice, were you? Guess why I mentioned it. Just guess…

If you guessed that you might get your toenail ripped off, then you WIN! Yup, we’re not sure how it happened, but the nail on the boy’s big toe (prepare to wince) ripped diagonally from one side to the other. He’s ok and completed his lesson (and begged to go back for the afternoon session), but he had to go straight to the first aid tent on the beach to have it looked at.

We bug the kids about cutting their nails all the time, and they usually do…eventually. We never let them go too long, but the boy’s toenails grow like he’s part-werewolf, and he had let them go. Perhaps because of our road trip, we hadn’t noticed.

To be honest, I can’t confirm that this was the reason of this minor (and somewhat unusual) injury.  It seems likely that the cause was something like the surf board’s ankle leash caught his nail during a wipeout.

Food, coffee, and wifi are all nearby

There are many places to chill and check email near the beach. We went to Surf Cafe Somo to work while the kids took their lesson. It overlooked the beach and was recommended by the staff at the surf school.

The food is tapas and coffee mostly, and the coffee good, as well. If you walk inland one or two blocks you’ll find more places. They weren’t open at 11 am when we first arrived, however. This is Spain, after all.

Photos are available…for a fee

All of the pics you see here of the kids on the waves? Not taken by me. I bought them. You’ve probably seen this kind of operation before: someone’s taking photos of everyone, and if you want the pics, they’ll sell them to you.

I usually shun this because hey taking pics of my kids is MY job, ok? However, I sold off all my DSLR gear and zoom lenses the last time we were back in Osaka. I still have cameras, but if I want a decent shot of them in the waves, I’ll have to either pay for them or swim out to the kids myself.

To get the pics, you go to the photographer’s shop (just around the corner from the surf shop) and sit with them as they go through the uploaded files. Once you point out you or your kids, they can find most of them for you.

It cost 15 euros for a disk of pictures of one child, but they made it 20 euros for two kids. More than I want to pay, but I get it, and I really like a few of the pictures. This photographer is shooting pics of dozens of kids. If I went back (without a zoom of my own), I would probably show the photographer my kid’s face beforehand. Then I’d tell him/her that I’ll definitely buy the disk if there’s a lot of pics of my kids.


Did you take lessons? Who with? Where do you think is the best place to surf in Europe? Or in the world?

Disclosure: our surfing lessons were sponsored by Escuela Cantabra de Surf. However, my opinions are my own and I only write about things and activities that will benefit my readers.


  1. Angel Bogart says

    It’s good that you mentioned here that kids should cut their toenails short before going on their private surfing lessons. This is something that my mom would need to remember before she flies the twins over to Hawaii to learn how to surf the waves. She wants the kids not only to learn from the best surfers in the world, but also to learn safely without fear of their toenails getting snagged by the board’s ankle leash.