The town of Mundaka has the best left-breaking wave in Europe, and one of the ten best in the world. Located at the mouth of the Urdaibai estuary, at a very peculiar angle, the Mundaka wave is a superlative, demanding, furious lefty. La barra (the bar) as surfers here call it, easily reaches a height of four metres and forms tubes up to 300 metres in length. It’s a spectacle, not just for those who ride it but for anyone admiring the force of the sea from the Atalaya vantage point.
Mundaka is famous for its wave, but was once on the point of losing it. A project by the Dragados engineering firm threatened the estuary where the wave is born. The plan, from the 1970s, wanted to convert the area into a natural port. But of course at that time almost nobody knew the magic of la barra.
In the 60s, surfing was not a very popular sport in Europe, and since the internet didn’t even exist, surfers made pilgrimages all over the world in search of waves they’d only heard about through idle talk and the grapevine. That was how a group of Australians landed in this Basque town and found a treasure that they wanted to keep to themselves. “All of us who were surfing there knew that it was a special wave and so there was a kid of pact of silence among the locals and the foreigners to not tell the rest of the world there was a magic wave in Mundaka,” says surfer Craig Sage in his book Mundaka: Surf to Live, Live to Surf. Sage had left his native Australia to go on a hunt for waves through southern Europe and North Africa. And he found what he was looking for at Mundaka.
“There were never more than five or ten of us in the water,” he explains in the book. “I remember that we were aware that we were living an unrepeatable moment.” The unrepeatable repeated itself from the end of the 70s until the start of the 80s; at the time there were few surfers in the town. The local fishermen didn’t much take to those foreign hippies. But everything changed in 1977 when two Australian surfers rescued a fishing boat. “That marked a before and after in the village. It was in the newspapers and everyone talked about it,” says Sage.
The town accepted the surfers, who became more and more numerous as the wave gained in fame. Today it is one of the most important waves in the world, but the small village, located in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, is far from crowded.
There is a more international atmosphere and a few surfer shops, but the barra still casts its spell. One of the new stores belongs to Craig Sage: since falling in love with the wave he hasn’t wanted to separate from her.