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"Sun, sea and a free way of life. That is what I had always been looking for."

High waves, constant wind, warm sunshine. Fuerteventura is the water sports paradise among the Canary Islands. To spend all day lying at the beach here would be a shameful waste. Alex und Sophie Hülsberg from the Aloha Surf Academy in Corralejo tell us why Fuerteventura is the Hawaii of Europe and where to find the perfect wave.

High waves, constant wind, warm sunshine. Fuerteventura is the water sports paradise among the Canary Islands. To spend all day lying at the beach here would be a shameful waste. Alex und Sophie Hülsberg from the Aloha Surf Academy in Corralejo tell us why Fuerteventura is the Hawaii of Europe and where to find the perfect wave.

Photos: Michèle Graf

"Sophie, how did you and Alex meet?"

Sophie: "It was in 2009, when I decided to learn how to surf and Alex was my instructor. I fell in love with my surf instructor. Very cliché, I know. (She laughs) I remember sitting on a bench by the sea at the end of my holiday and feeling: I could live here. The sea, the sun, a free way of life. That is what I had always been looking for."

Sophie is from Bassins in the canton of VD. Whereas Sophie still considers the Lake Geneva region as her base, she always knew she wanted to see the world. Sophie did an apprenticeship with the International Red Cross and studied English in San Francisco. She worked for the Red Cross in the Congo, where she helped reunite missing children with their families. On her return to Switzerland, life in a wealthy country didn’t feel right for Sophie anymore. She began to question why she needed ten pairs of shoes and three watches. For Sophie, arriving in Fuerteventura meant being in her place of dreams. Daughter Nayra was born in 2013. Her name is Canarian and was consciously chosen by her parents for whom the island has become their home.

"How do you like Fuerteventura?"

Sophie: "I have lived in many places, including in Brazil and the Congo, where I always stood out as the blonde girl. Here, by contrast, everything is very European. Before the émigrés arrived, the only inhabitants on Fuerteventura were a few 'Canarios'. It is easy to integrate here. The locals are very nice and open, which is something I appreciated from the start. You don’t just order a coffee and pay. The barmaid will want to know how you are: 'Hey darling, how are you?' And it is not a fake kind of friendliness."

Alex: "The beaches here are unique on all accounts. The colour of the water at Flag Beach by the Corralejo dunes is incomparable. I also like the tranquillity. Although the activities on offer are gradually increasing, you can still take off to the mountains and enjoy pristine landscapes. The coast is wild and rugged. I feel close to nature here. Everything is very small, and you can explore and discover the treasures of the island on your own accord. For instance, when I go hiking, I discover small flowers growing everywhere in the volcanic stone fields."

"You live in Corralejo. Has it changed much?"

Alex: "Yes. When I first arrived in 2007 to work as a surf instructor, it was just a small town with a few hotels. I used to go speerfishing in the bay by the promenade and then walk along the main street with my catch of the day."

Alex had long wanted to open his own surf school. After a two-year long-distance relationship with Alex, Sophie moved to Corralejo to be with her sweetheart. Alex wasted no time and gave up his employment as a surf instructor. In 2011, the couple opened their Aloha Surf Academy. Alex does the teaching whilst Sophie manages the bookings and the marketing. Eighty per cent of their guests are beginners. The Academy offers special weeks and trips for advanced surfers. Most of the surfers come from Switzerland, Germany or France. The ages range from seven to over sixty. Many have become friends of the Hülsberg family.

"Is it true that you have a beach nickname, Alex?"

Alex: "Yes (he laughs), they call me 'The General'. Because I often use my whistle to make sure my students hear me when they are out at sea. After completing my studies, my plan was to become a sports teacher. I teach now too, namely surfing. We set up our surf academy with the aim of offering high quality teaching. Theory combined with plenty of training is very important to us."

"Do many female customers try to flirt with you?"

Alex: "I have a bit of problem with the sunny boy image that surf instructors seem to have. But of course there are some instructors who do the job chiefly to meet women."

"Why do so many surf tourists choose to come to Fuerteventura? "

Sophie: "Surfing is a huge trend here. Ten new surf schools open every year. But we also want to convey the spirit of surfing: Aloha. It is about being one with nature and always developing further."

"What fascinates people about surfing?"

Sophie: "You cannot control a wave. Every wave is different. In today’s society, everything is planned: the alarm clock goes off at 6 am, the train arrives at 8:07 am, a work meeting is scheduled for 10 am. We came here to escape that kind of life. Things don’t go by the clock on Fuerteventura. I call it the 'slow motion mentality'. To be honest with you, it took me two years to get used to it. Siesta culture. I think that is precisely why our guests like to come here. They are drawn to the relaxed lifestyle that they do not have at home."

"And the search for the perfect wave?"

Sophie: "Fuerteventura is known as the Hawaii of the Atlantic. We are very lucky here because we have waves all year round. In five years, we have not had to cancel one single surf lesson. A paradise for surfers. We have been to many places in the world. And we always come back with the same question: 'Why don’t we spend our holidays here? The best waves are here.' What is more, there are shops and rental material in abundance. Corralejo has as many as 25 shops!

"Where are the best surfing spots of Fuerteventura?"

Sophie: "There are many good surfing spots. I have three particular favourites. Firstly: El Hierro, on the north coast. Entry is not all that easy. The waves at El Hierro are longer because the coastline is rocky. Los Lobos, our neighbour island, is also good for surfing. Some of the waves there are a kilometre wide. Incredible! And then there’s the El Cotillo area. My absolute favourite because I love fast waves. El Cotillo is a small town on the west coast. The colour of the water is beautiful there, especially in the mornings. The best surf beaches in the south of Fuerteventura are at the tip of the island. That is where you really feel you’re at the end of the world. But I am not there very often."

"How long does it take to learn to surf?"

Sophie: "On average, three days. You should then be able to keep your board under control and know how to get out of the water again. Surfing is not a sport for wimps."

"Can anybody learn to surf?"

Sophie: "Yes, but it does require some patience. Many people just want to get on a surfboard, but don’t have the balance. Riding a wave is tough work. That is why we start on the beach, with skateboards."

Besides surf lessons, your school also offers surf safaris and volcano hikes. And instructor Nina gives yoga courses on the beach. Today, four people have come to the idyllic beach that features views of Los Lobos island. Breathing exercises, Sun Salutation. Alex just wants to relax on his mat, but his little daughter Nayra has other plans and is whizzing around him. A guest has brought some “Ragusa” chocolate and “Biberli” gingerbread biscuits from Switzerland. Nayra is really excited and wants to share them with her daddy. The sweet snacks are gone in no time. Nayra’s usual favourite is “Gofio” cheese, a Canarian speciality. The Spanish educational system is such that children start school at the age of three. So Nayra is already in school and learning Spanish. She speaks French, English and German with her parents. Blonde and a real livewire, Nayra’s first ride on a surfboard was aged four months. But Sophie still wants her daughter to get to know her old home country. They visit Switzerland twice a year, where the sun-spoilt choice “Canarios” enjoy the cold and the rain. And where Sophie gets to eat “Carac”, her favourite patisserie. But she would not go back to live in Switzerland. Too hectic. If and when possible, they bring back what they love to the island. Alex, for instance, has brought “Glühwein” (mulled wine) to Corralejo. His Spanish friends call it “Sangria caliente” (hot sangria). Alex can never be away from the island for long.

"What other plans do you have, Alex?"

Alex: "I want to continue being a surf instructor, but I also want to start setting up a permaculture farm. It would allow us to become self-sufficient, not produce any waste and not use energy other than our own. Fuerteventura used to be called 'Herbania'. The island was covered in mediterranean shrubs. Sadly, they have all been chopped down. I would like to do some reforesting. Our volcanic soil is very fertile; what we lack is water."

Sophie: "Alex has turned into a real Spaniard. Always easy-going. There are no problems, just solutions. Motto: 'Live your life first. Some things can wait and be done later.' Alex has taught me that every day should also be a bit of a holiday. We can do yoga together, ride our bikes or enjoy a Sunday picnic at the beach. We work less than in Switzerland. We also have less money of course. But we are very happy. It is as the saying goes: we may not have a watch, but we have time."

The Hülsbergs’ top Fuereteventura tips

Shopping: Stitch Craft shop in Lajares. Émigré Claudia from Lucerne makes handbags out of old windsurf sails. (Av. Colonel Gonzalez del Hierro 29d, 35650 Lajanes)

Eating: “La Vaca Azul” in El Cotillo. The restaurant with the blue cow on the terrace is right by the harbour. The view couldn’t be better. Specialities are, of course, fish of the day and mussels with “Mojo Verde” sauce. (Calle Requena, 9, 35660 Cotillo)

Experience the Canary Island culture: “Fiesta de Nuestra Señora Buen Viaje”: A harbour festival in El Cotillo held in the third week of August with a boat parade. All of the fishermen jointly cast a huge net and their catch is subsequently distributed among the people of Corralejo. Younger visitors love to push each other into the sea at Corralejo harbour.

Feaga: April is when everyone goes to the small fishing village of Pozo Negro located thirty kilometres south of Puerto del Rosario. Fuerteventura’s equivalent of the Swiss BEA and OLMA trade and agricultural fairs gives farmers from every corner of the island the chance to present their products. A major public event.

(Text: Michèle Graf)