This article is part of a guide to Rome from FT Globetrotter
When international travellers come to Rome, they don’t typically pack a surfboard along with their camera, sunglasses and straw hat. With its art and culture, historic architecture, food, drink and breathtaking landscapes, this part of Italy may not be an obvious choice as a surfing destination.
Yet just outside the city is a coastline exposed to enjoyable swells from multiple directions — and, on the right days, it can be a lot of fun for surfers.
It is possible to surf year-round here, but the best time to chase the perfect wave is from September to March, because swells in the Mediterranean Sea are powered almost exclusively by weather.
“Here you need bad weather, thunderstorms, rain and low pressure,” Roberto D’Amico, one of Italy’s top surfers, tells me on a windy day on Santa Marinella beach, 40 miles north-west of Rome. “If the weather’s bad enough, and the sea gets angry, that’s when we have the most fun.”
This may not sound inviting to those who prefer an Italian beach holiday under the hot summer sun. Yet on Santa Marinella’s Banzai beach, one of the country’s most popular surf spots, dozens of surfers seem to be relishing the gloomy weather.
Seasoned surfers, alongside teenagers and children, paddle, catch waves, stand and turn. They are all fantastically nimble. “You can tell that some of them have natural talent,” says D’Amico.
“The funny thing is that some start to surf by chance, maybe find a used board and start for fun. But soon surfing ends up becoming more than a sport,” he says. “It’s a beautiful addiction.”
Surfing in Italy began to grow in popularity at the end of the 1970s, when the sport’s pioneers started coming to the Lazio coast. Over the years, it has grown exponentially here, aided by new technologies and tools that make weather forecasts easier to interpret. The final push that consecrated surfing in Italy and elsewhere was its inclusion in 2016 as an Olympic sport (it was expected to make its debut at the 2020 games).
“In Italy, it’s the Olympic sports that make the difference. If you are an Olympic sport, you automatically get more attention from the media, the government and the institutions in charge,” says Marco Gregori, technical director of surfing at the Italian Water Ski and Wakeboard Federation. “This has meant that the many young people who have continued to approach the sport in recent years do so with more and more enthusiasm.”
“And then, of course,” he continues, “it goes without saying — it’s terribly cool.”
Just outside Rome, there are nearly two dozen surf spots on a strip of land around 12 miles long, from the small town of Torvajanica in the south to the beachfront of the Roman neighbourhood of Ostia in the north. While the waves here are modest compared to, say, those of south-east Asia or South America, the area has attracted an enthusiastic community of surfers, with several schools and instructors offering guidance for all levels and ages.
Winter is the best time for more seasoned surfers to get in the water (and yes, it may be the Med, but you will need a wetsuit). Come summer, the water is warm and the waves are less powerful — an ideal time for beginners to start practising.
But before heading to the beach with a surfboard nestled under your arm, it’s important to check the weather and understand the direction — and strength — of the wind, which will consequently affect the waves and the beach you may want to choose. The simplest way is to get in touch with one of the surfing schools along the coast, who will check the weather and wind forecast, and direct you towards the best solution, time- and location-wise. The schools at each beach offer wetsuit and board rental too.
Beaches and surf schools near Rome
The closest surfing location to Rome is Ostia, a sandy beach south-west of the Eternal City that is popular with windsurfers and surfers. It’s the best beach to visit if you only have a day or two and want to try surfing while staying in the capital. Though it can be crowded at times, it is around nine miles long and people tend to spread out. Here surfers don’t have to paddle far to get into position, making it an ideal location for beginners.
It is relatively easy to reach from central Rome. The best way to get there without a car is to take the Metro line B and exit at Piramide station, where you can catch another train to Ostia lido.
This seaside resort some 20 miles west of Rome is another of the region’s most popular surf spots, not least for the range of good restaurants — such as La Scialuppa, Il Capanno dei Pescatori and Gina — that mean a morning spent in the water can be rewarded with a fresh seafood lunch.
To get there, the easiest option for those without a car is to travel by train from Roma Termini station to Maccarese-Fregene. When the weather conditions in Fregene are poor, the surf schools will organise transfers to nearby spots such as Santa Severa, Santa Marinella, Cerenova and Circeo.
Banzai beach — Santa Marinella
Banzai beach, named after the famous Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii, is probably the most popular place to surf in Italy. Located just north of Rome, it has swells that come from the north-west all the way around to the south-east. The easiest way to get there is by car: it’s just under an hour’s drive from central Rome. Alternatively, you can take the train to Santa Marinella from Roma Termini central station.
If you are staying in Rome but have more time to travel around the country, Sardinia is probably your best bet for good waves. Capo Mannu, a promontory in the the west of Sardinia, is one of the best-known surfing destinations in the Med, with spots along the cape such as Capo Mannu resort, Sa Mesa Longa and San Giovanni.
Varazze is one of the most popular spots to surf in northern Italy. Half an hour drive west of Genoa, this little town in the picturesque region of Liguria attracts hundreds of surfers during the peak season from Italy and nearby France.
Do you have a favourite beach near Rome? Tell us in the comments
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