Watersports in Spain

General information and tips

Spain is a Mecca for watersports enthusiasts, which is hardly surprising considering its immense coastline, many islands, numerous lakes and reservoirs, and thousands of kilometres of rivers and canals.

Popular watersports include sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, jet-skiing, rowing, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, rafting and sub-aquatic sports. In addition to the Atlantic and Mediterranean, many reservoirs and lakes are also popular venues for sailing, waterskiing and windsurfing. Coastal resorts often have designated areas for windsurfing, waterskiing and jet-skiing, and it’s forbidden to operate outside these areas. Wet suits are recommended for windsurfing, waterskiing and sub-aquatic sports, even during the summer. Rowing and canoeing is possible on many lakes and rivers, where canoes and kayaks can usually be rented.

Spain’s premier canoeing event is the 22km (14mi) Descenso del Sella down the Sella river in Asturias (from Arriondas to Ribadasella), which takes place on the first Saturday in August. Surfing is popular along the Atlantic coast of the Basque Country and Cantabria: however, Lanzarote in the Canaries is the Hawaii of the Atlantic to surfers and Fuerteventura is also good. Spain also has Europe’s foremost windsurfing and kitesurfing area at Tarifa. There are clubs for most watersports in all major resorts and towns throughout Spain and instruction is usually available.

Scuba-diving is a popular sport in Spain, where there are many diving clubs offering instruction and equipment and boat rental. Scuba-diving can be dangerous and safety is of paramount importance. For this reason, many experts don’t recommend learning to dive while on holiday. Holiday divers should, in any case, dive only with a reputable club, and, due to the dangers of decompression, stop diving 24 hours before taking the flight home.

A diving permit is required to dive in Spanish waters and is obtainable from clubs and schools. Among the best areas for scuba divers are the seas around the Balearic and Canary islands. For information contact the Spanish Subaquatic Federation (Federación Española de Actividades Subacuáticas), C/Santaló, 15­ –3º, 08021 Barcelona (932-009 200, http://www.fedas.es ).

Winsurfing in Spain

Spain has some of the world’s best windsurfing areas, including Fuerteventura in the Canaries, El Mádano in south Tenerife, and Tarifa at the southernmost tip of Spain on the Strait of Gibraltar. Tarifa is a kitesurfers’ paradise and Europe’s windiest place, where winter winds from the south-west or north-east can reach up to 120kph (75mph) and the average wind speed is 34kph (21mph). There are numerous websites for windsurfers, which usually include weather reports and news of competitions (e.g. http://www.surferos.net  and http://www.windtarifa.com  – this site includes seven-day wind predictions). The monthly magazine, Surf A Vela, is a must for all windsurfing fans in Spain.

A popular sport is canyoning, a combination of abseiling and white-water rafting consisting of descending gushing rivers, waterfalls and canyons with the aid of ropes. It can be dangerous and only ‘lunatics’ need apply. The best white-water area in Spain is Ribadesella in Asturias.

Be sure to observe all warning signs on lakes and rivers. Take particular care when canoeing, as some rivers have ‘white water’ patches that can be dangerous for the inexperienced. It’s sensible to wear a life-jacket when canoeing, irrespective of whether you’re a strong swimmer. All watersports equipment can be rented, although you’re usually required to leave a large deposit and should take out insurance against damage or loss.

Marinas and harbours

Spain has a wealth of marinas and harbours, many with over 1,000 berths (including Benalmádena and Puerto Banús on the Costa del Sol), which are scattered liberally along Spain’s coasts. Puerto Banús near Marbella is Spain’s answer to St Tropez, where the rich go to sea (and to be seen) – full of vast ostentatious yachts, flashy cars and beautiful people. There are also numerous sailing clubs ( club náutico) based at marinas and sports harbours, all of which offer tuition and courses. Crewed and uncrewed yachts can be rented in resorts, although you need a skipper’s certificate or a helmsman’s overseas certificate to rent an uncrewed yacht.

Despite the large number of marinas, berths can be difficult to find in summer in some areas, although temporary berths can usually be found on public jetties and harbours. Moorings can be expensive, particularly in the most fashionable resorts such as Marbella. The cost of keeping a yacht on the Atlantic coast is cheaper than on the Mediterranean or in the islands, although even here it needn’t be too expensive providing you steer clear of the most fashionable berths.

Races take place in many classes (such as dinghies) all year round, while yacht racing is generally restricted to between April and October, during which there are big regattas in the Balearics (where the most prestigious event is the Copa del Rey which takes place off Palma de Mallorca in August) and the Bay of Cadiz. Boating holidays are popular in Spain, where boats of all shapes and sizes can be rented in harbours and coastal resorts. For information about marinas and competitions contact the Spanish Sailing Federation (Federación Española de Vela), C/Luís de Salazar, 9, 28002 Madrid (915-195 008, http://www.rfev.es ).

Spain is a good place to buy a yacht, as prices are very competitive. However, a ‘wandering yacht’ cannot escape value added tax (VAT), as it must be levied on all yachts purchased in EU countries by EU citizens at the time of sale. Note that VAT is paid in the country of registration or destination and therefore you should compare Spain’s 16 per cent VAT ( IVA) with the country of purchase. EU residents aren’t permitted to register their vessels abroad simply to avoid paying VAT, and any vessel registered outside the EU must be located there and is liable for import duties if berthed in an EU port.

All vessels kept permanently in Spain must be registered there. Buyers from non-EU countries remain exempt from VAT, providing they export their yachts to non-EU waters. However, a foreign-registered boat can be kept in Spain and used there for six months a year by a non-resident, but must be sealed ( precintado) when it isn’t being used. Boats can be operated on Spanish tourist flag registration to avoid paying Spanish taxes.

In 2003, Valencia was chosen as the next venue for the world’s oldest yachting competition, the America’s Cup, which is to be held in 2007. The summer breezes in the Mediterranean around the city are deemed to be perfect for the race. Huge investment in infrastructure is underway and the city’s marina and port are being extensively modified. Further information is available from the official website
(http://www.copaamericavalencia.com ). Alicante hosts the start of the Volvo Ocean Race in 2008.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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Further reading

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