Europe's winter months are when gold strikes. Powerful storms travel across the Atlantic, dashing swell all up the Old Continent's western flank. And that means, more than one world-class spot will be spitting out waves. With so much option, and so much accessibility, it can be hard to stay in one place.
Arguably then, the best way to experience it all is to just hit the road. Guided by forecast after forecast. Guess you could say the spirit of van life is more alive and well than ever before, and it's something the Karbus family know a thing or two about.
Like, how to cram two adults, two groms, a dog and a rabbit into a clapped-out Mercedes Sprinter. Dad, George, is a renowned surf photographer; mum, Kate is an adept free-diving and swim guru. Son, Joshua is the next up and coming young surfer out of Ireland and young daughter, Natalie, is set to carve her own path in the surfing world. Along with Dog, Sky and rabbit Miquel, they launched a family 8,000km expedition across some of Europe's more prominent surf towns, which ended up with Josh meeting one his heroes, Italo Ferreira in Portugal.
Josh, 12, is one of the raddest groms we've seen in a while. We featured him here. This fresh edit above is Josh with full grom-fever, going wild for nine weeks straight, with dad on camera duties, a result of that life on the road. Here, pops George takes us through life on the road, in his own words, the confidence instilled in surf heir apparent and whether young families should give it a try.
The trip was cool. I was building this van for one and a half years during the pandemic. It's a Merc Sprinter but it was empty and ended up kitting it out myself. Finished it up in February and we took off straight away. We were planning to go to Europe, and all the way to the Canaries. France, Spain, whole coast of Portugal, then over to Tenerife.
We had a catamaran boat booked over there for sailing, surfing and swimming with dolphins. We had that booked and that was the only thing we had booked. The plan after Tenerife was to visit the other islands but that didn't happen.
We took off, drove to Hossegor. The swell was massive, so we drove to Spain the next day, at a surfskate factory. Then to Mundaka, we got there on the Friday and it looked like 2-3ft, I said 'let's get in', looked like the tide was dropping and by the time we got in, it was 4ft. Within an hour, it was 4-8ft, it was suddenly epic. Locals were calling Josh into waves. It was crazy.
Next day, Mundaka went clean, small, still barrelling. Then we drove to another area down the coast to meet some friends. By that time, we were missing the sun. So we drove all the way to Peniche... and we got stuck there for a month. We wanted to surf there for a week, but it didn't happen. It was pumping. This was three weeks before the WSL event. Supertubos was pumping every single day. It was warm too, 20 degrees C. Meanwhile, Ireland was stormy, cold.
Then, Italo arrived. He came to Peniche, surfed three, four times per day. We slept at Supertubos, saw Italo's jeep, Josh surfed with Italo. Such an amazing experience for him. More people started arriving it got really good.
Corey Lopez came for a contest in Lisbon, before the WSL event, we met him and his kids, they're the same age as Josh, so we hung with them for a few days. Corey's son is a charger, not afraid to pull into six foot barrels, great inspiration for Josh. We hung out there but we had to take off to get our boat to the Canaries.
The ferry took two-and-a-half days from the south of Portugal. We had our dog and bunny with us... they became super popular on social media. The bunny is like a dog, Italo's stories were full of our rabbit running on the beach at sunrise [laughs]. It's famous now.
We had the chance to see the biggest Nazare of the year, we were at Peniche when that was happening, so we drove down there to see that.
Sailing the Canaries
We had a great week in the Canaries, lots of dolphins around, tuna, whales. Just amazing. Josh got a lot of respect in the lineup with his surfing. Surfed some pointbreaks. We stayed on Tenerife then back to the mainland.
We were on the road for nine weeks. We started in Feb and came home in April. The froth level with the kids was great, especially when he saw Italo. Unfortunately he missed Griffin Colapinto, his wave surfer, but he surfed with most of the guys. The bottom of his board was covered with signatures of the surfers. Our daughter is eight-years-old, Natalie, she met some female surfers too.
In Peniche something clicked with Josh and from that point, he just started ripping. Confidence so high. For me, that breakthrough changed his view to pro surfing and how to approach surfing, that was amazing for him.
Tips for those thinking about it
For nine weeks in the van, we only stayed in hotels twice. We spent most of the time in the van or the boat, it was great. When you sleep as a family in such a tiny space, you can really bond. Everyone has the same rhythm, when one sleeps, you all got to sleep [laughs]. We all just squeezed in. Four of us with the dog and rabbit, but we managed, had such a great time. We stayed at beautiful locations.
I've never been on the road like this before, was my first trip. I would probably make the van less visible. Big vans are prone to thefts. And long vans are impossible to park. You can't really park at places like Mundaka with a big van. Medium sized van is good, try to be invisible. Solar panels are an amazing investment. Everything worked and charged from there. Life on the road is good, exhausting, it's not for everybody but it's good to try. Go in the winter, less busy!