SURFERS TRACK STORM SWELL TO BASQUE COUNTRY ISLAND

On the Atlantic side of the northern Iberian Peninsula where the waters of the Gernika River push into the deep, unsheltered Golfo de Vizcaya, a perfect giant wave peels along the cliffs of an island shrouded in Monastic legend.

Here in the Basque Country, icy winds born in the snowy Pyrenees flow down river valleys and onto Atlantic waters.

These offshore breezes caress the prevailing northwesterly swells which break on rocky reefs, over sandbar beaches, and across river mouths near the northern border of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve.

In 1422, the Council of Bermeo made donation of the island of Izaro to Fray Martín de Arteaga to found a Franciscan monastery of twenty friars. The monks lived in the high part of the island for 300 years, and were famed for the austerity, piousness and strict norms of their congregation, with the exception of one young monk named brother Madariaga.

He fell in love with a girl of Bermeo, and each night, the girl placed a light at one of her windows, signaling to the monk that everyone was asleep, and the coast was clear for her lover to visit. And each night the friar swam the sea which separated the island and the coast to meet secretly with his loved one.

One night during the biggest storm of the year, her relatives discovered the lighting message the lovers used, and moved the light, making it shine from a rocky point on coast where waves broke with great fury.

The friar suspected nothing, and began his swim as usual, realizing too late his deception. Dashed against the rocks by the merciless waves, his body was found destroyed and devoured by the marine birds.

It said that the waves on this night reached the top of the monastery, exceeding one hundred and thirty feet in height.

As the biggest swell of the northern hemisphere winter hits the European shores, the Billabong Odyssey surfers prepare for giant waves at the legendary Isla de Izaro…