When Shawn asked me to write about my experience attending @valeriya_gogunskaya‘s Longboard Camp in Portugal, I couldn’t be happier – a million heartwarming memories instantly flooded my brain. Now that I actually stopped to think about it, I don’t even know where to start – it might sound like a cliché but it’s really hard to describe something that was probably the best experience of my life.
I am an introvert by nature, so I must confess I was feeling a bit of social anxiety on that sunny Sunday afternoon in October as I made my way to Lisbon Airport. I was going completely alone and didn’t know anyone there. As I walked to the meeting point, a million thoughts crossed my mind. What if everyone was already super advanced in doing tricks? I didn’t want to be the one pulling everyone down. What if I didn’t connect with the group? One week could be a long time if you’re not enjoying yourself!
All of these thoughts immediately went away as soon as I met the first person waiting there – Alyona (@una_gazza), from Moscow. She was waiting with a big smile and started telling me about the camp – she was going for the second time, as well as several others in this week’s group, and like me, she described it as the best experience in her life. The others started to arrive from Paris, Stockholm, Berlin and all over the world, and even though some of them already knew each other, I immediately felt included and completely connected to everyone in the group.
Let’s head to Santa Cruz
Our transfer driver was Diogo, one of the instructors of the surf hostel we were staying at. He greeted us also with a big smile and then took us on an incredibly beautiful sunset drive to our little paradisiacal home for the week in Santa Cruz: Surfcamp 360. Besides functioning as a surf school, it’s also a family home owned by Andrea and Rui, who live there with their kids and host guests in the several rooms and external bungalows in their property. The hostel also has a multipurpose room in the garden with completely clear walls that allow you to appreciate the view while Andrea hosts dance or yoga classes in the morning. On our very first night, Andrea prepared a dinner for all of us which can only be described as a feast – never ending delicious homemade food just kept coming and coming, and when we thought we were about to go into a food coma, there was still dessert!
My chance to connect with some longboarding legends
Valeriya was an incredible host and camp organizer – she welcomed everyone with overflowing kindness and love, which set the tone for a wonderful week ahead. We also got to meet our teachers, Giulia @giulia.alfeo and Abou @lgbd_smoothoperator. I admit I was a bit starstruck meeting them for the first time – I’d been following their videos on Instagram for ages and felt immensely grateful to have the opportunity to not only learn from them, but spend this week together.
A longboard dancing camp will push you mentally and physically
The first day of camp started at 9am with our first longboard lesson. We helped Erlend (@erlenddaae), our official photographer and videographer, pack the boards into the van and made our way to one of the two skate spots used by the camp. Valeriya provides a big selection of Bastl boards of all shapes and sizes – personally this was one of the highlights for me, as I knew I wanted to get a new board but hadn’t had the opportunity until then to try a proper longboard (mine at home was a very basic board that I bought in a dodgy skate shop, which was completely inadequate for dancing). I fell in love with the giant Walzer and thanks to Matthias (@matthias_smith), one of the camp participants and now close friend, I learned all about the different sizes, flexes and parts of the board, which was super helpful as I bought my own later on.
All of the longboard lessons throughout the week followed a similar format – Giulia led a warm up to get us started, then we all got a board and split into two groups, one led by her and one by Abou. I was super impressed to see how my roommate for the week, Heloise (@heliloise), who had never even stepped on a board before, finished the week doing cross steps, peter pans and other dancing steps! Giulia used her dance background to teach us how to get to know our bodies better so we could improve our flow on the board – I am super clumsy and a terrible dancer, so I was surprised and stoked to see my progress thanks to her lessons. Meanwhile, Abou taught us really cool new tricks (I made a list with the weirdest names so I could practice later) and gave super useful tips about where to step on the board to improve our carving (I can still hear him calling out: “edges, edges, edges!”).
In addition to the longboard lessons, Surfcamp 360’s instructors Rui, Diogo, Johnny and Nuno took us 3 times during that week for our surf classes in Peniche and other beaches in the area. As a Brazilian girl used to warmer waters who had never worn a full wetsuit before, I was super glad for all the equipment provided by the school. We did fun warm ups together at the beach and they split the group according to skill level. Big shoutout to Erlend who took the funniest photos of our group either nosediving, capsizing or crashing into each other.
As mentioned before, we also had yoga and dance classes led by Andrea – her stretching exercises were extremely necessary after long days doing intense physical activities. We also renamed our group’s WhatsApp group as “Rebolaishh”, one of the dance moves she taught us which I won’t even try to explain but made everyone laugh.
Our week ended with a beautiful event organized by Valeriya and Johnny in Santa Cruz’s city center which brought together local kids and teenagers of all ages to learn how to longboard. I was blown away by the sense of community there – there was music, dancing, laughing, and of course a lot of skating with the most beautiful view of the beach and the sunset in the background. Words fail to describe it so here’s a video showing the event’s highlights:
The only bad part about a longboard camp is having to say goodbye
As the event wrapped up, suddenly it hit us – it was our last night together. Everyone felt a sudden sadness mixed with nostalgia for the week that had just ended. As I said in the beginning, I am a big introvert and I couldn’t believe the attachment and love I already felt for people who had been strangers a week ago. Heloise, Danielle, Aude, Karin, Omar, Matthias, Charlotte, Ursula, Sveta and Alyona – thank you with all my heart for this shared experience. I can’t wait to see all of you again, hopefully soon!
I intend to join again next year, which goes to show how much I recommend this camp. In terms of longboard skills, I really do feel that I’ve taken mine to the next level. I was asked on the first night how long I’d been longboarding and my answer was 5 years; looking back now, I feel I’ve learned and improved more in that one week than in all of these years. Big thanks again to our wonderful longboard and surf instructors, our hosts at Surfcamp, and of course, to Valeriya for making all of this possible.