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Europe's top spots for surf and paddle boarding

By Silvia Marchetti, for CNN
updated 2:48 AM EDT, Fri May 31, 2013
Great Britain's trendiest windsurfing spot -- the sand bar is shallow enough to pick up waves up to four meters even with a limited swell running beneath. Great Britain's trendiest windsurfing spot -- the sand bar is shallow enough to pick up waves up to four meters even with a limited swell running beneath.
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Avon Beach, Dorset, England
Peniche Peninsula, Portugal
Stagnone Lagoon, Sicily
Les Culs Nus Beach, Hossegor, France
Eisbach River, Munich
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Amsterdam
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Europe is full of spots for surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding and standup paddling
  • Some of the world's top breaks can be found in Portugal
  • For river surfing, Munich's "ice brook" is challenging
  • In Sardinia, Italy, strong winds help create waves up to five meters

(CNN) -- Ever surfed the cold waves of the North Sea? Paddled through a Sicilian lagoon?

Europe might not be of the same caliber as Hawaii or Bali when it comes to surfing, but it does have incredible spots for those who love hitting the water on a board.

Whether you're into surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding (aka kitesurfing) or the more relaxed standup paddling (SUP), these 12 European destinations will get you wet the right way.

Sylt Island, Germany

This North Sea island at the Danish border has long been a top vacation resort for Germany's upper class.

But it wasn't until the 1960s that surf fanatics discovered it has some of the best waves in Europe.

Today, spas and luxury resorts mingle with surf shops and wild beach parties.

Each year Sylt's Westerland area hosts the world's biggest international windsurf competition, the Windsurf World Cup.

This year's event is set for September 27-October 6.

Despite the cold and frequent rain, an average of more than 200,000 spectators join the 10-day event to watch 140 pros compete in the Super Grand Slam.

Winds are strongest in autumn and spring, but Sylt is a solid spot for novices, who can ride their first waves on the shielded east side of the island.

The area's two main surf schools are Sylt Sunset Beach and Sylt Surfing.

Sardinia, Italy

With strong winds blowing an average of 15 days a month and waves cranking up to five meters, Sardinia attracts surfers and kiteboarders from all over Europe.

Despite being at the heart of the Mediterranean -- a closed sea -- you'll still get to feel open ocean thrills.

On the western coast, along the Sinis Peninsula, surf spots include Capu Mannu's giant granite cliff, home to Italy's first surf school as well as Mini Capo, Putzu Idu, Is Arenas Reef and Is Benas.

In southern Sardinia there are top spots for kitesurfing, which is set to replace windsurfing as an Olympic sport in 2016.

Chia, with its spooky fort, and Cagliari's Poetto Beach, which hosted the kiteboarding world championship in 2012, have excellent facilities, clubs and schools, open all year and for all levels.

Run by Italian windsurf champion Mirco Babini, the Chia Wind Club features a superb entry canal. There's also Tribal Surf, founded by a group of top-class instructors.

From Chia you can easily reach Sardinia's main city, Cagliari, another kitesurfing hotspot. At Poetto Beach you'll find Kite Generation, a school-club currently setting up beach weather forecast stations to give wind riders real-time data.

Specializing in kiteboard lessons, the shop also offers holiday packages that include courses, equipment rental and accommodation.

Amsterdam

Canal surfing, Dutch style.
Canal surfing, Dutch style.

With more than 100 kilometers of canals, plus the major Amstel River, which cuts across the city, Amsterdam is a fabulous standup paddling (SUP) destination.

No waves, no wind.

SUP isn't as easy as it looks. You need to find your balance while paddling upright on a board -- referred to as a "boga." It's a tough, total body workout.

Guided tours by locals who know their way around the water vary from one to several hours.

You can paddle through sheep-filled tulip fields, cross through dams and glide under bridges. If you're fit, there's an eight-kilometer excursion to the fortress island of Pampus.

SUP pioneer Morene Dekker has two paddle schools, called M&M SUP. One is in the center of Amsterdam, the other at nearby beach Blijburg. The latter offers "boga yoga" lessons to help newbs find balance and correct posture.

Once a month M&M SUP organizes a Friday Night SUP tour through the city -- a boat and blasting music accompany almost 200 paddlers.

St.Peter-Ording, Germany

Sylt Island is to windsurfing as St. Peter-Ording is to kitesurfing.

Not far from Hamburg, this holiday resort town on the North Sea has one of Europe's widest beaches, a therapeutic climate and constant sea winds, making it a top spot for wind riders.

It's particularly windy in summer, blowing up to 40 knots -- perfect for leaps and acrobatic moves. The town will host this year's Kitesurf World Cup from July 12 to 21.

Competitors perform in three disciplines: freestyle (quick tricks), course racing (high-speed) and air style (action-loaded show).

On the side are concerts, beach parties that last till dawn and other events.

Unlike windsurfing, kitesurfing requires strong winds as opposed to powerful waves. When the sea gets too wild, kite addicts turn to the kite-buggy, a land version of the sport in which the board and waves are substituted for an elongated tricycle and the beach.

Leucate, France

Leucate is located on the southern Mediterranean coast, but the waves here can be as fierce as on the Atlantic side.

Dubbed by locals the city of "wind and slide," it features nine of Europe's best windsurf and kitesurf spots -- both at sea and on the surrounding lagoon, including Coussoules Beach, La Franqui, Le Goulet and Les Pilotis.

Each Easter Leucate hosts "Le Mondial du Vent" (The Wind's World Cup), France's top international competition. Windsurfers compete against kitesurfers and even standup paddlers take part.

Winds here blow 300 days a year and the slightest sea breeze can create miracles when they channel through the dunes.

There's an incredible number of facilities for surfers, ranging from cool beach clubs (La Payote, Sky Fly) to surf schools that also rent gear (Adrenaline Kitesurf, Weshcentercrew)

The wide selection of fully equipped surf shops includes Surf Wear Saint Claire and Surf Shop Neway.

Stagnone Lagoon, Marsala, Sicily, Italy

Located on the southernmost tip of Sicily, Stagnone Lagoon is famous for persistent hot breezes that flow in the summer.

All that air pressure brings in kitesurfers from around the world.

It doesn't hurt that the place is incredibly beautiful. More than 20 square kilometers, the lagoon is surrounded by an archipelago of small islands dotted with ancient saline windmills that separate it from the open sea.

The surf is often flat and winds blow up to 30 knots -- perfect conditions for kitesurfers, who can reach speeds of up to 100 kph.

This year, Marsala's Stagnone will host the Kite-Surf Freestyle World Cup on June 25-30.

Along the lagoon, clubs and schools offer courses, equipment rental and repair service. These include Sicily Kite School and Sicily Kite Lounge.

Avon Beach, Dorset, England

Britain\'s surf spot of choice.
Britain's surf spot of choice.

Probably the most trendy windsurfing spot in Great Britain, Avon Beach is located at the mouth of the Avon River in Christchurch harbor.

Part of the attraction is that it's ideal for all levels.

The sand bar is shallow enough to pick up waves (up to four meters) even with a limited swell running beneath.

After storms pass, the spot turns into a magnet for addicts who come for the high waves and break points.

Most of the area's shops rent gear and there are plenty of surf schools (Shoresports and Avonmouth Watersports), where you can find all the essential equipment.

Peniche Peninsula, Portugal

One of the most powerful swells in Portugal is located on the coastline just south of Peniche Peninsula.

Local wave riders have nicknamed the perfect wave here "Supertubos" ("Supertubes"), a fast, barreling tubular wave.

Those supertubos are for advanced surfers with barrel experience.

Due to the quality of the waves, this spot gets busy in the summer.

SBOSurf, a well equipped surfing school and shop, organizes surf safaris to the peninsula's Silver Coast, as well as surfing holiday packages.

Les Culs Nus Beach, Hossegor, France

Les Culs Nus -- "the naked butts" in French -- was originally a nudist beach.

Today, it's a crowded surf hangout tossing out one of the best beach breaks in the Hossegor area, right in front of the Bay of Biscay.

Surfers flock here in winter, when the consistent, powerful five-meter waves break on the exposed Atlantic coast.

Thanks to the fame of Les Culs Nus, the entire Hossegor coastal area has become a surfing microcosm filled with outstanding schools, surf camps and hostels where you'll find everything from equipment to accommodation, food, lessons, surf tours and events.

Located on a long sandy beach within walking distance of the best surf spots, the Koala surf camp is a 13-person guesthouse for traveling surfers who don't mind sharing an open space loft.

Eisbach River, Munich, Germany

Munich authorities have long tried to ban canal surfing in Eisbach's artificial stream, a trend that kicked off in the 1970s and remains a top tourist attraction.

It's tough though, and not just because the "ice brook" ("eisbach" to Germans) is freezing cold.

River surfing is more difficult than any other type of surfing. You've got to surf in place, on a "stationary" wave, trying to keep your balance as water churns beneath you.

Eisbach's swell is the result of fast pumping water pushing at a rate of 20 tons per second, which crashes into a rock and forms a crest.

Just 15 meters wide and five meters deep, only one person can surf at a time on Eisbach's rough, one-meter standing wave.

Surfers wait in line along the banks of the river, which runs through the city's main park.

More than 100 surfers hit the wave each day (even at night) to train for the yearly Munich Surf Open. A testament to Eisbach's quality: Munich continues to produce the best river surfers in the world.

As boards get easily damaged, there's no place to hire one, but you can find surf stores in the center of town. There's Santoloco and Surferspirit, which also give lessons.

Venice, Italy

One way to see Venice.
One way to see Venice.

It's in Venetians' blood: they live on water, travel on water and paddle on water. To them, a SUP boga board is just another style of gondola.

Venice is hot ticket for SUP fans.

Founded by local Eliana Argine, SUP In Venice will take you through the city's maze of canals on a two-hour guided tour across Venice's secret waterways, passing major sites, such as the Church of the Miracles.

The meeting point is a small shop near San Marco Square. Bear in mind it's forbidden to wear swimsuits in Venice away from the beach, so it's best stick to a shirt and surf trousers.

Eliana also organizes honeymoon SUP tours and runs a SUP school out of Venice's Lido, at Pachuka Beach.

On July 7, more than 100 paddlers from all over the world will take part in the Surfin' Venice parade along Canal Grande to San Marco Basin.

Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain

An international winter sun destination -- though not geographically Europe -- we couldn't leave the Canary Islands off our list.

With more than 150 beaches, it's considered Europe's Hawaii: big and dangerous surf guaranteed.

Popular for fast breaking, shallow, hollow reef breaks, if there's a good swell with an offshore wind there are tons of great tubes to ride.

Lying just 90 kilometers from the African Coast, its desert-like scenery offers an exotic kick.

Warm climates all year round make Fuerteventura an ideal location for all levels of surfers.

Professional schools are scattered across the island, founded by surf addicts and instructors, mostly foreigners.

Among these are Flag Beach and Nalu Surf School, which offer accommodation and surf tours.

If you'd rather stay at a surf camp, one of the best on the island is Star Surf Camps Fuerteventura, which features everything you'll need for a complete surf holiday.

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