The endless Italian summer was great for the tanned patrons, but the surfers’ outlook greatly differed. The Garagolo hadn’t seen a single wave all week. Nonetheless, Michele Rinaldi, a 27-year-old local surfer, paddled out on a soft-top longboard, with eager eyes and no waves in sight.
However, by October, the Garagolo saw waves reaching up to two meters overhead.
“Surfing at home in Italy has its perks—familiar sceneries, friends and atmosphere,” said Rinaldi, a team rider and surf school instructor at Amici del Mare. “We have quality surfing days, and although it’s not the ocean, it’s still worth it.”
The Italian surf is inconsistent and its smoothest rides come during fall storm seasons. But for the crew at Amici del Mare Surf School in Castiglioncello, the search is half the thrill. When the bays are flat, they grab an espresso together and wait for the swell.
“The waves here really won’t be as big as they are in other places. I think that, in Italy, this is why surfing is skipped over,” said Andrea Cannavò, coach and director at Amici del Mare. “There aren’t waves every day—you have to go find them.”
Amici del Mare Surf School is situated on a beach walk on the Garagolo Bay. On days where the forecast is flat, the instructors and team riders hang out on the beach, enjoying each other’s company. Between monitoring the winds and early morning wave checks, the unpredictability of the Italian surf allows for utmost appreciation for the land they call home.
“Most likely, the most beautiful sets will not be surfed by anyone,” Cannavò said.
Surf culture in Italy has been around for decades, but it hasn’t gained much traction in the global surf conversation until recent years. Professionals like Leonardo Fioravanti have made their name in World Surf League Championships and have put Italian surfers on the map. Today, thanks to Amici del Mare and other surf schools, the sport has gained immense visibility on the Italian peninsula.
“In the past, there was this idea here in Italy that those who practiced surfing were out of the box or alternative,” Cannavò said. “I still remember when I was told that I was crazy because I was surfing during the winter months. Now, with the right gear, it’s totally normal.”
Born and raised in Castiglioncello, Cannavò surfed his first waves on the Garagolo. He was a member of the Italian national bodyboarding team for 10 years and has earned multiple champion titles in the Italian, European and world bodyboard competitions. Since then, he’s committed his career to spreading the culture that he holds close to heart.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to transmit the same thing I felt when I first learned,” he said.
Castiglioncello usually sees smaller waves, owing to the currents from the south and southwest winds. Waves originating from a southern wind are usually blocked by Elba Island, unless they are especially strong, where they can reach about two meters. At the peak of the season, some of the smoothest rides come from winds in front of Corsica.
“We have been able to create a group of people who really appreciate what they have, where they are, and Italy for what it is,” Cannavò said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to travel to surf in France, Spain or America—we have to learn how to appreciate the Italian sea.”
The Garagolo and Bagni Quercetano, Castiglioncello’s other typical surf spot, have rocky shores, allowing for a diversity of wave patterns that work for both pros and beginners.
“This helps us to spread the culture of surfing and creates solid bonds between our surfers,” Cannavò said.
“If we have a swell, at first light, I’m in the water with my friends,” said Simone Martini, 24-year-old team rider and co-founder of Italian surfboard company Etesia Surfboards in Cecina.
For Rinaldi and Martini, who are consistent qualifiers in Italian championships year-round, bonding with the younger team riders is part of all the fun.
“You can’t see the difference of our ages in the water,” Martini said.
The growth of Amici del Mare Surf School is only one piece of the transition that Italian surfing has taken from alternative to popular culture. Most of it has come from family values and a shared connection to the sea amongst Italian surfers and beachgoers.
“I think surfing in Italy is one of the most beautiful things,” Cannavò said. “Even though Castiglioncello is not the most famous surf spot in Italy, you search for waves where you want, because it’s where you want to be.”
Amici del Mare is a short documentary film examining surf culture and lifestyle on the Tuscan Coast. Following the lives of the instructors and team riders of Amici del Mare Surf School, the film features a heartwarming story of family values in the coastal town of Castiglioncello. The story considers the transition of surfing in Italy from alternative to popular culture through a mutual connection to the sea. Director Tara Guaimano and producers Jackson Klarsfeld and Anthony Vitale are students at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Guaimano is an Italian-American surfer from New Jersey who crossed paths with the surfers during her time studying abroad in Italy.