If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Malaga, checking out the jabega boats should be on your list. These unique craft form an essential part of the history of Malaga as well as the city’s traditions. In this post, we go in search of the jabega boats and reveal what they mean and what they’re all about.
About jabega boats
This essential part of Malaga traditions arrived in the city with the Phoenicians over 2,700 years ago. The boats have hardly changed in nearly 3,000 years and their construction uses similar methods. Jabegas are still long and thin – just over 8 metres long from bow to stern and about 2 metres wide in the middle.
They’re made of wood – light-weight wood has recently been introduced in a bid to reduce the boat’s weight from the usual 1,000kg to 500kg so make it quicker and so that women can row. Construction takes between 5 to 6 months and is done entirely by hand following millennium-old techniques.
Malaga’s first inhabitants used the jabega boats to catch fish and shellfish, a usage that continued until relatively recently when the aggressive method of fishing was banned (the tightly woven nets catch everything in the water). Nowadays, jabegas are used in rowing competitions by clubs in Malaga and the nearby resorts of Torremolinos and Rincón de la Victoria – check out one of the races (see the jabega boat league below (another one for the list of unusual things to do in Malaga!)).
The signs on the jabegas are distinctive and an essential part of the boats’ identity.
The eye – on both sides of the bow, this is probably the most recognizable characteristic. The almost Egyptian eye symbolises several things – a talisman against evil; an all-seeking look-out for danger and luck for a good day’s catch of fish.
The snake – more difficult to see but just as important, the serpent’s head at the bow of the boat symbolises wisdom and strength as it parts the waters as the boat makes its way across the sea.
The oars – made entirely of wood and long and heavy, the 6 or 8 oars in each boat are used to row it and signal the beginning and end of a race.
Insider’s tip: look out for the jabega eye on the front and back of Malaga metro trains and on metro tickets.
Where to see jabega boats
You can see jabegas on the beaches in Malaga, especially in the Pedregalejo and El Palo areas where most of the jabega boat rowing clubs are based. There are also clubs in Huelin, La Cala del Moral, Rincón de la Victoria and Torremolinos. Look out for the boats on the beaches at weekends when the rowing teams train.
If you’d like to see a jabega boat being built, pop along to Astilleros Nereo (at the west end of Pedregalejo and on the east side of los Baños del Carmen). Here, at one of the oldest shipyards in Spain, naval engineering students are building an exact replica of a Phoenician jabega.
Insider’s tip: Astilleros Nereo is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 2pm and 5 to 8pm, and on the first Sunday in every month 10am to 2pm. Free entrance and a must-see for anyone interested in boats.
The jabega boat league
2019 will see the 8th annual jabega rowing league and if you’re on holiday in Malaga, look out for the races that take place at weekends between May and September. The 8 clubs have 22 teams that take part in races divided into 5 categories including junior and veteran.
Races usually consist of 2 laps from just off shore to a buoy and include the complicated maneuver of turning round the buoy in the tightest possible circle to save time and distance. Usually the boat that manages to best 360-degree turn wins the race.
Unusual things to do in Malaga – see a jabega boat launch
Guide to Malaga was privileged to be invited to the launch of the latest jabega to join the Malaga fleet. It was a lovely and moving occasion on a perfect January morning on the beach in El Palo. Perhaps one of the most interesting things for us was to see how so many Malaga traditions came together as the new boat was christened.
Providing a musical background was the Andalusian regional anthem and group of musicians playing verdiales, traditional music from the mountains outside Malaga. Most of Malaga’s jabega teams came to the ceremony and lined up with their oars to form a passageway for the boat on its way to the sea.
The local priest blessed the boat, named ‘Carmen y Gloria’. Her godfather ‘watered’ the boat with white wine to symbolise the land and her godmother sprinkled salt all over her to symbolise the sea. Malaga’s newest jabega was then launched and officially became part of the fleet. She’ll be competing in this year’s league and be the boat used by the club’s women’s team.
Watch the short video of the launch below: