Words and images by Helio Antonio.
This was one of those typical days in January. You know, when the wind howled onshore all across Portugal's west coast, with a huge XL swell from the NW. Nazare was gigantic and ugly. Other spots were just as horrid. But that didn't really matter.
These are my favourite days, off the cusp surf hunting across home, finding where the wind won't blow.
Area Guide: Lisbon
My original plan had been – get to Peniche. Find those quiet corners where waves could wrap into its bending, beautiful beaches, a hideaway away from the onshore onslaught.
Only issue was, even though the swell was XL, it still wasn't enough to fully set alight those sheltered corners, like Supertubos' less aggressive twin, Molhe Leste.
So I decided to wander around Oeiras and Cascais. I've been shooting Peniche a lot this season, maybe it's because we've not had a truly epic day at Nazare yet. Maybe it's because there's a general big wave fatigue about it all. Whatever the feeling it was time for a few different scenarios, try and keep the mind and creativity sharp.
First spot to check was the famous beachbreak, Carcavelos. There's a bunch of spots across Europe that call themselves the answer to Pipeline of this side of the world, but on the right day, right size, this place really is exactly that – and only 30 minutes out from the centre of Lisbon.
View Live: Carcavelos
It works with all tides, and I wanted to capture the sunrise behind St Julian's Fortress, a formidable building built in the 16th Century that sits on the headland between Carcavelos and Praia da Torre.
On the same day, the trials for the Perfect Chapter barrel contest had been called on. But the beach is more than a mile long, with peaks up and down. So I watched the contest for a little bit, then wandered along.
The morning started slow, waves were small and only a couple of surfers were out across the entire beach. But the sunrise was beautiful. Epic colours contrasted with the dark mood of the storm's clouds, very dramatic.
As the morning went by and the tide was rising, the waves got bigger and more perfect – more surfers showed up, but it wasn't over-crowded, maybe they'd been put off by the approaching storm. After shooting a few nice barrels I went to check Paredes, the spot right after Carcavelos if you're heading west. It was empty with some rights coming through but the wind wasn't ideal.
After shooting a few pics, I headed back east where the wind would be more favourable. The waves were mellow at first rolling in fast to become a short barrel that ended on a beach closeout. Not the fantastic setup every surfer dreams of, but definitely much more fun than what the rest of the country was experiencing. I ended up driving drove along that beautiful road towards Lisbon and stopped along the way. I wanted to take a look at another spot.
Surfers, with grins ear-to-ear, were flooding the car park. That can only mean it was pumping. A bunch of them had surfed already and were relaxing, having those usual conversations 'did you see that wave?' 'It's sick right now'. 'Can't believe we just surfed that.' Guess those conversations are the same you can have all over the globe, but in different languages and way more hand gestures in the Old Continent.
Those who were turning up were frantically getting ready, pulling on wetsuits, laughing. I went to check the spot and the righthand pointbreak had more surfers in the water than the whole of Carcavelos beach.
A set loomed, looked beautiful in the afternoon light, and I decided to postpone lunch for an hour, which quickly turned into two because I there's no way you stop shooting when the waves are this good.
A long right that is suited for advanced surfers since the drop is steep and fast – the first section gets pretty sketchy, with lots of rocks that bubble up from under the water.
There was some great barrel riding, a lot of wipeouts, but that's surfing. The show was on for a good couple of hours until the tide pushed too far in.
I called it a day and went to finally get lunch at 4pm. But I had to go check the city's crown jewel one more time, because, what if it's pumping again, right?
View Live: Baleal
And there she was. Waves pouring in, nonstop. Carcavelos was in full swing, the cold, rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon. As soon as people left school, or skipped work, they come here. You could tell people really knew what they were doing out here, could read the wave like they've been surfing it for generations.
A seemingly unmakeable barrel will open up, hold the high line, hold on and you'll see the light at the end.
By sunset the several peaks spread along the long beach were busy, mimicking the traffic on the seaside road connecting Lisbon to Cascais.
Spots close to the city get busy, no matter the wind. There's a huge concentration of people in the area and tons of tourists. During the last 15 years, Lisbon has turned into a very attractive European city to visit and to live. Great beer, great food, people are friendly and there's a lot of selection for wave choice.
That tourism boom also resulted in dozens of surf schools, since everyone wants to try surfing. For the more experienced surfers, it is definitely an area to check. There aren't a lot of places on the west coast that get offshore wind in a howling northerly.
Beachbreaks, pointbreaks, heavy, mellow, you name it. It's quite common to see cars with surfboards in Lisbon's downtown area. This really was the beginning of Portugal's urban surf scene. City surf may hit differently than out on the west coast – and I'm glad to have shot it.
How’s it looking? Check out the cams; Carcavelos | Baleal | Nazare | Supertubos |