Scouring the Wilds of Portugal with Pedro Mestre

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 102d ago

Few lands are as well setup for a surf trip than Portugal. A fistful of Europe's most stellar waves wrap into the country's two distinct coastlines, making for one of the most diverse, wave-rich, yet accessible surf zones on the planet. From Supertubos, to Coxos, or Ericeira in general, up to Nazare – if you're a surfer, there's something here that'll make you crane your neck over the horizon in anticipation, plus the food and beer offerings are pretty phenomenal too.

Now, here's a name you're likely unaware of. Pedro Mestre grew up in the Portuguese surfing paradise of Ericeira, a quaint seaside community situated on the country's west coast – an ideal location that is ripe to pluck swell from the grizzliest of storms.

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Having the ocean in his backyard, Pedro developed an affinity for waves and tide – quickly learning the rhythm of a rising swell. It's also where he learned to surf and then, later, added a lens to the mix, which was always going to be the next natural progression for someone so in tune with the nooks of their home turf.

Pedro's been dipping in to the surf industry for the past 10-years, and some of his images you may recognise. Here, we spoke with Pedro about what makes Portugal so wanderlust-inducing, sticking it as a lensman in an ever-evolving industry (which involves sticking it to Instagram...) and how everything he does stems from those early years, connected to the ocean.

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Pedro, thanks for talking with us, tell us how you got into surf photography?
Well, my career as a professional surfer was not very promising (to be honest not even close to that), so I looked for other opportunities to fulfil that childhood dream.

That's when photography crossed my path and at the beginning it was really more for living the surfer lifestyle rather than taking a good picture but that changed pretty fast when I started to study photography in Lisbon. Photography, as a lot of other things in life, is also about luck I've been around the surf photography industry for 10 years, and what I've realised is, it’s not so much about surfing itself any more, but getting that perfect shot of it.
I think that's down to the element of escapism that surfing offers – we all want to see what could have been, or what has been, or an empty spot going off. What equipment do you use?
My first camera was a Nikon and I've stuck with them ever since. On a regular shooting day you will find a wide angle, a portrait lens (50 or 85 mm), a 70-200 lens for line-up and a 600 lens for action in my backpack. In the water, I use a water housing by the Portuguese brand Wave Solutions Housing with a Nikon D500 or D850. 

Talk us through your favourite place to shoot
There is no place like home: São Julião. But generally I like to shoot in any kind of bays, so I have more freedom to choose which angle I want, and I can shoot and play with the light.

Portugal’s a rich and diverse coastline, how do you make the decision about where you’re going to be shooting on days when there’s a decent swell?
I have a look on magicseaweed [laughs]

That's rad to hear...
Yeah and besides that it’s just simply being in touch with locals to understand where are the best conditions and having a proper understanding of the forecast.

As I live just next to the ocean, I mostly go down before sunrise and get a first notion of the day. Combining that all together means I'm in the right spot...most of the time.

Given your experience in the industry, what do you think it takes to cut it as a surf photographer nowadays?
Probably being persistent because, most of the time, it's the ocean that'll decide whether you get a good shot or not. And the ability to plan ahead is essential, so you are ready when the conditions are perfectly aligned with what you have in vision. 

Is this your only job? How do you pay the bills?
[laughs]Yep, I work as a full-time photographer and the majority of my income is through surf photography. Fixed clients such as WSL Portugal and Billabong Portugal generate a stable yearly income. Occasionally I do work as well outside of the surf industry, shooting brand campaigns and producing lifestyle content for national and international clients.

That's quite a unique position to be in. What advice would you give to aspiring surf photographers?
Keep this in mind: it is not so much about surfing and the lifestyle but rather it's about making sure that you are on time, at the right spot and making sure that you get at least one perfect shot of it. And seek for professional opinions about your work as your friends and family might not always be the most neutral critics.

Do you think Instagram is essential to launch careers of surfers and photographers?
I might not be the best example as I joined Instagram pretty late in the game, and didn’t put valuable content on it for quite a while. But I do believe it is a great platform to launch a career and it  will definitely support you to reach a broader audience and interest.

However from a photographer's perspective, the most important is to make your clients happy. I actually never think about creating content for my own Instagram while shooting. 

That's super interesting, as some people see it as an essential gateway to reaching the masses, so what role has it played in your own business, if any?
It’s a great tool to promote my work and has definitely got me some clients. But it’s also a very demanding platform where again, you need to be very persistent otherwise the algorithm punishes you immediately. In this case my persistency is not as strong, so Instagram, for me personally, doesn’t play such a huge in my business. 

That is pretty reassuring to hear. Ok, the big question, talk us through your top 5 shots of all time – the creme-de-la-creme of Pedro Mestre!
Oh damn, it’s almost impossible to narrow down my favourite pictures to five top shots [laughs] but on my website you will find my personal best-of in the online shop. For magicseaweed, I've chosen 5 shots that impacted my career significantly.

5. Kai Lenny, Nazare 2020

Up until now, this is my most viral picture on the web. I think what makes this photo so special is that even being a gigantic wave, it still has the shape of a perfect wave. Normally with this size at Nazare, the lip doesn’t hit the bottom so perfectly.

4. Gony Zubizarreta and Jayce Robinson, Coxos 2014

This was my first picture published in an international magazine - a spread in Surfer Mag. I was trying to get a lineup with two perfect waves but I never thought that I would be lucky enough to catch two surfers synchronised in barrels. Photography, as a lot of other things in life, is also about luck. 

3.  Ramon Laureano and Antonio Silva, 2013

They were the first Portuguese surfers in town that charged swells around Europe. When the editor of Surf Portugal magazine (João Valente) told me that he was doing an interview with both, I came up with this idea for the interview opening page. This work showed me that I did not only have a good sense for surf action but also that I could be someone who visioned and executed ideas, also this helped me to open doors for brand productions.

2. Eric Rebiere, 2012

It might not be such a special picture but I choose this one because of the surfer. Shortly after starting to work as a professional photographer, I was lucky enough that Eric moved to Ericeira and became my neighbour. Back in those days, I was still not as committed and Eric made me realise that.

Whenever there was a decent swell, Eric would wake up before sunrise to see the waves. I used to be a little late for the 5:30am meetings and Eric would not wait for me. So that lesson was learned back then. And he also influenced the way I look at the ocean today - it’s better to search for a spot with one epic barrel between 10 closeouts than go for a place with 100 average waves.   

1. Tiago Pires in Coxos, December of 2010

One of the best days I have ever seen in Coxos, as usually with this swell size the water gets much darker but this day was beautifully blue and clear. And it was for sure the best performance I have seen from a surfer over there, Tiago was really in his prime. Moreover, this photo got recognised by Surf Portugal magazine but unfortunately it didn’t get published, something about it to do with it being Tiago’s last week as a Billabong team rider. But it was back then when my connection with the surf industry started.

Bonus shot: São Julião, April 2020

This photo didn't change anything in my life, or in my career, but this is the beach where I grew up and currently live. It was taken during the lockdown in April and, as a surfer, this photo fulfills all my dreams because it's a perfect wave at home with not a car around. As a citizen, I can't wait for this phase to be over and see this beach busy again with big groups of families and friends having fun on the beach.

Thanks Pedro, we're hoping for those days too. For more from Mr Mestre, head to his website, HERE