The Nazare Challenge, Portugal

On a Friday afternoon back in February I was driving home from a shoot in Newcastle and wondering what to do with the weekend. A couple of days earlier I had read that there was huge waves headed for Portugal and that the Nazare Challenge might be given the green light. The Nazare Challenge is a big surf event with a 3 month window through the winter. It only runs when the conditions are right and the waves are massive. Once the officials give it the green light surfers from around the world fly in and compete (similar to the Eddie Aikau competition in Hawaii that I wrote about in a previous blog). I was pondering this on my drive home and it occurred to me that I had all my camera gear with me, plus my passport and what better way to spend my weekend. So I booked a plane ticket to Lisbon and re-routed my satnav to Heathrow. A few hours later I was in Portugal. I booked a guesthouse online and hopped in a taxi to Nazare. After a late night welcome from a wonderful Portuguese family I went to bed and set my alarm for 5:30am. 

I woke up and walked out into the darkness. I could hear the sea roaring in the distance. I followed my ears and gradually started coming across other people, photographers, surfers, news crews gathering kit and making their way to the beach. 

 Early morning at Nazare. With only a couple of days warning people work through the night to get the event setup.

Early morning at Nazare. With only a couple of days warning people work through the night to get the event setup.

Nazare is a fishing town about an hour and a half north of Lisbon. The main town sits at sea level but it has a huge hillside jutting out of the water to the north and this is what attracts the surfers. Deep channels in the seabed force incoming swells to stand up and with the right conditions create some of the biggest waves in the world. 

 Nazare Headland and Lighthouse to the left

Nazare Headland and Lighthouse to the left

 A jetski checking conditions at dawn.

A jetski checking conditions at dawn.

 Hawaiian Billy Kemper making his way onto the beach for the first heat.

Hawaiian Billy Kemper making his way onto the beach for the first heat.

As the sun came up the atmosphere built and before long hundreds of people had gathered along the headland to watch the event. By 8am the surfers were in the water. 

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The surf built throughout the morning with some huge waves being caught. It is a massive operation with multiple jetski's keeping the surfer's safe and dragging them out of danger zones. Quads patrol the beaches, pulling skis out of the water and rescuing surfers when they are washed ashore. Drones fly overhead filming for the live broadcast around the world. There were some dramatic moments with boards being broken and competitors coming ashore with bleeding faces and broken ribs. 

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 Local surfer Jaoa De Macedo was stitched up after a nasty fall. 

Local surfer Jaoa De Macedo was stitched up after a nasty fall. 

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As the day went on the wind got too strong for the surfers to paddle into the waves and the competition was postponed until the next day. I spent the afternoon photographing the huge waves from various points on the headland. 

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It also happened to be the weekend of Carnival so away from the surf the locals were partying. This made for some fun portraits when I wandered into town to buy food. 

 One of the locals dressed up for Carnival

One of the locals dressed up for Carnival

The next day the waves were smaller and shrouded in fog which made photography difficult but the competition pressed on and in the late afternoon Brazilian Lucas 'Chumbo' Chianca came out of the water victorious. 

 Finalists Lucas Chumbo Chianca, Billy Kemper, Natxo Gonzales, Kai Lenny, Grant Baker and Nathan Florence collecting their trophies. 

Finalists Lucas Chumbo Chianca, Billy Kemper, Natxo Gonzales, Kai Lenny, Grant Baker and Nathan Florence collecting their trophies. 

I watched him receive his trophy, walked back into town, filled my bag with Pastel de Nata and hopped in a cab back to the airport. I was home by midnight and ready for work on Monday morning. A spontaneous adventure and one of the best weekends I can remember.

This Video is a good example of the dangers of surfing at Nazare (with Lucas Chumbo on the ski).