There's no one who can capture the carnage and chaos of XXL Nazare like Helio Antonio. This legend's been shooting there for every major swell that darkened the doors of the world's biggest wave and knows all the nuance of that big ol' juggernaut like no one else.
When the first swell of the season came in a few weeks back from Hurricane Sam, it wasn't really Nazare worthy. Sure, there were a few bombs ridden – more of a training session, if you like, but Helio instead travelled to Portugal's south coast, staying in Lagos and exploring the Algarve.
We decided to check in with the lensman about scoring in that wave-rich region. All shots by Helio!
What brought you to that area of Portugal?
Me and my girlfriend wanted some days away from home and we love going there and spending time with friends. Waves weren't a priority at all but the forecast looked interesting which was a plus.
Usually, you’re our go to lensman for Nazare! How is shooting around Lagos and Sagres compared to colossal peaks?
Honestly, I felt much more relaxed [laughs]. When shooting Nazare there's always a bit of pressure for not missing the big ones. You don't want to get to the end of the session and realise you didn't photograph what was the biggest wave of the day or even the season.
The approach on this trip was completely different. I only used one lens, an 85mm, and even though it's a fixed focal length, I always feel liberated and creative
Also, walking around for twelve hours, among thousands of people, carrying heavy equipment and then going home and sitting at the computer for a couple more hours to organise and deliver the images always feels like you were hit by a train.
The approach on this trip was completely different. I only used one lens, an 85mm, and even though it's a fixed focal length, I always feel liberated and creative.
And this was all during that swell that hit most of Europe, how was it down there?
I've been on the south coast many times, but it was always flat so this time was pretty cool to drive along and watch how it breaks even though it was only 2-3ft. On the west coast it was bigger and waves had much more power. Definitely not for beginners.
We understand there was a smaller wave at Nazare, do you think people only pay attention when it gets to like, the 80ft mark?
If we're talking about the hardcore, big wave tow-in surfers then yes. A lot of them will only travel to Nazare when it's looking heavy. But it's a snowball, if enough people and media talk about an incoming swell then surely the cliffs and the water will be packed.
I think there’s something to be said about chasing swells to different places, it can be a reef you’ve never surfed, a beachie you’ve yet to get barrelled at, chasing a swell can be anything you want it to be. What does chasing a swell mean to you?
I think it's my favourite thing to do and I've set it as a goal in my life, for as long as I'm able to. I still feel the same rush I did when I started chasing waves 25-years-ago.
Nowadays, being a photographer, I feel this urge to shoot different waves with different landscapes, colours, light... The world is huge and it's a never ending task. I believe it's part of human nature to never feel satisfied and to yearn for more so we're constantly looking for new and exciting places to go.
Good thing about being in the Algarve is, you can scoot to the south or west coast pretty easy - plenty of bodyboard waves around that way too. What’s the vibe like in the water?
Yes you can drive the two coasts in a short amount of time so it makes it easier to check spots. There's a couple wedge waves which became the playground for the local bodyboarding community.
They're some of the best bodyboarders in the country, Joana Schenker is a former world and European champion and current national champion, Francisco Pinheiro, Bajolo, Ivo Mochacho the brothers João and Gonçalo Pinheiro (just to name a few), they're all amazing and very experienced athletes.
The vibe in the water can get tense, like any other place where people go and don't demonstrate surf etiquette. When you watch your home spot get invaded by people who don't respect the basic rules of surfing it's normal to get upset. Also, there's too many beginners surfing places quite above their level and putting their safety and others at risk.
That... is fair enough! And speaking about Nazare, there could be a pulse on the way soon, like we say, HERE.