When it comes to Nazare, there are only a few people on the planet who properly and intimately know that wave. It takes more than turning up for a few seasons to really get the nuance of the this juggernaut dialled in. It's not just 'hey it's big, let's surf'; there's so much more to the technical aspect and logistics and swell angles and storms, canyons, rescue, spotters and on and on.
It is perhaps one of surfing's most volatile mixes, a potent, ticking time bomb that can be more mountain than ocean at times. And isn't that what makes it all so compelling? Now, imagine growing up there. Imagine having Nazare as your local and learning all the intricacies that comes with it. Luis de Sa, aka Ben, from Above Media, is that legend. Not only born and raised at Nazare, he's surfed it a heck of a lot. But also, through that, has been scoping out angles to shoot that you may not have seen before.
Live cam: Nazare
Anyway, Ben's just released this high-octane, blood-pumping, heart-in-mouth show reel from his years capturing the chaos and glory of Nazare. We decided to check in with him to chat it all through.
Tell us a bit about this reel, it’s Nazare and some slabs around Portugal right – why did you think now is the right time to release it?
I'm very passionate about filming. Especially surfing and waves, even more if in heavy conditions. I also love to edit, and I'm taking my first steps into directing.
Answering your question, after so much time fighting to have the right conditions to film Nazaré from the water (to have the right equipment, a powerful jet ski, an experienced jet ski driver, a spotter in the cliff...) and especially, after so much time studying and developing my skill set... I'm finally happy and proud of my water footage. So I just decided to compile my best shots and show the world who I am, where I'm going and hopefully attract some good energy.
And tell us a bit about yourself, you grew up at Nazare, right? How long have you spent shooting out there?
I’m born and raised in Nazaré! Spent my childhood bodyboarding not only here but all over Portugal. I've always loved searching for heavy waves in Nazaré and the surrounding slabs.
Since I was a little kid, I used to collect footage from any and everyone that was filming. I also had a mini DV handy cam that I used to bring everywhere. But I didn't necessarily like to film at that time, I definitely preferred to be filmed riding waves. But one thing was for sure, I already had a vision and a vibe to share.
Still at that time I loved to save all the shots, organise and edit them. You can find on edits that I have done with 14 or 15 years old [laughs]. That's when it all started, around 2004.
But professionally, started in 2017, that was when I decided to dedicate myself to this art, started to make a living from it and got my first jobs.
And, I don’t think there’s much film that does the carnage of Nazare justice, but being right there, on the ski, is something different entirely. Talk us through how it feels out there?
Being out there is just crazy. It’s even hard to put it in words. It takes time until you get comfortable in front of those monsters. I remember the first tries, I was so worried about safety that I couldn't focus on camera settings.
Imagine having an 80 foot monster wave breaking in front of you, and then... get a good framing, right exposure, stabilise the shot, make sure the port is clean, and don't forget to press record.
I’m lucky to work with the best driver in the business and also my best friend Dino Carmo. We have created a great work relationship, we are both very focused and professional. I feel that both of us are getting better day by day.
Every time we go out we just do it better and safer. At the end of the day this is a team work, and I'm very thankful to have Dino with me, his wave reading and positioning is flawless. I also have to mention that we work with a spotter in the cliff just like a Tow in team.
Diogo is our spotter, another childhood friend with local knowledge, who have been helping us to dodge the giant peaks and position us right to shoot the best waves of the day.
And, you must have seen some heavy situations, what stands out as some of the gnarliest stuff you’ve witnessed?
Yes, for sure. When I think about it, the first memory that comes to my mind is Pedro Scooby’s wipeout in 2019. It was right in front of us, we were actually running away from that wave, because we were too much inside.
Scooby had a two wave hold down, and everyone was looking for him, Sebastian took him to the beach and we didn't know how he was. Luckily everything ended well, but it was a heavy moment.
And I think the dopest moment that I ever witnessed, was when Maya Gabeira grabbed a perfect barrel, a bomb, and we were watching from the perfect place, we got so pumped that we started screaming like crazy, she returned with two fingers in the air and got eaten alive by the spit. You actually can watch that moment in this video.
There are still some people who believe Nazare is a mushburger, not a real wave, what do you say about that?
I would tell them to watch this video. But I think that they are not totally wrong. Nazaré is a beach break, I would be lying to you if I said that every swell is pumping waves and barrels. That's not true. But there’s no break that is always pumping. And Nazaré is no different.
The thing is that Nazaré goes from 1 to 100 feet, you can catch all kind of waves, you get a Puerto lookalike, Pipeline, Indo or even just giant mushburguers. The eye sees it all, but the mind shows us what we want to see.
What is it about Nazare that is so compelling?
Nazaré it's paradise on earth. I love this place and I'm so proud of being a local. I think that what makes Nazaré so compelling is his variety of waves. Everything and anything can and does happen. And if you are looking for big waves, the consistency is something like you can't find anywhere else in the world.
Also, life is super chill here, people are very nice and it's a wonderful place to be. I think that's the main reason that makes everyone wanna come back.
Who, in your opinion after so long shooting, surfs the best out there?
There’s a lot of good surfers out there, but Lucas Chumbo just has a different approach to big wave surfing, it’s so satisfying to watch him ride Nazaré. KaI Lenny as well, of course. Every time the man is in town it's a show. Those two are definitely the ones that stand out, without detracting from everyone else.
And what’s your process – let’s say, there’s a big swell on the charts, are you calling around surfers to see who’s out?
Most of the times I don’t need to call anyone, when the charts look good I know who’s gonna be there. So the process goes from getting all the equipment ready (camera gear and jetski), and fight the anxiety that everyone feels before a big swell.
When we get to the line up its all smiles and good vibes.
How long will you be shooting in the water for?
I visualise myself as a fit old man still with a housing on my hands. A lifetime career of traveling to shoot the world's heaviest waves from the water. So the answer is, for a long long time.