When ESM Photo Editor Nathan Adams jetted off to Portugal this past March, he was hoping for clear skies, thumping waves, and favorable winds. But what awaited him was something else entirely. Luckily, though, there were plenty of aspects of Portugal that were pleasant surprises. And with a positive outlook and a little determination, Nate and the crew he traveled with — Central Florida surf coach CT Taylor and his gaggle of young up-and-comers, including Florida’s Luke Marks, Pete Polanski, and Robbie Merrell, North Carolina’s Knox Harris, and New Jersey’s PJ Raia — made the most of things and ended up having a great time. What follows is Nate’s firsthand account of exactly what went down…
We went to Portugal in the middle of March, and in March and April, you’re supposed to still get all the cold fronts that come off of the U.S., since that’s what generates most their swell there. All the swell models showed everything to be spot on, but the stars just didn’t align for us with weather and wind conditions and lighting. We just never really got any of the combinations right for waves. It was either the wrong tide, shitty weather for shooting, no swell, or too much swell from the wrong direction. When we were leaving, it was full on maxed out eight-foot gnarly victory-at-sea conditions. Nothing was working. We couldn’t get any of the slabs or pointbreaks, so we just surfed beachbreaks. There were all kinds of nooks and crannies and sick slabs, but even the locals were telling us that this was their worst winter in years. Normally, right around that time, it’s all offshore winds. But even the swell that came in after ours had the same thing happen to it: shitty conditions, bad winds, and just the wrong direction.
Everyone was edgy because we weren’t getting what we thought Portugal was going to produce for us. We got a lot of stormy weather, that’s for sure. It rained a bunch, and it was cold. I think it was 50-degree air and 50-degree water. It was the coldest water I’d ever been in. I’m not a fan of the cold, and having to throw on a 4/3mm with booties, gloves, and headgear was something outside of my realm for sure. We always brought hot water with us to make changing out of our wetsuits more bearable, because it was like changing in a refrigerator. Other than PJ, who was from New Jersey, a lot of the boys were shell-shocked by the temperature. Some of them were having a hard time finding themselves in all that neoprene, but they were still able to pull off a couple punts and some turns. Things definitely weren’t what we had hoped for, but we made the most of it, and every one of those guys worked hard.
We ended up going on the hunt for waves, so we were driving everywhere. Well, actually, I was driving everywhere, because the car was in my name. But we had a Mercedes van, so that was a plus. We went up to Peniche, but we didn’t have much luck there. We drove up there twice and didn’t even get out of the car to surf because it was just coming in from the wrong direction, so it was completely protected. We had one really windblown session, and I would have loved to have gotten a shot with that lighthouse in Peniche there in the background, but we were surfing the harshest conditions with hard offshore winds at 25 mph. This other session in Lisbon, I was getting ready to swim out, and the guys were all like, “No, don’t swim out, it completely sucks.” I still should have gone, because a couple of the guys surfed at least a few waves, so I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t get any water shots with the fort there in the background. But Knox did throw down a nice turn right in front of it on one of the only sets that came in, so at least I got a shot of that.
The good thing about driving around so much was that we saw lots of amazing hillside country towns in the midst of going from point A to point B. They have these giant windmills everywhere, and because it was springtime, the flowers were popping and the hillsides were lush and had a lot of vibrancy to them. But since I was driving, it was hard for me to get shots of it, and I didn’t want to pull over every five minutes, so I would just sort of throw my camera out the window real quick to try and get a shot every now and then. On the roads over there, it’s left to live, right to die, which is opposite from the states, so when you’re driving, you have to be pretty attentive to where you’re going, who’s pulling out of where, and all that fun stuff. There was actually a running joke on this trip about how many roundabouts we went through. There are not too many intersections in Portugal, mostly roundabouts, and I wish I had kept count of how many of them we went through, because it was probably in the hundreds. It was ridiculous.
There was a lot of joking going on throughout this trip because the guys were all around the same age. Pete was a little bit older, and Luke was the youngest, but besides that, they were all within a few years of each other. Everyone just got along, and I think they kept it lighthearted knowing that these were the conditions we had been dealt, and we had to make do. Everyone was playing jokes on each other, and a couple of times someone would drop a fart in the van and then, next thing you know, windows were going down. You know, typical guy stuff. The car rides were fun for sure. There were a couple of deep conversations that CT and I had with the guys. We tried to give them a little wisdom, because we were in the car for hours at times.
Any chance we had to stop for a while, these guys were always eating something. I tried to eat as much fish as possible, just because I knew Portugal was known for having really good seafood. There was this one place we went to where they barbecued the fish right outside the restaurant under this little overhang, so it wasn’t even in the actual kitchen. You pull up and it’s just right there. The place was billowing smoke, and it smelled really good. The lady who owned that restaurant spoke English, French, Portuguese, and a little bit of German, which was really impressive. Tiago Pires’ surf shop was pretty cool, too. There was a big skate park outside, and then the inside of it had a full bar. We didn’t have Internet at the house we were staying at, so we’d go to Tiago Pires’ shop because they had free WiFi. I would sit at the bar and drink Super Bock, which is their most popular beer, or eat açaí bowls while checking swell charts.
Other than CT, none of us had ever been to Portugal before, or even to Europe in general, so getting to see that culture and history was cool. We had one rainy down day, so we tried to be tourists. I think we paid about six euros to go into this castle, and we went into this cathedral within the confines. The rest of the castle was way up at the top of the mountain, and no one wanted to go up there because none of the guys had brought snacks and stuff. So our tour got kind of cut short, but it was still a cool experience.
We also went into this really crazy well while we were at the castle too. You walked down these steps and across dry stones behind a waterfall, and once you got past that, you were in this cave system up underneath the mountain. And then, when you got to the bottom of the well, you could actually walk all the way up a spiral staircase, or you could go back left and come out at another spot by this thing they called “The Fountain Of Abundance.” It was just this water fountain overflowing through a tiger’s mouth. I felt inclined to try some, and it was the best water I had ever tasted. The whole castle area was packed, though. There were people everywhere. Even in the little town you drive through to get to it, too.
Everybody in Portugal was really friendly. People were super helpful when we were looking for spots, and everyone was really cordial. We didn’t experience much negativity. And the whole time, we were just having a good time knowing that it only takes one photo and one session to make the whole trip. We had that optimism in terms of making the best of it. And we ended up finding this break near Ericeira where we surfed the most. When everything else is flat, this spot still picks everything up. And the wave was good, too. So there was finally this one session, toward the middle to tail end of the trip, where the lighting came together. The sun was setting in just the right spot and illuminating the waves perfectly. I felt good, like we had some solid content locked down, and that put us all at ease.
I was definitely stoked after that. I felt really good about what we had captured. And at the end of the trip, everyone was stoked. We were content after checking through photos at night after some of our sessions, and we were excited about the experience we had overall. Getting exposed to a really cool place other than the tropics was definitely something we’d each be amped to do again.