Chasing perfection in Portugal with surf photographer Michal Pelka
Michal Pelka is a Dutch surf photographer with an eye for capturing powerhouse charging surf. Over recent years he has scoured coastal regions all over Europe hunting out charging sets. In 2018 his search took him to Siberia, a frozen land surrounded by even colder oceans. Moving into 2019, Michal had is eye cast over the weather maps looking for the best time to fly into Portugal and descend on the region of Ericeira. The long term forecast indicated some potential action for mid-January. Although forecast models for the region can be challenging to predict, Michal and Roy van Eijk were keen to take a shot. 4 days out from the swell peaking, flights were booked and surf photog Michal and his compadre Roy were en route.
This region offers up world-class surf along a coastline stretching out 8km. It is renowned among the surf community for its wide diversity of surf breaks. If you are looking for pointbreak, reefbreak and beachbreak action, this shoreline offers them all. Locals head for Ribeira de Ilhas for an early morning surf check before deciding upon which spot to choose. If there is any South East or South West wind, you should be in for some swell at one of the many waves. It’s worth noting, you need to look out for Sea Urchins and sharp rocks at certain spots. Finally, know your limits! A few lesser known areas come with hard-hitting waves, lots of water movement and if you’re inexperienced it can be easy to find yourself caught up in a bad situation.
Touchdown and rolling bombs
Michal arrived in Ericeira to earth-shattering swell. The forecast had gone from good to epic, and the lads had to sharpen their minds for what was going to be a monumental few days to remember. As the waves rolled through the crowds and surfers filled in from all over Europe. At first light, Michal was suited and geared up to take on a swell that was maxing out at 10-12 foot. Have you ever witnessed a wave of this size crashing against a cliff face? Fair to say, it’s an impressive sight and a powerful noise, it’s in these moments you can begin to understand the level of risk surfers and surf photogs are putting themselves in when they enter these chaotic waters.
Entering the world of big wave surf photography takes a bold set of Cojones (as the Spanish would say). The big days in the ocean are immense but fraught with difficulties. The volume of water moving, swirling and pulling you around is intense. Rips can swing you towards rocks, and whilst trying to capture the ideal shot you can take a clean-up wave on the head sending you into complete turmoil and sucking you under water. Michal managed to stay close to the line-up for 2 hours before his legs gave up. During what was described as a 2-hour swim marathon, he managed to capture these awe-inspiring shots.
The whole coastline was firing during this swell, so the guys were keen to explore some lesser-known waves. Surfer tip, Michal always recommends investing time and energy in creating a good connection with local shapers, surf shops and in general the surf community. You never know when it could help you score an invite to a secret spot! Luckily on this occasion, they had one such invite and what they found once there was dream-worthy. Peeling left and right-hand barrels, and the clarity of the water just blew your mind.
there’s more where that came from
It was a trip to remember! Thanks to Michal Pelka for these epic shots from the Portuguese coastline. You can see more of Michal’s images on his Instagram page @michalpelka.
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