The first big autumn Swell in Portugal - or the day I had to overcome fear

The water is my element. From frozen to wet, from fresh to salty, I like every chemical state of it. And as in every good relationship in some days love is darkened by fear, trouble, and hate, while on other days your feeling towards a beloved partner is uplifted by feelings of joy, inner peace, and happiness. This day I felt everything. 


The forecast for this day was perfect since a long flat summer period of surfing. The swell was hitting from West, with 16-18 seconds period and with an average predicted wave size of 6-8 feet, height increasing during the day. Also, the wind was said to be really calm. All in all a perfect day for every surfer. 


So everyone who had time and the skills were in the water. I was ready for this day as well. Flippers and wetsuit in the trunk of the car, batteries of my camera loaded and a cleaned and cold-blown water-housing. I was more than ready. 

As we arrived in Buarcos, Figueira da Foz, the said to be the longest right-hander of Europe nobody of us was disappointed. Big waves in a clean set-up. The only bad thing was the weather. It was moody, the clouds hung deep over the horizon and the water shade was a dark green-blue-gray. 




I swam out while my friends were already in the lineup. When I was on my way out I already had time to shot, only to get washed away by the first bigger set. Buarcos is hard to get out. You have to paddle around 200-300m to the outside to get to the peak. The heavier the swell, the harder the way.  I thought I was prepared for this kind of wave, had thoughts of `just dive under it`. Well, it worked but I forgot the pull of waves of this size.  I got sucked in front of the peak and the waves didn´t stop. I didn´t know what to feel except the urge to get away from this `danger` as soon as possible. I was near the first panic attack. Wanted to get out, just back to the beach to safe ground. No water. 


But somehow I overcame it. No fear, just fun to be out there. I made it through the never ending white wash and somehow I forgot how hard it felt in the beginning. At the outside, my friends looked at me with fascination and those who didn´t know that I planned to go swimming in there that day, looked at me like they have never seen me before. Yes, for them I must have been crazy. 


My view  between two set-waves



The waves were rolling in, while I was hanging in the water near the impact zone, I could watch the others, see them having fun. Their actions and feelings visible in their faces are an always returning pattern. When they see a set rolling in they are like a group of seals in their wet rubber suits, paddling out to get the best place to get the wave. While they paddle into the wave, their faces show a mix between concentration, fear or admiration which is finally turning to pride when the board starts to glide with the wave. The concentration is still there and sometimes they laugh in joy. When they paddle back into the line-up, they seem confident and happy. And I am happy with them. Happy to be able to get them moving.  It´s a strange agreement between a surfer and a water-photographer (to-be): There is kind of a still understanding between both of them giving the best. The best trick against the best possible angle for a picture of this moment. Both parties care for each other. The surfer tries to do the most radical trick just around 50cm next to the head, hands, and lens of the photographer, who is simultaneously trying not to be in the way of the surfer. It´s like a dance. 

As beautiful and even peaceful it can be to be in bigger waves, as dangerous and exhausting it is as well. All those pictures show the easy side, the fun side of my hobby. The moments of waves turning into art, because they stand still and seem graceful. And yes I really like it. But there is much more behind this day.  To get a nice picture of a surfer on a wave you have to sit in front of the peak. Only then you can ban his actions on film. But that means you have to dive a lot. 15, 20 waves when there are two big sets rolling in. Dark, menacing walls of water are rising in front of you. And that is the moment you are not allowed to feel fear. You have to feel respect for this liquid wall, that could crush and drown you. But first of all, you have to keep calm. Get into a routine of breathing, waiting for the perfect moment, diving deep under the wave, waiting till the undertow of the wave is gone, breaking to the surface and breathing in again.


I would lie if it was this easy for me. I was a competitive swimmer more than half of my life, I am at home in the water, I am not afraid of the ocean, nor the animals in it. But this day, this waves tested me and I nearly failed. The last picture above this text shows the last big set, the last picture I took. It came out of the nowhere, no signs. I already got two normal sized sets on my head and then this 12 feet monster rolled in. And I just saw the lips crushing down. I knew that I would never make it out far enough to get out of the impact zone. My biggest fear of surfing are those heavy lips of bigger and steeper waves. In this moments I panicked a bit. I made it through two of these monsters. Tumbling, shaking and trying not to get lost under this waves. I got sucked directly in front of the peak. No chance to paddle away. I was stuck in the bubbly, foamy sucking impact zone. Stuck in my upcoming fear and panic. Yoyo tried to help me while I was sobbing, feeling helpless. I didn´t breathe properly, I had no air for a clear mind. I panicked that I would drown there. 


Luckily the human body is nothing against a wave and its strong pull. So while I was screaming, swimming, fighting against my fear and panic, I get washed nearer to the beach onto the next obstacle. Buarcos is a point-break, the beach is a long section of long reef-tongues with sand bays in between. Mid-tide I could stand knee to hip- deep on the rocks while the waves smashed my ankles against the rocks. Beach was near and oh so far. I was in pain and full of fear of drowning because I saw no chance of getting away.  My boyfriend insulted me of stupidity, and I got angry. And then the clear mind and the willpower to get out of this came back. So thank you Yoyo, also when I said I would never get into the water with you again. We swam away from the rocks, a little bit to the outside and then found a safe way back to the beach. 


To be honest, if I would have known that all this happened to me, I wouldn´t have get into the water that day. I prefer to be safe than sorry. But I did. So I had no chance to elude the situation. All those small little situations had to appear, and I somehow managed them. I didn´t drown, I didn´t get hurt badly, I didn´t lose my camera. I didn´t get out of this situation with glory or pride. I was a whiny little girl, shaking of adrenaline. But I made it, it was my baptism of salty water and I will do it again. Because now I know what can happen, now I am prepared to get into more of this risky situations. That day I just lost a little bit of my naivety. 

Kommentar schreiben

Kommentare: 1
  • #1

    Nina (Freitag, 15 September 2017 13:12)

    I love reading your blog, just a friendly tip :) there's websites like where you can just copy paste your text to find grammar mistakes (it's free).