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Unlocked: 15 Minutes Of Ludicrous Waves You Really Wouldn’t Want To Take On The Head

Miguel Blanco stars in ‘Tropical Popsicle,’ exhibits an absence of fear.

Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Learn more about Stab Edit of the Year (including how to win a Bitcoin) here.

Miguel Blanco was one of the more measured participants on our recent Atlantic road trip from hell. He is a man who can willfully retain his shy smile despite living multiple days on nothing but Iberian ham. A man who, as you’ll see above, chooses his thoughtful words far more carefully than the waves he takes off underneath. 

Like so many of the surfers we adore, Miguel’s freedom to roam the world packing reefy orbs was carved from nearly a decade of sloppy waves and the oft demoralizing rigidity of the Qualifying Series. Miguel spent the years from 2012 to 2019 hacking it out with the masses of Q’ey hopefuls. Though he acknowledges that this time was important for his evolution, the above video shows in certain terms where he truly belongs.

Big and good. Photo by Fred Pompermayer.

Not a single thin lipline or forgiving section populates even a moment of the above SEOTY entry. Rather, Miguel takes us on a tour of Indonesia, Australia, Hawaii, Fiji, and Morocco’s least friendly portions of protruding reef. Not to mention, he does it all on boards built with Polyola blanks — a company creating a sustainable alternative to traditional polyurethane (which we did a deep dive on here.

Marking his shift to free surfing with a realized penchant for environmental activism, Miguel has spent the past few years balancing wave-hunting with beach cleanups, reef restoration, and kelp reforestation. A living manifestation of the oft overused sentiment “actions speak louder than words,” Miguel is a pleasure to chat with, and incredibly impressive to watch surf.

Familiarize yourself with our newest SEOTY entrant and recent Stab Highway contestant below.

In a jungle you probably can’t pronounce near waves you’ve never heard of.

Congrats on the entry Miguel! How did the clip come about?

Thanks! It started last year, when I was putting places on paper that I’ve always dreamed of going to. Coming from a competitive background I’m so used to surfing shitty waves for contests. I’ve finally decided to start traveling to good places when there’s actually waves coming [laughs]. It was kind of a no-plan-plan. I just wanted to score as much as possible. 

I’ve had Jaws in my mind for a long time, growing up and watching guys getting massive waves. A lot of my friends come from a big wave background too, so I wanted to go check it out. It was sick that everything connected. I’m still frothing on everything we were able to do filming this last year. It’s been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life — being able to see these amazing places and connect with amazing people on the way. It reminds me why I surf and love my life.

So that was your first time at Jaws? What was that process like?

I paddled out with my friend Torrey [Meister], he’s one of my biggest influences. I’ve always wanted to go check it out. It’s the best big wave in the world — a bright big blue barrel, with so much history behind it. It’s kinda like a fairytale, you know? There were a lot of moments that led to that happening. I wasn’t too sure if I’d end up going back to Hawaii since I finished competing, but Torrey invited me to stay with him and Albee. Next thing I knew, we were at the beach, watching massive waves. Jumping off the rocks was already gnarly, the wave was so far from shore. That shorebreak honestly scared me the most. The waves everyone got — Billy Kemper, Torrey, Albee, Othmane — they were some of the best big waves I’ve ever seen. It was an amazing new experience. 

It almost looks fun from this angle. Photo by Miguel Blanco

Sounds like it. We’ve had a few European entries for SEOTY this year — and we know the path for a European surfer isn’t always the same as someone from Australia or California. What do you feel the challenges of being a pro in Europe are?

It’s very different. I started doing regional comps and the Pro Juniors in Europe. It’s kinda the same everywhere when you’re younger, but then it changes when you’re older. I went to school my whole life. I remember talking to my parents about doing home-school and they were like “No way! You’re tripping.”

It was never really acceptable to be a surfer, they saw it as just spending the day smoking weed at the beach or whatever. Things are changing though, and I think we have such good waves in Europe that we’re becoming more of an integral part of the international surfing scene.

Coming up as a European, there’s way less support. You’re going into the unknown, especially compared to California and Australia, where many of the pros are 3rd or 4th generation surfers. My parents don’t surf, and there’s nothing surf related in my family. Two of my biggest influences are Nic Von Rupp and João Macedo. They made their own way, they’ve taken a different path than what everyone may have thought was right for them. 

Only we know what’s best for us. You’ve just gotta do your own tour and be grateful, because when things come together it’s all worth it.

8/10 tube face.

Any young talents to watch in Portugal?

For sure. There’s Francisca Veselko, who’s gonna be the next thing. Matias Canhoto is really good too. They’ll hopefully represent us internationally. There’s a lot of good surfers, but what’s becoming so apparent is the newfound importance of Portugal. We’re in a country where, 20 years ago, there was nothing going on. Now, in the past 5 years, we’ve had big wave comps in Nazare, CT events in Peniche, along with so many Pro Juniors and Challenger Series. There’s so much here in Ericeira, it’s becoming international. There’s big surf stores, and I leave the house and I see blondies everywhere man! [laughs] We’re getting more recognition for the wave quality, and for our surfers. Federico Morais has done well on the CT, and before him Tiago Pires. Even Vasco Ribiero put us on the map when he was World Junior champ. I think we’re in a good way, things are changing. 

What drew you toward the environmentally conscious boards by Polyola Blanks?

It started a couple years ago, as I was becoming more environmentally conscious and wanted to take action. I started doing small cleanups here in Portugal, and educating myself more. I started wondering what an eco-board would look like, and then I met the guys from Polyola. They were doing cool stuff with their boards and, even though it was early days, I started riding the boards and giving some feedback — next thing I knew I had a full Polyola quiver. I just love the fact that riding their blanks feels like an easy, sustainable decision. I like the look of them as well, so it was just a natural progression. 

Proof that just because something is sustainable doesn’t mean it needs the aesthetics of a Prius.

Tell us about your other environmental projects.

Here in Ericeira we’re always trying to make this place better and keep it special. We have an organization where we do community cleanups and try to have a positive impact on the environment. I’m also working with Sea Trees and Sustainable Surf, who are working on the Ecoboard project. Eventually, I’d love to start planting trees, coral reefs, and kelp. We’ve been doing some kelp reforestation at the outer reefs of Nazare lately, and I just want to find a way to continue to blend these goals with my path as a surfer. I want to be on my own tour. I’d love to surf Mavericks as well. I was in California a few weeks ago with Save The Waves, and it was an amazing experience. I could see myself spending time around there.

Is it hard to leave Portugal?

Oh yeah [laughs]. If you notice, most of these places I went to in this edit are good when it’s off-season in Portugal. Only Morocco and Hawaii are good at the same time. Morocco was an easy one, because it was stormy here when we went.

My favorite place on Earth is definitely home, hands down. We have insane waves, really good food, and really good people. You know what home feels like. I’m just grateful my home is in a World Surfing Reserve with four or five world-class waves. It’s never easy to leave.

Holding court with some tree-hugger heavyweights.

You seem like a person who’s interested in doing many things, being well rounded — you’ve surfed in heats on the CT, you surf waves like Jaws, you shoot film photography, you plant kelp, and ride environmentally constructed boards — how do you think this reflects your evolution as a surfer?

It’s funny. Sometimes I question myself, like “I’m tripping, what am I doing?” But you get down to why you’re doing it and it’s all just about having fun and being true to yourself. Contests were the first step, now I’m free surfing and riding eco-boards. In the end they all go along together, different moments have brought me to each of these opportunities and I’ve embraced them. I felt like the competitive lifestyle was super limited, very exhausting. Free-surfing has brought me the coolest experiences, and given me space to think for myself and feel what’s right and where I need to be.

I’m just excited for what’s next.

Look closely and you’ll see the Indonesian energy which so kindly embraces our hero.
Photo by Miguel Blanco

Learn more about Stab Edit of the Year (including how to win a Bitcoin) here.

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