By Sophie Sadler
As the horror of the wipe-out at Nazaré unfolded, onlookers scoured the sea for any sign of the surfer. Finally, they saw his lifeless body wash up in the surf.
Watching from the cliffs stood next to Alex’s girlfriend and family was film-maker Olaf Crato. He watched horrified as Alex was surrounded by the medical team while making a documentary about surfing.
To him, Alex embodied an ideal he had of a surfer who captured the sport in its purest form. As the medics surrounded the surfer’s lifeless body, Olaf switched off his camera.
“I was totally devastated, he had become a friend and to have continued filming would have been the type of sensationalist drama that I abhor.”
The journey to this point began for Olaf when he arrived in Lagos looking for a place to settle after a nomadic life. Born to German parents, he grew up in Hawaii before leaving to study in Europe. He has lived in Germany, then Austria and Italy for six years before embarking on a round-the-world year-long trip with his wife and two young boys.
“Hawaii had changed a lot since I grew up there and it wasn’t the place for me any longer. We tried Australia, but then we found the Algarve, which was closer to our European family. As a surfer, it was a perfect location with the advantages of having a west and south coast without the downsides of living on an island.”
Originally working as a marketing and strategy consultant, Olaf left most of his clients in fashion and sports behind when he decided to travel but fell back on a life-long passion: photography and film-making. “When I was young in Hawaii, I was injured and couldn’t be in the water so a local photographer took me on as his assistant and it became an interest and then a parallel career.” He now makes documentaries, clips and commercials mainly for online advertising through his company EMC (Emerald Media Creative). He believes the Algarve will become a Mecca for filming in the future due to the climate and light conditions. “People used to go to South Africa to shoot a commercial, now they are realising they have similar conditions right here in Europe.”
Coming from the birthplace of surfing, Olaf was uncomfortable with the way the sport had become so commercialised. His work in the Italian fashion industry showed him major brands jumping on the surfing bandwagon. He hit on the idea of wanting to make a film about surfing in its purest form. As a way of man inhabiting the ocean in an authentic way and feeling the connection to nature. He was discussing the idea with a friend who told him about Lagos-born big wave surfer Alex Botelho who epitomised this ethos. He made the call to Alex and the rest is written in the surf!
“I wanted to make a movie that showcased what surfing is really all about. Enjoying the ocean, with friends in a non-competitive way. I feel that Alex balances this act between being a professional surfer and loving the water.”
The documentary named Mar is a visual feast of surfing action, beautiful seascapes and interviews. He has shot over 500 hours of film showing Alex surfing, interviewing him and his family and friends and showcasing the Algarve and its unique connection to the power of the ocean.
Alex told me, “Olaf has captured in the film the essence of the sport by demonstrating an appreciation and respect for nature”.
The film premiered online just before Christmas – you can view it on the link at the end of the article. The soundtrack features some original songs from a local singer/songwriter Luis Do Vale who appeared on The Voice Portugal.
In the same way as his surfing muse, Olaf loves his artform so is not driven by commercial success but hopes the documentary will help people to understand what surfing should be all about.