Mami Wata Lover, Alan van Gysen is one of the world’s most celebrated surf photographers. From organising the intricacies of surf trip logistics to searching out and pioneering new waves, Alan has a unique eye on surfing in Africa. Here are his tips for African surf and surf culture in 2020.
“The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say 'Africa'. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.” - Ryszard Kapuscinski, from the introduction to his book The Shadow Of The Sun, 2001.
Being a surfer in Africa means being committed. It means braving the wilderness of a rich and diverse surf frontier, and being prepared for everything; the good, the bad, and the unexpected. Being a surfer in Africa means traversing great distances for a single wave, and never wanting to leave when you find it. It means forgetting about time, and simply losing yourself in her grasp. She calls the shots and only those with patience and perspective find what they seek.
There is something about surfing in Africa that just feels different to anywhere else in the world. Perhaps it’s as simple as the knowledge that it’s Africa. Maybe it’s the wilderness or the element of danger, the possibility of finding a world-class wave or feeling like you’re truly lost for a week or two, in this ever-shrinking social world. Perhaps it’s all these things and more. It’s a big continent, and there’s more diversity and variety than anywhere else on our small planet. I think it’s the freedom. The freedom we feel when we’re out in the vast expanse, the knowledge that anything can happen.
The following, are five things to watch out for in surfing in Africa in 2020…
LIGHTING THE OLYMPIC TORCH
With the highly anticipated inclusion of surfing in the Olympic Games for the first time in history in 2020 in Japan, opportunities through surfing - especially in Africa - will become a major talking point and a vehicle for inspiration and growth. Through the WSL (World Surf League) and ISA (International Surfing Association) surfers from developing surf nations like Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mozambique and beyond, will look to join already confirmed Olympic competitors Jordy Smith and Bianca Buitendag from South Africa and Ramzi Boukhiam from Morocco. You can expect more interest and involvement from African countries and their surfers through the WSL Qualifying Series and ISA sanctioned events, as well as investment from mainstream brands looking to both support and monetise surfing in Africa. If surfing could give surfers in Africa even a fraction of the opportunities that soccer and basketball have, it will make a big difference.
If the last decade has taught us anything in surfing, it’s that Africa is without a doubt the most exciting frontier of surf exploration. More world-class waves are being discovered in Africa every year than on any other continent on Earth. Think Skeleton Bay in Namibia; and there are thousands of unexplored kilometres of coastline still waiting to be investigated. Who knows what other idyllic rights and lefts have been wrapping around the continent for eons without us knowing? Some of these fall within areas of conflict, disease, political and social instability, but as we find a way to travel to and within these areas, with the help of experienced hosts, perhaps we will catch a glimpse of the next Jeffreys or Skeleton Bay in locations like Libya, Somalia and Guinea. Look out for at least one new surfing discovery in 2020 that will, once again, have everyone looking to Africa for their next real, surf adventure.
Our planet is in a state of catastrophic imbalance and devastation, and with this comes the very real possibility of catastrophic natural disasters. These are felt all the more by impoverished and underdeveloped countries in Africa. Scientists warn that these natural disasters will only increase in severity in the future. In March 2019, on a swell chase to Mozambique, I was caught up on the periphery of the worst tropical cyclone on record to hit Africa. Cyclone Idai, left Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in a state of emergency, with over 1300 people dead and many more missing. More than 90% of Mozambique's fourth-largest city, Beira was destroyed. We need to be prepared for more terrifying natural disasters in 2020. But if we love surfing in Africa, there are some positive actions we can take. Surf-related aid. In the wake of Cyclone Idai several surf aid organisations, like Groundswell Aid and Waves for Water quickly stepped in, surfer’s used their media profiles to assist and raise awareness and funds. As we surf and explore Africa’s outer edge, there is a responsibility for surfers to become more than just tourists and make an impact where we can.
Surf Therapy, remains one the most exciting movements in surfing, in Africa and the rest of the world. You can expect it’s impact and influence to grow in 2020! One can’t help but be moved and inspired by the work being done by organisations like the award-winning Waves for Change “Changing lives, one wave at a time,” for kids in the most at-risk communities in South Africa, Liberia, Somalia and Ghana, they are literally changing lives in Africa combining surfing with evidence-based mind/body therapy, providing child-friendly mental health services to the kids in under-resourced communities. Through access to safe spaces, caring mentors from their own communities, and a provision of weekly surf therapy sessions, they give children skills to cope with stress, create supportive role-models, build healing relationships and make positive life choices. Supporting some of Africa’s most exciting surf cultures in the process. As more people start to realise how therapeutic the ocean is, let’s get involved, contribute to these organisations and help improve African communities through surfing.
Africa is a place of natural wonders and untouched wilderness. As surfers who explore and enjoy these natural places, there is a responsibility on us to protect and preserve them. I mean, where would we be as surfers and ocean lovers without our waves. “Protect the waves you love,” is the motto Save the Waves an organisation dedicated to protecting pristine surfing environments through the awareness that quality surfing waves are environmental, social and financial resources. Working in partnership with local groups and communities like the Supertubes Surfing Foundation, the aim is to protect and preserve coastal ecosystems around the world, utilising a unique combination of protected areas, economic incentive and direct action. Look out for more amazing work by organisations like Save the Waves in 2020 especially in Africa as more travellers frequent the world-class waves around the continent.
Words: Alan van Gysen
Photographs: Alan van Gysen