SEA CHANGE > How AFROSURF reset surfing!
“Simply put… The Story of surfing in Africa needed to be told.” - Selema Masekela, Mami Wata co-founder.
Riding waves is essentially a pointless activity, beyond the fact that it makes the rider of the wave feel good. Which ultimately becomes a very important thing to that surfer. And perhaps too, there is some enjoyment for the observer of the ride, especially if the surfer does it well (or very badly) and the ocean amplifies the drama with a display of its power.
Instagram confirms, surfing is an attention magnet. But while striking images of the ride defines the idea of surfing, getting into position to catch the wave is where the grunt work of surf culture happens.
And here there are many variables. The geography, the weather, the moods of the ocean, the benevolence of spirits and ancestors. Equipment, experience, fitness, approach, history and having the luxury of some free time to paddle into the sea and play, waiting for the right band of energy to pulse through the water, get shaped by the sea bed in such a way that it presents you with a wall of moving ocean to slide into and ride… This incredible profusion of happenings and opportunities culminating in a single moment, creates the possibility of surfing. It’s really just a very simple, complex thing that can engage you for the rest of your life.
So when people ask us, as they often do, does Africa have an original surf culture? It’s hard not to roll our eyes, because the question is literally too big. The book AFROSURF, in many ways, is our (first) attempt at an answer. 320 pages to explore the diversity of the surfing experience as it plays out in Africa. In no means is it even close to definitive. The culture of wave-riding across most of the continent, is still in the process of self-discovery, remembrance and realisation. But AFROSURF does offer a glimpse into the history, the culture and the lives of a group of people, whose context and experiences are over-looked or under reported, taking pleasure in an activity that often serves to define their relationship with themselves, their community and the environment. Surfing.
“No money. No time. No travel.” - Peet Pienaar, Mami Wata Creative Director
AFROSURF was inspired as a creative response to the great Covid pandemic of 2020. As a start up surf brand, with our base operations in South Africa, the Covid-related lockdowns fundamentally disrupted our business plan, shutting down retail spaces and all but halting our cash flow. We called on our angel investors and scrounged together a small stipend that would see us through the next 6 months. At the same time, we created a campaign called The Elbow Project, to support grass roots African surf entrepreneurs through sales in our online shop. Costs were cut, production halted, R&D paused… and in the space where it felt like the world had stopped turning, we started kicking around creative ideas that would push our brand forward.
The concept of a book that celebrates original African surf culture has been in our plans for some time, but in the under-resourced and highly pressurised start-up environment, we’ve never had the time, space, funds or opportunity to do it. The Covid pandemic gave us the nudge we needed and the space to execute. To raise funds, we naturally thought of Kickstarter, because, if you don’t remember, we’ve already had some good experiences with the platform successfully raising funds to build a surf club house for the Harper Sliders Surf Club in Harper, Liberia - with one of our surf therapy partners, Waves for Change.
Crowdfunding has become a massively important tool for Mami Wata. Kickstarter has allowed our brand to pitch, fund and execute big ideas that were way beyond our budget. Kickstarter campaigns also grow our audience and build a community of super-fans that help us to deliver on our brand promise of being a force for good in Africa. It’s a hugely powerful thing!
And then, we did not waste time. The untold story of African surfing is happening now and the world was sitting around in quarantine, primed for our original and uplifting stories. We needed to drop the hammer! So we committed to a totally unreasonable timeline and promised to get our 320 page “mindbomb” out in time for Christmas 2020.
We also decided that all the profit from the book should go to the African surf therapy organisations Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children, whose work will define the future of African surf culture. The hustle was on! We locked down the idea by June, then developed the Kickstarter campaign and started working on the book’s content simultaneously. By August 20th we launched on Kickstarter, 72 hours later we had reached our funding goal. By the end of the campaign we had 1 200 backers and were 300% funded.
AFROSURF’s time had come!
10 Speed, an imprint of the world’s biggest publisher, Penguin Random House rang our doorbell. All of a sudden we had a second hardcover edition, in the works, before we had even printed the first, promising a major pay day and a potential lasting annuity for Waves for Change and Surfers Not Streets.
Then we looked up and realised we had the AFROSURF equivalent of Mount Everest to climb. The surf scenes of 50 countries to consider and represent. Initially, we envisioned that our content creation process would involve small crews of trusted writers, photographers and storytellers travelling to, surfing with, absorbing and documenting the diverse surf scenes of Morocco, Senegal, Ghana, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, Madagascar, Somalia, Mozambique, Gabon and many more. But with the world on lockdown, international travel suspended and a very limited budget, AFROSURF was pulled together through strong connections and the power of modern communication technologies: email, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook. Although difficult and uncertain of the outcome, this limitation forced us to improvise and rely on a community of surfers, writers, photographers and creatives around the African continent who produced a far more plural and authentic account of the characters, environments and context that make up these individual expressions of surf culture.
Along the road, we revelled in the work of historian Kevin Dawson, who’s revisionist history shows that the first written record of surfing was documented in Ghana some 140 years before Captain Cook made his ill-fated voyage to Polynesia and the idea of surfing entered popular Western thought. Other essays consider the role of surf therapy, indigenous knowledge, representation and story-telling in driving the idea of surfing in Africa, beyond the hand-me-down narratives of Bondi, Malibu or Waikiki. And we flesh out our vision of Afrosurfonomics, the idea that waves are non-extractive economic, social and cultural resources and that surfing is a positive tool for development, offering a framework that enriches lives and supports environmentalism, with a treaty on how we believe the world should visit and surf in Africa.
One of the most striking aspects of AFROSURF is the original design. Mami Wata’s creative director Peet Pienaar has spent many years exploring original and contemporary design used in African popular culture like LP cover design, signage, posters, fabric and publications from Africa since the 1920’s. And yes, he is a bit of a rock star. “A lot of what is seen in the book has been influenced by design elements found in the featured surfer’s Facebook and Instagram photo albums.” Peet explains.
The first edition of AFROSURF was signed off and printed on 11 November 2020, just in time for most of our Kickstarter backers to receive it in time for Christmas, Covid-affected global courier systems willing.
The second edition hardcover edition of AFROSURF launches globally on 15 June 2021. And you can order it on Amazon, or (almost) anywhere else you buy your books.
“Perhaps most crucially, the book upends the received narrative that surfing originated solely in Hawaii and was later adopted by white Americans and Europeans, who spread it around the globe.” Phil Hoad, The Guardian.
Since the launch AFROSURF has received and enjoyed some incredible plaudits, coming in at Number 3 on Hypebeast’s Best Coffee Table Books list and featuring as a long-form review on The Guardian, Red Bulletin, It’s Nice That, Dazed, Huck, Another Mag and Jeune Afrique even called it “the bible of African surfing”.
Off White creator and Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Virgil Abloh said “The magic of AFROSURF lives in seeing our kind enjoy and be at one with nature then immortalized in print. It is beyond important that these exact stories are told for future generations of Black kids to imagine themselves anywhere doing anything.”
THE MONEY TALKS
“There are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree.” - Cameroonian Proverb.
All of AFROSURF’s financial success goes directly to two African surf therapy organisations, Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children, that are tangibly shaping African surf culture for the better, and continue to inspire us at Mami Wata.
Waves for Change (W4C) have used the first batch of funds from AFROSURF for their Wave Alliance, “a mentoring programme for start-up surfing communities along the African coast.” Explains W4C’s founding director, Tim Conibear. “The funds helped us to deliver surfing equipment to nascent surf communities and offer them training and mentoring, using surfing to promote mental health and community cohesion.”
Surfers Not Street Children (SNSC) have so far, used the funds generated by AFROSURF to support the social work component of their programme, that helps the kids behind the scenes, with a specific focus on their Girls Surf Too programme. “Our social workers and carers provide critical care and mentorship which can range from rescuing them from life threatening situations to supporting them in navigating their personal life scenarios.” Explains SNSC’s global CEO Tom Hewitt. “We are also thrilled to be featured in the groundbreaking book, AFROSURF, alongside so many of our dear friends around Africa. Surfing has had a ‘single narrative’ fed to the world by the surf industry and media in the past, and this book is a seminal publication that starts to redress that imbalance.”
The success of AFROSURF ensures that these incredible organisations have a global asset that funds their work for years to come. So by purchasing a copy of AFROSURF, you’re not just reading about a shift in the global narrative of surfing, you’re actively contributing to it!
Let’s go. Come with us.