Carve - The Sound of Senegal
As a lover of both African surf culture and music, Senegal has been on my radar for decades. So when the chance to help produce a West African project arose with Finisterre, I was in my element. I’ve cut my teeth exploring surf on this continent, starting in sweltering cities with an irresistible buzz, then mapping pointbreaks through the likes of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Kenya, Madagascar and beyond. Outside of the more established surf communities in Morocco and South Africa, the rewards are the charisma of the people, their resilience in the face of adversity, and the grassroots surf scenes that steward long and lonely pointbreaks with an infectious joie de vivre. These underground scenes excite me far more than the established surfing coastlines that have produced our world champions. Going down to the basement places and the cinder-glow they exert there are untold riches. But existence here can be challenging and confusing, nights hot and pungent like sulphur. The music follows the same tracks, right in your face, up close, hammering on the chest and ringing in the ears. But you always come back for more because the beat of these places is not just infectious but hypnotic. ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ ask the Clash. With an African rhythm, you are pinned.
It still blows me away that the opening three countries in Bruce Brown’s mid-1960s trailblazing The Endless Summer – Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria – have attracted so few surf travellers. Today these nations have vibrant local surf scenes. And West Africa has a rich, often overlooked, history of ocean savvy coastal culture. While we think of pre-colonial surfing as a Polynesian pursuit, look at the earliest European reports from West Africa from the 1600s, and you’ll find descriptions of locals ‘swimming like fish’ and riding prone with expertise on small pieces of wood and in canoes. In the most detailed account of early African wave riding in 1823, Englishman John Adams described kids in modern day Ghana on ‘pieces of broken canoes, which they launch, and paddle outside of the surf, when, watching a proper opportunity, they place their frail barks on the tops of high waves, which, in their progress to the shore, carry them along with great velocity.’ Perhaps under different economic opportunities following post-colonial independence, these coastlines could have already fostered our world surfing champions. Maybe they will in the future. Watch this space.