By Katherine LaGrave. Photos: Getty.
Turin, Italy-born Marta Imarisio first came to Senegal in 2008 to research the country as a new destination to offer Italian surfing clients. She had a one-way ticket, seven surfboards, and inspiration from The Endless Summer, a seminal 1966 film from Bruce Brown that follows Mike Hynson and Robert August on a surfing trip around the world. Dakar, in 1964, was the pair's first stop.
Yet unlike Hynson, August, Brown, and crew, who departed after catching some swells in 1964, Imarisio has stuck around, and in 2010, opened Malika Surf Camp with her husband Aziz Kane on sandy Yoff Beach, on the outskirts of Dakar. The company offers everything from 5'11 shortboards to 9' longboards; a ratio of four students to one instructor for adults, two students to one instructor for children; classes in English and French; a partnership with the lifeguard association at Yoff; and a boat ready to drop you on the world-class waves off the famed Ngor Island. Here, the seas are uncrowded, the water warm, and the breaks on the southern edge of the city known for their challenging curl. Traveler sat down with Imarisio to find out why the country—a direct flight away from the East Coast and the U.K., and one of the safest and most politically stable in the region—continues to be an unsung surfing hotspot.
Locals are friendly, and they are ready to share a wave with you.
What makes Dakar a perfect place to surf? First, its geographic position. As a peninsula, we catch swells from the north and south. There are at least 15 spots within 15 minutes of each other, all for different kinds of surfers—like easy reef or barrel, beach breaks and points. And during the week, there will only be about five people in the water. Locals are friendly, and they are ready to share a wave with you.
How has the surf scene changed in the past 10 years? More tourists, for sure, and surfers interested, also, in discovering the local way of life. Tourists are conscious of the quality of the waves in Africa, and they want to discover new places, new cultures. Also, more locals are surfing now, working in different surf schools or surf camps, like Quiksilver or Rip School, and more young locals have access to boards and wetsuits.
Where do you think the surf scene will be in the next 10 years? The surfing scene will maybe also grow outside the peninsula, as we have a few nice waves on the coast some 60 miles south of Dakar. We go surfing there, but not much is developed, though there is great potential. I also hope more local girls will surf. Right now, Khadjou Samba is the only local woman surfing and working in our surf camp as a surf teacher. She is a concrete example for women who want to build their own life.
How many days does it usually take one of your students to learn to surf? It depends on the skills and on the confidence in the water, but usually in five classes you'll be able to paddle and stand correctly on the board while riding your wave.
How different is surf etiquette in Senegal? Good question! Basically it depends on where you are. Secret Spot, for example, is well known because there are no rules. It's the spot where every wave is a party wave (taken by many surfers at the same time) and where nobody respects any kind of priority rule. But in other more intense spots like Ngor or Ouakam, priority rule is respected, because if you drop on somebody's wave, then it can be dangerous because of the rocks. The good thing is that the atmosphere in the water is relaxed, so you can always ask a local for a wave, and you can always be ready to give one to a student.
Where else can people rent boards and wetsuits? They can find boards in Secret Spot for 5,000 CFA ($8) an hour, or at the Quiksilver shop in Ngor.
Where are the best places to eat and drink after a day of surfing? Les Almadies, and at Estendera Vivier Beach.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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