It’s not hard to wake up for an early morning surf in Dakar; the rhythmic voices of the Imams calling out for morning prayer from the Mosques echo across the city at 5 AM daily. I like to rise early, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to those chanting pronouncements interrupting my slumber. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to surfing in a place like Dakar. Destitution combined with a starkly different religiously influenced culture creates a clear distinction between the locals and foreigners, and surfing here seems to only highlight that difference.
Passing by the World Food Programme building minutes away from the break is tough to swallow. As hard as I try to act normal there always seems something strange about walking down a sand filled road with flip-flops, shades, and a board in arm, past the vendors, the beggars, the honking taxis and the mule-drawn carts. But then when I get in the water and paddle out to a break filled with teenage fishermen finished with work for the day, ripping the waves like any local should, I feel much better about the situation.
The first time that I arrived in Dakar after a long stint of field work in the West African interior, I knew that there were waves to be found, but I didn’t think it would be so easy. I didn’t expect to find such a thriving surf culture. Even though Dakar surfing was put on the map through the exploits of the Endless Summer boys some forty-five years ago, the sense of insecurity and under-development in Senegal has largely kept surfers away. Yet this city seems to be inspired by the waves that endlessly crash into its shores, and today as it was in 1966, Dakar is a unique and special surf destination.
Greater Dakar represents continental Africa’s westernmost point, a massive peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic and thinning into a surfer’s paradise known as the Almadies. It is one of those magical surfing locations that allows one to be looking North at a choppy blown out ocean, only to drive 20 minutes around the stunning coastal highway to find perfect peeling waves with an offshore breeze in the South. This proximity to the ocean seems to have influenced the city in many ways, and signs of appreciation for the waves are numerous.
Senegal, like most West African countries, is moving along ever so slowly. Poverty, corruption, and general inefficiency seem to pervade the land. I work in international development, so perhaps to the chagrin of many surfers, I view increasingly crowded waves in a poverty stricken country like Senegal as a positive indicator of development. Yesterday I surfed a wave called Secret Spot, it had a little restaurant on the sandy beach right in front of where the waves were breaking perfectly over a shallow reef. The name of this wave seemed symbolic for all of Dakar surfing. As much as I’d like to keep it a secret, I know that the right thing to do is share the waves. So pack a board, a 3/2, and bring your adventure with you; Dakar will not disappoint.