There is more to Olympic surfing than meets the eye. Behind the worldwide broadcast, newfound superstars, and millions of dollars in funding, an African surf development program flew under the radar in Senegal. It didn’t receive the attention of the medals awarded at Tokyo 2020, but it’s all part of wide-reaching reverberations of surfing’s Olympic inclusion.
In April of this year, the International Surfing Association (ISA) – surfing’s Olympic governing body – gathered 10 coaches and 20 youth surfers (11 boys and nine girls) in Dakar, Senegal. The participants were nominated by the National Olympic Committees from 10 African nations to attend a development program to develop skills for athletes and coaches.
The program was part of the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity initiative, which is funding set aside to develop Olympic sports in countries lacking resources and opportunity.
“Not every country has the opportunity to fly and travel,” said Senegal’s Oumar Seye, one of the program experts and president of the newly-founded African Surfing Confederation. “It’s important for these kids from different parts of Africa to exchange culture and surfing with other African surfers and understand that it’s possible to make it as a surfer in Africa.”
After the ISA’s first continental Olympic Solidarity program was held in El Salvador last year, this year’s program in Senegal gathered promising young athletes, coaches, and pro-surfers in Dakar to create a foundation for the continent’s next generation. The program set out to build technical skills through surfing and coaching as well as holistic longterm athlete development. The training was designed for both athletes and coaches.
The criteria set out by Olympic Solidarity allowed for countries that had less than 50 representatives at the Tokyo 2020 Games to be eligible. The 10 countries selected to participate were Angola, Cape Verde, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Liberia, and São Tome and Principe, along with the host, Senegal.
The program was led by ISA experts Tasha Mentasti of South Africa and Oumar Seye of Senegal, aided by African professional athlete ambassadors Natasha van Greunen, Joshe Faulkner, and Cherif Fall. Olympians Ramzi Boukhiam and Bianca Buitendag also participated virtually to do Q&A sessions with the athletes.
“The program was amazing and an incredible opportunity for up and coming kids from Africa,” said Faulkner, a South African surfer who represented his country’s national junior team on multiple occasions. “A lot of the kids have never been outside their country or surfed with guys like me and Cherif. It was a really good opportunity to give back and show them what they can reach one day.”
The program content included mentor sessions, heat drills, functional movement sessions, lessons on judging criteria, breath work, athlete profiling and physical fitness, and video analysis.
The selection of Senegal as the venue for the program was certainly not random. The 2026 Youth Olympic Games – the first edition to include surfing – will be held in Dakar. Senegal is becoming a hub for sport in Africa and a hotspot for surfing, boasting quality waves and young surfing talent.
This could be the start of blossoming surf programs all around Africa.
“We recently recognized the African Surfing Confederation as an ISA recognized Continental Association and will continue to work with them and our National Federations in Africa to develop the sport,” said an ISA spokesperson. “We are hoping to see greater participation from African nations in ISA World Championships over the coming years.”
Now that the Americas and Africa have completed their Olympic Solidarity programs, the ISA aims to target Asia and Oceania in 2024, the year of surfing’s second Olympic showing at Paris 2024.