Surfing seems to encompass many of life’s most important feelings and states; you can find yourself being thrashed around, not quite sure where you’ll end up, or on the crest of a wave, perfectly in-sync with the sea. Then there is the downtime of waiting, almost meditatively, for the next wave to come. A delicate balancing act in which you can feel elated or defeated from one fleeting moment to the next.
One of the most surprising things I found when I moved to Dakar was that there was an active local surfing community – local, foreign, male, female, young and old – regularly out riding the crashing waves of the Atlantic, which hugs the city on all sides.
I have friends who’ve become devotees of the sport, coming back from their mornings or afternoons at the beach sandy, sun-kissed and thoroughly blissed-out at having spent a couple of hours being tossed around by the sea. This made me curious to discover more about this unlikely community, and how the sport has come to find a home in Senegal.
Jesper Mouritzen has done much to put Senegal on the map as one of the world’s most unique surfing destinations. Jesper, originally from Denmark, first came here on a trip with some friends in 2006. He fell in love with the country, and the surfer’s ‘holy trinity’ of warm water, consistent waves and empty line-ups.
Seven years ago he came back and opened a surf camp on the tiny Island of Ngor, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. I spoke with him about what makes surfing in Senegal special, and about life on Ngor, which only has 25 full-time residents.
“I guess the biggest difference here is the local surfers” says Jesper. “They’re open, welcoming and very friendly to foreigners. This can be the dark side of surfing in most places; an aggressive local surf scene trying to scare tourists away so they can have the waves to themselves. The thing that’s most positive about surfing in Senegal are the amazing locals giving everyone a good experience. ”
Another distinctive feature about surfing here is that the waves come in from the North Atlantic swell in winter, and the South Atlantic swell in the summer, making Senegal one of the only year-round surfing destinations in the world.
Ngor Island, five minutes by Pirogue from Dakar’s mainland, is home to Senegal’s most famous wave, Ngor Right, which was featured in the classic 1960’s surf movie The Endless Summer.
There are no cars on the Island, just some beach restaurants, narrow cobbled streets, sandy pathways and, at almost every turn, stunning views back to the mainland.
The air is clean and pollution free, everything runs on solar power, and the waters are some of the cleanest you’ll find in Dakar. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the ideal place to unwind after a long day out in the surf.
Despite the welcoming locals and consistent, high-quality waves, Senegal remains an up-and-coming surf destination, rather than an established one. This is due in large part, explains Jesper, to preconceptions and unfounded fears about travelling in Africa.
But as evidenced by the high return visitor rate at Jesper’s surf camp, those who do make it here are quick to fall in love with the laidback lifestyle of Ngor Island, and the magic of a never-ending surf season in this off-the-beaten-track surfer’s paradise.
To find out more about Ngor Island Surf Camp see their website here.
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