Catching the perfect wave along Africa's coast

20:27, Jul 09 2013
BIG RIDE: Africa is brimming with untapped tourism potential - apart from the occasional foreign surfer there are small local surfing communities in Cameroon and Ghana and bigger ones in Senegal and Ivory Coast.

When three surf-mad South Africans set off in search of the perfect swell, they expected to run out of money and return to Cape Town after a few months.

But as they ventured into Namibia, then Angola, a project took shape -- to scour Africa's coast from the Cape of Good Hope to the Strait of Gibraltar for the best surf and spread the word on their site www.africansurfer.com.

One year on, with 18 countries under their belts and 32,000 km clocked up, they're approaching Tangier after an adventure that shattered their assumptions about a troubled continent.

From one pristine beach and friendly encounter to the next, they found an Africa brimming with untapped tourism potential.

"As South Africans, we are quite shocked at how little our people know about Africa," said economics graduate Tim Harris. "We are trying to bust the idea that Africa is not a good tourist destination."

They were surprised at how easy the journey was, with roads taking them most of the way except for a couple of places in Central Africa.

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Arriving in Gabon's Mayumba National Park, their 4x4 nicknamed Mzee Kobe (Swahili for 'The Old Tortoise') bogged down in mud for 30 hours before they could winch themselves out.

Border formalities sometimes slowed proceedings as they had resolved not to bribe any officials.

"One guy at the Mauritanian border got quite aggressive but it was nothing that can't be managed," said John "Lurker" Fleming. "We've had a remarkably corruption-free trip."

Aside from occasional foreign surfers they found small local surfing communities in Cameroon and Ghana and bigger ones in Senegal and Ivory Coast.

"There are some really talented surfers out there," said Mike "Stone" Sternberg. "It would be great to see more of the Senegalese on the international circuit."

With the thought of returning to jobs as chartered accountants too painful to consider, they're now looking at ways to combine their passion for surfing with making some money.

"If people realize it's possible to have a really safe holiday in most of Africa, you'll see a lot of entrepreneurs getting involved," said Tim. "Even the small amount of money we were spending made a big difference to people."

Pollution is a major hindrance to coastal tourism in Africa, they said, with otherwise picture-postcard beaches often covered in litter from nearby towns or passing ships.

Lifeguards were nowhere to be found, but they took warnings of dangerous currents in Ghana and Ivory Coast in their stride.

"Generally when ordinary people tell you a spot is very dangerous it means it's very good for surfing," said Fleming.

All along the coast to Senegal they found that the Antarctic swell aided the formation of hollow, well-formed waves with enough power to carry them through turns and maneuvers, while the North Atlantic provided more than enough wave action to keep them in the water.

And the final verdict?

"There are perfect waves in almost every country we visited up the west coast of Africa," said Sternberg. "But as with every spot in the world, it's a function of several variables coming together on the day to create good conditions."

Reuters