The Mediterranean Sea is often overlooked as a surfing area, but depending on the season and the location, the Med can produce some very good waves. While the Mediterranean can never compete straight up with the Pacific, Atlantic or Indian Oceans for size and quality of waves, it does have good surf in some locations. One of those obscure surfing locations is the north facing coastline of Algeria.
Beachbreak on the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea near Chetaibi in Annaba Province, Algeria
We planned carefully for this trip as at the time, it was not easy for foreigners to obtain a visa to enter Algeria for any reason. The rules stated photographing anything at all without a specific government permit was illegal.
Clean morning offshore conditions at the beachbreaks, with Erwan Simon (FRA)
As both Emiliano and Erwan had surfed winter waves in neighboring Tunisia, we decided to try to enter Algeria through the border crossing with Tunisia, as it would be much less busy than flying into the international airport in Algiers.
No one surfing at all on the Mediterranean coastline of Algeria
Before we started the border crossing, we distributed all the camera and video gear in various bags, so it would not be together in one bag only. The Immigration officer waved us into a garage for secondary inspection, where we all got out and stood by. No one said a word as the officer opened the back doors of the van and started looking around, taking his time, unzipping various bags and professionally inspecting the contents while asking Erwan questions in French.
The beachbreaks had good shape with the morning offshore wind, Sam Bleakley (UK)
Erwan isn't particularly interested in football, but like most Europeans, he does know something about it. Erwan noticed several football posters on the wall of the garage, mainly a giant poster of Zinedine Zidane, the French midfielder of Algerian descent, widely regarded as one of the finest players of his generation, wearing the famous Real Madrid "Los Blancos" white home kit.
Utilitarian apartment buildings in Annaba, Algeria
As Algeria had recently become one of only 24 national teams worldwide to qualify for the World Cup tournament; a major accomplishment, Erwan began chatting about the Fennecs, the Algerian national team and their chances in the tournament.
People and places on the Mediterranean coastline of Algeria
The officer was suitably distracted, growing animated in discussing the Fennecs, their players, the manager and their chances to advance out of their group in the World Cup. He was losing interest in our bags, well before any of the illicit camera gear was uncovered.
After a few minutes of football talk, he slammed the back door of the van shut, returned our passports and wished us a nice holiday in Algeria. We said “merci beaucoup”, wished good luck for the Fennecs in the Coupe du Monde tournament and wasted no time in leaving the border complex as quickly as possible.
Clean morning waves at the beachbreak with Emiliano Cataldi (ITA)
We had to hire (and pay) an accredited tour guide for our visit to Algeria as per the rules for foreign visitors, so we were able to meet our official guide outside the border complex. As foreign visitors were so rare in Algeria at this time, we were also met by a police escort of several vehicles, who turned on their sirens for the short distance to the hotel we had booked in Annaba.
A short and fun right point wave on the Mediterranean coastline of Algeria
Annaba is a coastal city, with a core of lovely old French buildings from the colonial period and clusters of ugly utilitarian modern flats. There is easy access to the coastline, so it was ideal for our purposes.
The Med can be one of the world's stormiest seas in early winter, as mariners for the past thousand years can testify - good for surfing, not so much fun on a boat laden with trade goods or grain.
We were able to access some current swell and wind charts using the hotel internet connection, slow but workable. With little swell on the horizon, we spent the next few days on intensive scouting of the area while taking notes.
The city of El Kala near Annaba had some great wave setups and no one surfing at all.
As both Emiliano and Erwan have considerable experience forecasting for the Mediterranean, their words were similar: "We need to know where to go now, so when we do get swell, we can go straight there. This is the Med, not the Pacific or Atlantic. Swells are short, usually less than 48 hours and very directional. We won't have time to drive around, looking for waves. If we do that, the swell will be gone by the time we find any!".
In two and a half hours of surfing at this wave in El Kala, we had less than ten minutes of sunshine - Tristan Jenkin from the UK taking full advantage
Sam Bleakley from the UK, a previous British Longboard Champion
Stormy days mean waves in the Mediterranean Sea. When (or if) the sun comes out, the lighting can be perfect
One of the locations we scouted was an obvious left point, at the base of jagged coastal mountains with only one road in and out. The first time we went there it was dead flat, no waves at all. We spent a couple of hours walking around, noting the best wind direction and what we thought would be the best swell direction. The Mediterranean doesn’t have tides like other oceans and seas, so there was no need to record the tide at all.
Inland from Annaba is the spectacular city of Constantine, known as the "City of Bridges" with numerous spans over the canyon of the Rhumel River.
This town sees few foreign visitors, especially in the winter, so several locals came out to talk. They said it was a popular scuba diving site in the summer for French people and other visitors, but no - they had never seen any surfers before.
The Perregaux Bridge, a pedestrian-only footbridge over the dizzying heights of the Rhumel River canyon.
Wandering the streets of Constantine, which sees only a fraction of the foreign visitors it could attract, with a looser visa policy
We asked "Do you ever see waves on the point?" They nodded vigorously, explaining in French that a few times each winter, the waves got so big from a Mistral storm they could not take their boats out to fish from the narrow harbor entrance. Great - merci beaucoup. Just what we wanted to hear.
A winter morning in the Mediterranean Sea, with a strong Mistral swell and a spectacular rainbow over the point
We spent a week or so surfing various beachbreaks and point waves in the Annaba and El Kala area before the nightly slow internet weather chart check showed a strong winter Mistral storm forming in two days.
The wind stayed offshore and the waves were in the overhead range all morning
The fetch was pointed straight at the border between Algeria and Tunisia, so if the forecast verifies, we on the coast of Algeria in North Africa should be on the receiving end of a significant Mediterranean winter swell. We made a plan to return to the left point we had scouted a week earlier and woke up very early for the one-hour drive on the narrow, twisting roads through the mountains.
Emiliano Cataldi (ITA) on one of the first waves ever ridden at the point.
After a quick breakfast of instant coffee and toast in the hotel kitchen, we loaded the van and set off. Several rain showers from the approaching front lashed the van as we drove in the cold predawn darkness, slowly and carefully on the winding mountain roads. The sky began to lighten and as we got closer to the point; the sun came out, nice and bright.
Erwan Simon (FRA) looking for the barrel section on the inside
As we rounded one of the many turns on the descent to the village, we saw it - long lines in the Mediterranean Sea, marching into the point where they broke cleanly through several sections with a morning offshore wind. We started shouting and screaming as our driver pulled over, watching a few sets break down the point that had been dead flat a week ago. An offshore rain shower moved in from the Mediterranean Sea and produced a stunning winter rainbow over the scene.
Emiliano Cataldi (ITA) on a very sizeable wave for the Mediterranean Sea, which isn't supposed to have any rideable waves at all
We found parking near the path to the beach and unloaded boards, wetsuits and camera gear as fast as possible. This was the best surf we had seen in Algeria, the conditions were perfect and there was not one minute to lose.
Tristan Jenkin from Cornwall in the UK, thinking he must be in the Atlantic ocean, not the Mediterranean Sea
We surfed the left for several hours, with sets in the overhead range and the wind staying offshore from the mountains behind the beach. Many of the locals came out to watch the point being ridden for the first time ever. This is a fishing village and these are people who know the Mediterranean Sea well, but they had never seen surfers before.
Erwan Simon (FRA) found the best section of the wave, hollow and fast with the morning offshore wind
The swell started to visibly drop off after lunch and true to the forecast and characteristic of the short swell events in the Mediterranean, the waves were all but gone the next day.
Text: © John Seaton Callahan/surfEXPLORE
Images © John Seaton Callahan/surfEXPLORE
Algeria, on the Mediterranean Sea. The French influence is everywhere, decades after the war for independence from France.
Waves this good don't happen very often anywhere and as Mediterranean swells typically last for less than 48 hours, you had better surf while you can