What everyone should know, if you don’t already, is that Africa is made up of 54 independent countries, and Africa is big - very big.
Much of western Europe, the United States and China can fit comfortably inside the boundaries of the African continent with India fitting in there also. That is a very big land area indeed.
Many large countries can fit easily inside the boundaries of the African continent
There are many different waves and surfing possibilities in Africa on two oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian; and one sea, the Mediterranean Sea that divides North Africa from Europe.
Also in this great continent are an impressive diversity of local cultures and climates, everything from winter snow in South Africa and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to dripping wet rainforest in Gabon and the arid deserts of southern Algeria.
10) SÃO TOMÉ AND PRÍNCIPE
Emerging from obscurity is the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, located on the equator in the Gulf of Guinea. The former Portuguese colony, which gained independence in 1975 after 500 years as a colony of Portugal is a tropical paradise with warm water, a variety of point, beach and reef breaks along with consistent swell from the south Atlantic Ocean.
Many beautiful old buildings in São Tomé from the Portuguese colonial period are slowly dissolving in the tropical climate
With good waves on the main island of São Tomé and the small island of Rolas off the southern tip along with an increasing number of visiting plus talented local surfers, São Tomé and Príncipe is one of the new nations of African surfing. With better air connections to Europe and mainland Africa, we are certain to see more accomplished local surfers coming out of São Tomé and the islands will see more visiting surfers.
Point Break waves at the easternmost point on São Tomé island at the Voice of America station
Randy Rarick, surfing in the tropical Atlantic Ocean in Porto Alegre
The former French colony of Gabon in central Africa is known for its oil and timber industries and more recently, for the efforts of the government to preserve tropical rainforest and wildlife habitat in the form of a series of large national parks.
Sand bottom left point waves in Mayumba, Gabon
Erwan Simon form France, surfing at Mayumba in southern Gabon
Several of those national parks are on the coast, where Gabon receives consistent swell from the south Atlantic Ocean and there are a number of quality point breaks and beachbreaks.
The area around Port Gentil, the home of Gabon’s petroleum industry, has perhaps the most local surfers with quality waves near Cap Lopez on the peninsula along with a significant number of expatriate French surfers in the capital of Libreville, many of whom work in the petroleum industry and travel regularly around the country to surf.
Crossing the river by ferry, from Mayumba back to mainland Gabon
Angola is one of the sleeping giants of African surfing, with a huge number of quality waves in the country and very few local surfers. Left points with swell from the south Atlantic Ocean are the Angolan specialty, with the waves at Cabo Ledo south of Luanda probably the best known and most popular surfing area in the country, but there are many more left points that go unsurfed elsewhere.
Randy Rarick, surfing with one of the local kids from Cabo Ledo
A long period of civil war, lasting from the departure of the Portuguese in 1975 to when a peace treaty was finally signed in 2002 severely stunted the growth of a visitor industry in Angola. Nothing like a shooting war, ongoing for decades to deter foreign visitors.
With millions from both oil and diamonds to fuel first the civil war and lately, to provide revenue for the overall economy, Angola has seen little need to develop a visitor industry. As far as anyone can tell, they make no official effort at all to attract visitors; surfing or otherwise, to visit the country.
A nice sight to see, after a long drive on a bumpy dirt track off the main road
Angola also sees few foreign visitors due to expensive and difficult requirements for a simple tourist visa, with many people evaluating the hassle and expense of visiting Angola and deciding to travel elsewhere.
A catholic chapel at the Museum of Slavery. Millions of Angolans were enslaved and exported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.
In recent decades Namibia has vaulted from a small local surfing scene of several hundred surfers to international fame because of one wave: the fabulous sandbar at Skeleton Bay.
The wave at Skeleton Bay did not exist fifty years ago, but thanks to a fortunate shift in alignment of millions of tons of sand from wind, swell and tides, it is now widely acknowledged to be one of the best waves in the world.
The wave at Skeleton Bay is a wonder of physics, with the incoming swell bending sharply to break on the shallow sandbar in a grinding left tube just slightly slower than a closeout, resulting in skilled surfers getting some of the longest tube rides ever recorded. Not a wave for amateurs, to surf well at Skeleton Bay requires a mix of sheer bravado and subtle skills as maneuvers are not required, only an ability to read the oncoming sections and stay under the sledgehammer lip of the wave, breaking on concrete-hard sand in shallow water next to the shoreline.
Namibia holds many other waves, most of them in extremely remote and inaccessible parts of the coastline and a good scene of local surfers, but there is no doubt Skeleton Bay is the best wave in the country and one of the best waves in the world, as long as the sand stays in place.
Aerial view of the waves at Skeleton Bay and the famous sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean. Image: surfholidays.com
Surfing in Mauritania is a relatively recent phenomenon, with surfers first venturing into the Nouadhibou Peninsula after the cease fire of 1991 in the war between Mauritania and Morocco.
When the shooting war stopped, surfers began to arrive on the peninsula to sample the series of right point waves including El Castelo, one of the best big wave points in Africa.
Erwan Simon, surfing at The Wharf in Nouakchott
The Nouadhibou Peninsula in colonial days, had once been divided equally between France and Spain, with a fence down the middle. After 1991, Mauritania pushed out the Moroccan Army and claimed the entire area. The fence was removed, but travel is still difficult as the entire peninsula is under the control of the Mauritanian Army and there are rumors of unexploded landmines planted in many areas during the fighting.
Woman on the street outside the offices of Air Mauritanie in Nouadhibou
Further south, the area around the capital city of Nouakchott has the most surfers in the country, mostly expatriates from France and South Africa who surf regularly at The Wharf, an excellent pier sandbar wave in town near the fish market that is offshore nearly every morning and highly consistent.
Morning waves with a shipwreck on the Nouadhibou Peninsula in Mauritania
With a shared border with South Africa, surfing in Mozambique arrived from the south with South African surfers. They discovered the long right point waves of their northern neighbor, starting with the waves at Ponta do Ouro in the 1970’s when the country was a colony of Portugal, just a few kilometers over the border from South Africa.
Local people cheering Taylor Claire Miller on one of the first waves ridden at this right point in Nampula Province
The long civil war after the departure of the Portuguese in 1975 lasted until a peace agreement was signed in 1992, forestalling any development in the tourism sector until well after the war was over.
Emiliano Cataldi and Taylor Claire Miller with local children on Angoche Island
Famous game parks like Gorongosa, that before the war, were some of the best in Africa and once had millions of free-roaming animals were now empty, as many of the animals had been shot for food during the fighting and the country was awash with weapons. Surfing was an afterthought, if it was thought about at all, as many locals struggled to survive in the now independent country of Mozambique.
Surfers gradually returned after the peace of 1992, moving north towards Maputo, with the Rip Curl people filming memorable scenes in Mozambique with Tom Curren and Frankie Oberholzer at the right point on Inhaça Island in front of the capital city.
Further north, there was a lively diving scene growing in and around the small town of Tofo Beach and surfers discovered the long right point at Tofinho just to the south of town. Tofinho has since become perhaps the most popular surfing area in Mozambique with many European beginners and intermediate surfers.
More waves have been discovered in recent years further north in the Ilha de Moçambique area and Angoche Island. Surfing in Mozambique continues to grow in popularity among locals and visiting foreign surfers alike, with the country joining international organizations like the International Surfing Association (ISA) and sending surfers to ISA sanctioned events and to nearby South Africa for training and development.
Emiliano Cataldi, Taylor Claire Miller and Marco Giorgi at a right point on Angoche Island in Mozambique
Senegal is a powerhouse of African surfing and has been for decades, with the great African city of Dakar having numerous quality waves as showcased in the classic surf film “The Endless Summer” in 1965.
While Robert August and Mike Hynson did not surf the best waves Dakar has to offer, some of the many surfers who have traveled to Dakar since have gotten very good waves indeed at Ngor Island and the many quality waves on the Dakar peninsula including Ouakam, one of the best reef waves in Africa with the famous mosque on the beach.
While surfing in Senegal has been a sport and lifestyle for local surfers and visitors for decades, it has very much been a Dakar phenomenon, with the southern portion of Senegal, including the restive Casamance region largely unexplored for surfing.
With more surfers from Senegal traveling outside the Dakar area and entering competitive events in Europe, we are sure to see the profile of surfing in Senegal rise further in the coming decades.
Ouakam in Senegal, one of the best waves in the country with the famous mosque in the foreground. Image: surfholidays.com
The huge island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is as large as the United Kingdom and has many unexplored regions for surfing. Madagascar is widely considered by many in the scientific community to be more like a continent than an island, such is its massive size and biological diversity.
Madagascar has thousands of endemic plants and animals which have thrived in the forests and savannahs on the tropical island, with a numerically significant human presence only a recent phenomenon in Madagascar.
Erwan Simon, checking out the local surfers and their boards in Mahambo, on the east coast of Madagascar
Surfers had arrived on the island by the 1970’s as there is a strong French presence in their former colony and many French people visit or are living in Madagascar today. Surfers went where the prevailing southeast wind was offshore, primarily around the coral reefs of the Toliara area in the southwest part of the island.
Erwan Simon and Randy Rarick, surfing a reef break at Mahambo on the east coast of Madagascar
Other areas of the huge island have also been explored for waves on the east and west coast and offshore island groups like the Barren Islands. The terrible roads in most of rural Madagascar limit where you can go by vehicle, with even capable 4x4 vehicles stopped by washed-out bridges, long stretches of impassable dirt track or no roads at all, so many waves in isolated areas of Madagascar have never been surfed by anyone.
The French war memorial in the quirky capital city of Antananarivo in Madagascar
2) MOROCCO (including Western Sahara)
The Kingdom of Morocco saw the first surfers in the 1960’s, probably bored servicemen at several United States Air Force facilities in the north of the country, who saw the consistent swell in the north Atlantic ocean from October to March and wasted no time in getting in the water.
Two surfers at sunset in Agadir on the coastline of Morocco
Many other surfers followed in the 1970’s, with the annual exodus from Europe to North Africa in the depths of the northern hemisphere winter becoming a ritual for thousands, who camped by the shoreline in the Agadir area and made Anchor Point the most popular wave in the country.
Long winter lines at Anchor Point in Agadir, the most popular wave in Morocco
In the decades since, Morocco has only grown in popularity with surfers worldwide, with the consistent conditions and the liberal visa policy being major factors in this popularity. Pre-pandemic, many nationalities including USA, EU, Australia, South Africa and Japan could receive a 30 day visa on arrival with no additional documentation or reservations necessary, making Morocco a very popular destination for “strike missions”, a kind of photo and video project in which a group of surfers and filmmakers jets into a destination at short notice, based on a favorable forecast.
Winter waves in Western Sahara, a desert territory currently occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco
1) SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa is by a considerable margin the most developed surfing country in Africa, having hosted world championships, dozens of top level professional events in Durban, East London, Cape Town and Jeffrey’s Bay and produced a professional surfing world champion in Shaun Tomson in 1977.
With quality waves on both coastlines of the country, the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warmer Indian Ocean, South Africa is often called the country with the most great waves and the fewest resident surfers.
Winter waves at Jeffrey's Bay in the Eastern Cape province, one of the world's best surfing locations
It wasn’t always this way, but after the change of government in 1993 to majority rule by the African National Congress, South Africa has become an increasingly difficult and dangerous place to live. The result has been a continuing wave of emigration with many white, educated English-speakers choosing to make their lives elsewhere.
With many former South Africans, from billionaire Elon Musk to musician Dave Matthews to actress Charlize Theron to famous surfers like Craig Anderson, Kieren Perrow and former world champion Martin Potter, who had a UK passport but spent his youth in Durban, making waves in other countries, South Africa has specialised in exporting talent in recent decades, leaving the country much worse off for those who remain.
Sandbar waves at the piers in Durban, on the warm Indian Ocean side of South Africa
While the waves remain, from the warm-water pier sandbars of the Golden Mile in Durban to the long walls of Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape, the future of South African surfing is in the hands of young indigenous surfers like Michael February, as the traditional white surfing demographic will continue to shrink in the coming decades.
Morning waves at Jeffrey's Bay in Eastern Cape Province
Text: John Seaton Callahan
Images: John Seaton Callahan, unless otherwise credited