Let’s sweep away the controversy from the outset: we will probably never know which country, which region of the world, is the real cradle of surfing. Hawaii, in Polynesia, has long been considered the place of origin. But the American history professor Kevin Dawson affirms that it is on the coast of present-day Ghana, in West Africa, that the discipline was described for the very first time, from the XVIIe century.
“Surfing has likely been practiced, in one form or another, for centuries by coastal communities all over the world”slice Andy Davis, co-founder of the surf label Mami Wata, at the origin of the reference work on the culture of board sports in Africa, Afrosurfingpublished in 2021. “What is certain is that Africa offers incomparable spots. There is a huge potential, still unexplored, and also an African surfing culture that is asserting itself according to a very personal paradigm.continues the South African. This is not some cool subculture promoted by brands and magazines. » But rather, he believes, a sport that young people appropriate through community initiatives promoting the well-being, development and even the emancipation of girls.
This observation is shared by the Senegalese Oumar Sèye, elected in April at the head of the African Surfing Confederation, a body created in 2017. According to this pioneer of the discipline, surfing can act as an engine of economic growth by encouraging the continent’s tourism development: “It worked in Hawaii, Fiji, Indonesia. Why not in Africa, where we are full of virgin beaches and where the weather is good almost all year round? »
On the world surfing scene, only three African nations – South Africa, Morocco and Senegal – today enjoy real notoriety. But the practice continues to spread, from Liberia to Mozambique via Ghana and Congo-Brazzaville. New competitions are emerging under the aegis of the confederation. Moreover, while surfing has long been perceived as a white sport, icons such as South African Mike February, the first black African to have participated in the world championships in 2018, or Senegalese Cherif Fall, inspire young people. followers across the continent.
However, not all the coastal countries of Africa will become new surfing strongholds overnight. Tourist infrastructures often remain embryonic there, sponsors are rare and equipment is beyond the reach of most budgets. The champions can still be counted on the fingers of one hand: only two Africans, Jordy Smith and Sarah Baum – both from South Africa – have qualified to participate in the Paris Olympics in 2024, where surfing now counts as an official discipline. “But we are going to train coaches and multiply competitions to professionalize ourselves. In this way, we will attract more and more brands and allow athletes to make a living from their sport without having to leave the continent.”wants to believe Oumar Seye.
Despite the obstacles, “Afrosurf” is already attracting global interest. Evidenced by the success of the anthology of the same name: launched thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, the book was finally published by the great British house Penguin Books and its reading warmly recommended by the New York Times. Mami Wata is now in talks with a major American audiovisual platform to make the collection a television series. “Surfing makes it possible to talk about Africa differently than what we are used to hearing on the major global news channels”points out Andy Davis.
The World Africa offers you a series of five reports to tell fragments of this story made up of experimentation, creativity and new ambitions.
Summary of our series “Surf, the new African wave”
Still confidential, the surf culture continues to gain followers across the continent. A new Olympic discipline, this sport can also be an instrument of economic and social emancipation on African coasts with enormous but largely untapped potential. The World Africa offers you five reports to tell the facets of this new African wave of surfing.