BLOG/ TRAVEL/ WINTER GET-AWAY
Surf Senegal, could this be the new Morocco?
Surfers, we’re all individualist, who all want the same!
We want perfect waves with few other people in the water. Warm water if possible, and the cost of living should be low. It should be not too far away from home, but far enough to see some cultural differences and to have an exotic touch to it.
No question, Morocco is a great choice. Not only because the winter swells produce long and perfect waves, but also because it is much warmer than Europe. And at the same time, the country has so much more to offer than just waves.
Morocco is no secret for surf travelling, not for a long time. And with the on-going surf trend, there are more and more people who go there. All the well know surf spots are crowded most of the time, and this might be one aspect why the vibe in the water has changed a lot over the last decade or so. Unfortunately not for the better.
But it’s the same as always… If you’re willing to go a step further than everyone else, you’ll still find waves far away from crowds and surfcamps. This can be in Morocco, or you look for an alternative.
Surfers, Raiders of the lost Ark, always looking for new waves, and new experiences. And even worldly, adventurous and open-minded as we like to see our self, we tend to look exactly where people before us have found.
If Africa is a treasure map for surfing, Dakar is under a big, red cross!
Senegal is one of the few West African countries, which are considered safe for a long time. Not all parts of Senegal, but at least Dakar and its surroundings. And this is where you want to be for waves and to surf Senegal. If you look at Africa’s treasure map of surfing, you’ll see that Dakar sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean like a finger. This gives it a 270 degrees swell window. And Dakar is easy to reach, with daily flights from different places in Europe. Thanks to this, we can focus on surfing, and don’t have to race a Rally from Paris first.
The North-facing coast of the city is kissed by the same swells that made the points in Morocco go off around two days earlier. The swells are usually a bit smaller by the time they get here, but even more organized. And with deep water around Dakar, a 2-3 foot swell produces usually head high waves or bigger.
And if there is anything coming from the South, or big enough to wrap around, you’ll have other places to surf, what makes it a year round surf destination. You can always surf Senegal.
During the European summer it gets not only ridiculously hot, but unfortunately electricity black outs are so common, that your hotel with Air-con is nice to have, but maybe useless when you need it most. If you can cope with that, you only have to care about the strong sun, as you’ll surf in boardshorts or bikini all the time.
But as we’re talking about a winter get-away, don’t be fooled about the temperature just because you’re in Africa. The Atlantic Ocean is cold in wintertime. Depending on how easily you get cold, bring a 3/2 or better 4/3. The days are comfortable warm, you’ll be fine with shorts and shirt most of the time, but a hoodie and a pair of jeans for the colder nights is not the worst idea.
The people here are friendly, helpful and hospital as it’s only seen in a few parts of our planet!
They’re always smiling, and no one cares much about where you’re from, or the colour of your skin. Of course, if you look like the super-tourist, while you walk around one of the local markets, people will try to sell you something. They try to sell something to who ever looks like he/ she needs something. But if you walk around like you’ve done it many times before, and act like it’s the most normal thing for you, no one will annoy you. I was positive surprised about how little hustling there was, and how relaxed I could move around everywhere. Doesn’t matter if in small alleys, at the barbers shop in the middle of the ghetto, or on the market. The most annoying place is the airport. But once you left that part of your trip behind you, it’s all relaxed and tranquil.
Your religion? Doesn’t matter! Your skin colour? No one cares! People are just people, and that’s it!
Hmmm… so what? Are you going to surf Senegal this winter, and not Morocco as always? Something different, and surfing without all the other people? And why exactly didn’t all those people discover Senegal as their alternative to Morocco?
Senegal is actually nothing new for traveling surfers, but rather well known since the 1960ties, and Bruce Brown’s “Endless Summer” movie.
The truth is: To surf senegal can be depressing. It can be a fickle bitch!
If you surf Senegal, you usually don’t surf over sand or rocks. You surf over sea urchins! Of course there are some rocks as well, but don’t worry about them. Most are covered in urchins.
But half as bad. The real bad thing is, you’re always really close to perfection! And if it’s not perfect, it’s often hardly surfable. Or at least not something you would have to travel so far for!
You check a surf spot, and it looks good, except there is still not enough water over the rocks. So you wait for the tide to fill in, and by the time you could surf it, the wind has changed! Or the angle of the swell is slightly wrong and nothing breaks.
Other awesome break here are super short, and work only on a certain tide, certain wind, and certain swell direction. If all this comes together, it can really be superb! But as the wave is so short, more than 5 people feel already crowded. Specially if they know the spot well, and all the locals do know it well…
And this is how it is with most breaks here. They can get really good. But if they are good while you’re there…?
If luck is on your side, to surf Senegal is a dream! It’s surfers paradise! You could surf Club Med, a barrelling righthander, that offers wide open faces as well, and is almost always uncrowded. Or Club Med sends you over the rocks! They are always close!
You could get the best barrel of your life in Ouakam, in front of one of the most unique and memorable beaches you’ve ever seen. Or you need a good friend, who pulls all the spikes of the urchins out your bum!
The waves here can be world class, CAN! But if they’re not, they can be nasty!
Can I surf Senegal somewhere friendly?
Sure you can. Just go to “Secrets”. This place is no secret anyways, and has always people in the water. But the locals and surf teachers made an urchin-free path over the rocks to get into the water. If you find that path on your way back, and if you don’t fall too close to the rocks, you’re fine. And believe me, it’s much easier and friendlier than it sounds.
And what’s about N’Gor?
If you want to surf Senegal, you’ll probably end up here anyways. N’Gor is one of the islands just off shore from Dakar. It’s where they surfed in “The Endless Summer”. N’Gor is a super relaxed island with a lot of artists and musicians living on, as well as a Surfcamp and an Army base. But don’t worry about that, but rather be happy. They sell cheap beer.
On one side of the island is N’Gor right. A reef that can cope with pretty much any North Atlantic swell. If you can do it likewise? Decide for your self. This waves is everyday different, and has a changing character like… (well, like the most character changing person you know! You can fill in his/her name here).
There is always a lot of water moving, and on big days, it can get heavy, and long hold-down are common. Sometimes it feels like there is just a lot of water pressed between the island and the main land, and not much to surf. But on it’s days, it’s what you dreamed of, what you came for! Always keep an eye on it, it can change within a few hours.
On the other side of the island is a lefthander that works with South swells. This happens usually during summer. But if this waves starts working in the middle of winter (and yes it does sometimes), your chances are good to surf it alone, as no one expects it to happen. A lot people who surf Senegal frequently agree, that N’Gor left, with its long open walls, and long, easy rides is one of the best or most fun waves this country has to offer. And surfing such a wave, in a city with more than 7 Million people all by your self, is quiet something!
So what would happen, if all the surfers who fly to Morocco every winter would decide to go to surf Senegal?
It would be a dilemma!
Many of the waves here don’t handle crowds well. It feels overcrowded much faster than somewhere else. Small take of spots and few peaks make it fun if it’s only you and your friends, but not with 20 others. And with all the factors that have to come together to make a wave show its potential, it’s often only a few waves (or just one) that works on that very morning. This makes you stand there and looking out, seeing “almost perfection”. Fighting with your self, if you should paddle out or better not. And this could happen more often than you wish!
So what to do this winter? Morocco and sharing every day perfect, long waves with countless others, or surf Senegal, where you might spend more time staring at the ocean than being in it!
Maybe luck is on your side, and you score every day of your trip different perfect waves, and it’s never crowded. Could happen, no doubt about it. Or you keep trying, but it somehow never really comes together. And once it finally does, everyone is so surf-starved, and the good vibe you heard so much about, is gone!
So what?! Is Senegal the new Morocco?
NO! It is not! Like the Philippines are not the new Indonesia, and Guatemala is not the new El Salvador. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have the best surf trip of your life in Guatemala or the Philippines, but the things are the way they are, and this is for a good reason.
Hmmm…So surf Senegal or Morocco this winter?
For this question, everyone has to find an individual answer. I’m sure there will be more and more people going to surf Senegal each year, but unlike Morocco, only few will come back every year after.
If your curiosity and your spirit of adventure have a voice to speak up, Senegal could be your trip of a lifetime. But if your surf-craziness and your craving for waves decides like a dictator over your trips, you’ll find yourself sitting in a rental car, and cruising somewhere between Safi and Sidi Ifni.
My personal surf Senegal experience
It’s already a few years since I flew to surf Senegal. I arrived with torn ligaments in my shoulder, and spent the first part of my trip taking pictures, and doing an incredible exciting and intense trip through the South of Senegal and the Gambia. From my first day on, I always had perfect waves in front of my camera, and it was not easy NOT to go surfing. But I decided for once, to listen to what de doctor said, and waited.
By the time I could hit the water again, my luck was gone, and the days with perfect waves were scarce. I had some incredible sessions, and waves worth leaving everything behind! But as I said, only few. You could be lucky, like the people who where there during the time I was only taking pictures, and who surfed perfect waves every single day. But you can’t control your luck (or only so far). But what you can control (maybe) is to come with enough time on your hands. To see this country, its culture and people, as well as its waves from there best side.
It was a really special trip for me, and I’m happy that it’s part of my memory. I’ve been laughing a lot, talking, learning and accepting. I’ve seen and experienced much, and as you can see from the pictures, your hopes of waves worth traveling for, are for a good reason.
What you’re going to do…up to you, and this is the beautiful thing about it.