Surf schools fi­nally mak­ing waves in Sene­gal


A half cen­tury af­ter its waves were show­cased in the sem­i­nal surf­ing film “The End­less Sum­mer,” Dakar is be­com­ing an es­sen­tial stop for globe-trot­ting board­ers look­ing for the per­fect ride.

The doc­u­men­tary, first re­leased in 1964 and cred­ited with spark­ing world­wide in­ter­est in the sport, fol­lows two Cal­i­for­ni­ans as they search the planet for the best sum­mer surf­ing — start­ing in the Sene­galese cap­i­tal.

But it was decades be­fore lo­cals started notic­ing the city’s now pop­u­lar surf spots, in­clud­ing the long, pow­er­ful Ngor Right wave fea­tured in U.S. di­rec­tor Bruce Brown’s movie.

“When I started surf­ing, there were just two Sene­galese who prac­ticed with quite a few ex­pa­tri­ates,” says 37-year-old Sene­galese pro­surfer Ou­mar Seye, eyes pink from the sea wa­ter.

“There was no club, no fed­er­a­tion ... We would watch the tourists surf­ing, and that’s what gave us the de­sire.”

Seye is a na­tive of Ngor, a fish­ing com­mu­nity which, along with Yoff and Ouakam, is the home of Sene­gal’s eth­nic Le­bou com­mu­nity.

When he was lit­tle, he would help an un­cle selling sand­wiches and drinks on the beach.

“It was the place where all the surfers met ... When­ever I had the chance to go into the wa­ter, I would surf. That’s how I learned,” says Seye, who rode his first wave at age 13.

One of the pioneers of the sport in a coun­try with 700 kilo­me­ters (435 miles) of coast­line and 13.5 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants, Seye to­day takes part in shows and com­pe­ti­tions, which he also or­ga­nizes, drum­ming up spon­sor­ship to pur­sue his pas­sion.

“I am the first black surfer to get a pro con­tract,” says Seye, who has founded a surf school of “43 mem­bers aged from three to 64” and a shop selling fa­mous brands in surf cloth­ing and equip­ment.

‘More speed’

Nine-year-old Ben­jamin Vercam­men, one of Seye’s stu­dents, has been surf­ing for a year with his brother Alexan­dre, one year his ju­nior and barely big­ger than his board.

Rid­ing the waves pre­vents him from be­ing “locked up at home”, Ben­jamin says, shiv­er­ing with cold af­ter emerg­ing from the wa­ter.

Franco- Cameroo­nian Noura Di­wouka, aged 15 and a surfer of three years, is among the most ex­pe­ri­enced in the wa­ter.

In the sport, there is “more feel­ing, more speed,” she says, but she has no in­ten­tion of go­ing pro, in­sist­ing that “it’s just for fun.”

Aymeric Senghor re­calls first en­coun­ter­ing board sports 20 years ago on a trip to the beach in Be­lAir, a rocky plateau jut­ting into the bay on Dakar’s east coast.

There he fell in love with body­board­ing, in which the surfer rides a short, rec­tan­gu­lar piece of foam on the face or curl of the wave, usu­ally ly­ing down and pro­pelled by flip­pers.

The thin and sharp- wit­ted 35-year-old also has a school and his own com­pe­ti­tion, whose sec­ond edi­tion was held in May at the Al­madies penin­sula, a 10-kilo­me­ter (six-mile) stretch of coast­line with 15 pop­u­lar surf breaks.

Body­board­ing, quicker to pick up than surf­ing, is hugely pop­u­lar but could “de­velop bet­ter” with more sup­port, says Senghor, sud­denly dis­tracted by the cries of a crowd watch­ing a com­peti­tor pow­ered by a strong wave.

Yan Da­gas­san, of the Sene­gal Surf­ing Fed­er­a­tion, tells AFP that while surf­ing has its ori­gins in Poly­ne­sia, Dakarites have long prac­ticed one of its cousins, stand-up pad­dle­board­ing.

‘Surf­ing about to ex­plode’

“The peo­ple of Ngor have been do­ing it since time im­memo­rial on old boards and with dug-out ca­noe pad­dles,” he says.

As board sports be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in Sene­gal, Da­gas­san says there are now eight clubs with more than 280 mem­bers and a na­tional cham­pi­onship. Sene­gal also en­ters in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, where it usu­ally ranks well.

“We have no money and we have never had any fund­ing, but in 2014, for the first time, we par­tic­i­pated in the African cham­pi­onships and we got sec­ond and third place,” Da­gas­san says.

“The pop­u­lar­ity of these lo­cal surfers has inspired young Sene­galese who want to em­u­late them.”

The sport, nev­er­the­less, re­mains largely the pre­serve of for­eign­ers on Dakar’s beaches where lo­cal fam­i­lies, sun­bathers and the cu­ri­ous pre­fer to watch rather than take part.

A big rea­son is the pro­hib­i­tive cost. In a coun­try where the min­i­mum monthly wage is less than 37,000 francs ( US$62.54), a new board can set you back up to 400,000 francs while lessons cost be­tween 10,000 and 15,000 francs.


Louane, left, and Maiva, surf stu­dents, ride a wave on May 23.

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