Year-round sun? Check. Atlantic coastline? Check. Laid-back way of life? Check. It’s easy to see why Dakar has long been a secret surfer’s paradise. A peninsula that catches swells from both north and south, Dakar has consistent waves throughout the year, as well as surf spots for every ability. Over the past half century, a distinctive surf culture has emerged, turning Dakar into a surf destination in its own right.
In 1964, Dakar was the first destination in the seminal surf film The Endless Summer, where two Californian surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, packed their boards and set off to discover the best surf spots around the world. Touching down in Dakar, they headed to Ngor Island, 400 metres north of mainland Dakar, and rode the legendary point break, Ngor Right. It was the start of a quiet revolution.
Over the following 50 years, Dakar’s reputation as a surf spot steadily grew, but surfing remained largely the preserve of tourists and travelling surf junkies. That would all change with Oumar Seye.
Oumar Seye was the first African surfer to turn pro. In the 90s, he learnt from watching tourists and borrowing their boards, gradually honing his talent off Dakar’s coast before attracting sponsors on the world stage. Determined to show a generation of Senegalese that surfing could be more than just a hobby, Seye established Senegal’s first surf school and was instrumental in setting up the Fédération Sénégalaise de Surf (FSS), of which he is currently vice president, as well as coaching the national team.
The best surfers in Senegal use the same spots as everyone else. There is none of the territorialism that plagues surfing in other countries, with Senegal’s myriad of breaks open for locals, expats and tourists alike.
Dakar has around 15 distinct spots within a 30-minute radius of each other, the majority of which come off the Almadies Peninsula, the westernmost point of mainland Africa. Vivier, Secret and Club Med are all found along Almadies’ petite corniche. These reefs produce consistent rolling rights and lefts, shielded from the wind. However, the water can be extremely shallow, with rocks and urchins awaiting those who take a tumble.
Further down the coast is Ouakam: the most picturesque surf spot in Dakar and also the most challenging. Riding into a horseshoe cove with the Mosquée de la Divinité in front, Ouakam is Dakar’s world-class spot with waves almost guaranteed to barrel. Yet, the rocks below and small take-off area require a decent level of surfing knowledge.
On the northern side of Dakar, the beaches of Yoff and Virage are best for beginners. These beach breaks can produce monsters when the elements are in full swing, but on the whole deliver mellow waves with a sandy floor. Then there’s the aforementioned famous Ngor Right and Left, point breaks in crystal blue waters.
Nowadays, head to any of Dakar’s favoured surf spots and the majority of surfers you see are Senegalese. Children on half-broken boards cajole with local professionals. The Senegal national team is going from strength to strength and was recently ranked in the top three teams in Africa. This is no mean feat, given that Senegal is not like surfing anywhere else in the world – there is no money, scarce resources and no sponsors. The national team share boards and wetsuits and can only enter international competitions close to home.
Even Cherif Fall, widely regarded as the best surfer in Senegal, is yet to turn professional. But that could soon be about to change. In September 2018, the World Surf League is coming to Dakar for the first time. On waves they have mastered, in spots they know blindfolded, Fall and the rest of the Senegalese team will be hoping to showcase what Senegal has to offer.