An Escapade in the Sahara

23 December 2019 | Travel Stories

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A big swell hit the north coast

Preamble

I start this article with a quote I got to know thanks to another adventurer who inspires me a lot in each of my adventures, in each of my travel diaries: Damien Castera.

"On the road, the best thing is to get lost. When one gets lost, plans give way to surprises and it is then, but only then, that the journey begins." Nicolas Bouvier

The first day is always a special day when you spend months imagining a surf trip. After spending a week at the Taghazoute base camp, here I am on the southern roads. I had to gather some information, look at the maps (road, satellite and weather) several times and finish equipping myself. This means filling all the water tanks and buying fruits and vegetables at the market. But also to get a board to have equipment adapted to the different conditions.

As for the board, I'm riding a rather thin shortboard made for big hollow swells (6'4 / 18'9 / 2,38). A board from Uwl with a pin tail that holds very well in the hollow. But obviously with this you don't get very far in the smaller and softer swells. So I got a new board from Fahd, a shaper from Taghazout (Tamraght). When I'm back from the trip I'll stop by to say hi and I'll take the opportunity to talk about shaping in Morocco with him and to report on our exchanges. You will know who we are talking about and the quality of his work. This board has a slightly wider Nose, flatter for more speed in the paddle (6' / 20 ½ 2 ½). Fast in small conditions, it manoeuvres super well and holds medium to large swells well and allows for a few troughs when the opportunity arises. A little gem from Fahd. Thanks friend!

Then it was the departure towards the southern point of the Western Sahara close to the border with Mauritania and Senegal. I had planned to push to Senegal or even further. But the conditions were not met and I chose to take the time to realize this trip. It will be a future adventure. It allows me to take time in the Sahara. It will surely take some...

On the road to south coast

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After a little more than 1 300 km of road in two days I arrived. It will have been necessary to cross the Sahara and the controls of the army or the gendarmerie sometimes wearing. Especially at night. A long crossing of a road nestled between the cliffs of the Atlantic coast (sumptuous!) and the sandy desert. Kilometers of coastline where dromedaries coming out of the dunes on one side and fishermen on the other side meet. Many fishermen live in small camps sometimes nestled in the cliffs at incredible heights (sometimes 100 m high!). They fish from the top of the cliffs or from the shore by descending on paths that are not always very safe... Or sometimes by abseiling!

Western Saharan fishermen

So here I am in the extreme south of the country. Suddenly there are a lot less people, almost no tourists and very few surfers... If any. I am based for the moment near a small village in the south of the Sahara on the coast just before Mauritania. Here there are several more or less known point breaks. The most famous are those around Dakhla.

I'll spend some time there first, just to find the place and surf the waves. Then I will go up along the most deserted areas to find more difficult to access breakers. I wait for a good swell to come. Good direction, good time, good size! We will see.

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Welcome to the Sahara

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I've been here a few days and the swell is small. The forecasts don't predict much more size in the next 5 days. So I have some time ahead of me. Nevertheless, when I arrive I land on the edge of a bay where there is a small beach. No problem to sleep, accessible without risk of silting up. A nice straight line runs from the rocky point to the bay. It is long and despite the small size the series looks nice. The water is perfect, the light offshore wind does its job. It goes on for several hundred meters. The tide is a bit high tonight so I'll wait until tomorrow to surf this first wave. The change is already radical. Apart from a few local fishermen grilling fish in the bbq to eat, there are not many people at sunset and especially nobody on the spot. It feels already the sessions in the calm.

The first waves

What surprised me the most was the perfect wave/person in the water combo... And of course a great atmosphere with the few surfers. A particularly pleasant moment when you have surfed too long on overcrowded spots. The first sessions allowed to find some nice sensations. Very long straights. Waves with two or three sections that connect easily. You tend to get sore legs quickly because it's so long. It is frequent to have to go back to the peak by walking on the coast. That gives the tone! On the program the waves located on the zone of Dakhla and the neighbourhoods. I spotted 5 spots where there should be surfing. Then we will go to lose ourselves on the wild coast of the Sahara.

Technical moment

How to surf differently?! Today I think that surfing should be more interested in the countless methods that exist. Today, after all these years of surfing, I have totally transformed my way of surfing. Today it's more fluid, more efficient, more effective. It's late for me to imagine myself making a career out of it. Surfing teacher and free-surfer adventurer suits me very well. I'm very happy with the path I'm taking in the surfing world. But if I had adopted certain methods when I was younger maybe my future would have been different. Today I'm back to surfing after 4 years without activity due to a serious injury. Without changing my way of moving, my way of seeing surfing, I don't know if I would be there today.

The first thing that changed my view of surfing was mental preparation. I realized that we were playing a sport where mental preparation was the part reserved for the coach or the parents. So I trained at the university to accompany surfers in mental preparation. I think today that we must leave more room for mental preparation. From the youngest to the highest level, especially in big wave surfing and competition.

The second thing was my meeting with Xavier Lainé. A physiotherapist and Feldenkreis practitioner. For a year and a half I was accompanied by Xavier. But more than the care I learned many things. A kind of internal training that my body thanks today. I want to train myself to go further. But Feldenkreis has changed my way of surfing. Completely. Knowledge that today also changes my teaching methods as a surfing teacher. What the hell is this? Maybe that's what you're thinking. So for that I'm going to end with some words from Xavier himself:

"Feldenkrais is a wonderful tool for discovering ourselves from a rather neglected angle, our body state. Colleagues at the University of Paris VIII (formerly the University of Vincennes) have suggested that somatic practices could well be the revolutionary tools to free us from the control of our bodies organized by a society that holds us in slavery and submission (reread Foucault). The practitioner is only the catalyst for this essential encounter... What we experience as constraints to conform to a vision of our lives strongly impregnated with the standards of the triumphant bourgeoisie can only be expressed in our physical ailments... Or in our revolts when they become possible.

Today I surf by reviewing everything I have learned about my body. I surf differently and I am slowly developing a new approach to surfing that is more fluid and efficient.

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