Sunday, October 25, 2009


Dakar is a wave magnet. It juts far out into the Atlantic , catching swells from three cardinal directions. The means that on almost any given day you can find a place to surf – heaven for a wave-hound like me.

One morning last week, I got up before work and zipped over to Vivier’s reef – a sweet little spot facing West that has a narrow channel and a perfect wave breaking off urchin-infested rock ledges on either side.

The last time I’d been able to surf before work was in 1999, when I was a reporter for the Journal Tribune in Maine . There’s no better way to start the day, but the experience here in Dakar was quite a bit different than the morning sessions of a decade ago.

The sea in Maine during the fall and winter months can be turbulent, cold and devoid of life. The fish have gone south or offshore for the winter and the pleasure boats have long since been pulled from their moorings. The surroundings are unspeakably beautiful, but also lethal. A 6mm layer of neoprene rubber prevents a quick death by freezing.

Many times I’ve sat beyond the breakers at Higgins Beach , often with snowflakes falling around me, looking out toward the horizon and wondering about the surfers and the beaches on the other side, exotic nooks and crannies just off the nearest points of land in every direction.

Now here I am.

Floating over a reef swarming with fish, wearing shorts, a rash guard and a golf hat against the sun. I see a hand-built wooden pirogue loaded up with Lebou fishermen pushing up the coast. The water ripples and flying fish the size of a finger break the surface and travel low through the air like dragonflies. On the shore I see five Muslims conducting their first of five daily prayers. Another two people are walking toward the rocks in front of the channel, carrying snorkel gear and spear guns. These are locals who make a living selling fish to the seaside restaurants… heading to the office as it were.

A set comes in, the first swell feathering in the light offshore breeze as it gets stopped up by the shallow reef. An easy drop as the wave jacks up to a couple of feet overhead, and a hard left bottom turn sends me on my way down the line. I can see boulders and coral heads pass beneath me through the clear water. I kick out and paddle back up along the channel, watching the rest of the waves in the set peel mechanically along the reef, mirror images of each other.

By now the pirogue, brightly painted in yellow, red, green and black, has arrived within 50 meters of the reef I’m surfing. A school has been spotted and the crew is yelling in Wolof, setting up the nets and positioning the boat. The engine revs and the boat cruises a wide circle around the school as the crew throws the net out behind the boat. One of the crew, wearing a scuba mask, leaps of the moving boat and into the area rapidly being encircled by the net. I’m not sure what his job is, but he’s diving down into the school, appearing quite busy. The circle is completed by the pirogue and the rest of the crew starts pulling in the net for the catch. The chatter is loud and excited.

Another set comes in. Another ride over the coral heads. The spear fishermen are now in the water passing north over the next reef. I paddle back up the channel.
The pirogue is nearly done bringing in the net and I can see they’ve managed a reasonable haul. They move along, and after a little while so do I…. Time for work.

This is what its like surfing on the wrong side of the Atlantic . Totally different. But the smile on my face as I arrive to the office turns out exactly the same

1 comment:

  1. So beautifully expressed, taking us back to all the times we have relished the sea.