Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Toothless in Dakar

(Note: this blog does not relate in any way to my wonderful boys or my amazing wife)

A big swell lit up the reefs around Dakar last weekend.

While it was a disaster for the local fishermen grounded by the waves, it was a true joy for the city’s tight-knit crew of surfers who descended on their favourite spots in numbers.

I went to Ouakam Bay , an inlet made picturesque by its high cliffs, fishing hamlets and an ornate mosque. While it is a fickle break most of the year, it is reputed to be West Africa ’s best spot when it is working. And it was indeed working. Double-overhead swells feathered against the offshore breeze, rising up over the reef and peeling across hollow into the channel, like a rug being rolled up and packed away.

A wave like this breaks hard and fast over shallow coral and stones and a false move can mean a tough trip to the bottom. During the last big swell in early February, two people broke their legs here.

But if you catch a nice one, and make the drop, the wave is a gift from God.

I saw one kid experience both the cruel and kind side of this spot within the space of an hour. A courageous 15-year old French lad, he dropped into one of the bigger waves of the day while the pack hollered words of encouragement. He skidded down the face of the wave and leaned into a bottom turn as the wave gaped over his head. That’s when it went wrong. Perhaps his foot dragged, or he caught an edge. He fell and got body slammed into the rock pile. He came up shaken. He put his hand to his mouth and declared one of his front teeth was gone.

There wasn’t much blood. The extraction was surgical. In fact, I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth, because he kept his mouth mostly closed as he paddled back out.

This kid stayed in the water for more. I guess teenagers truly believe they are invincible. Somehow they bounce back against incredible odds. At this size, if a wave even looks at me wrong, it can send me scrambling back to the beach.

Not too much time passed before this guy found himself lined up for another bomb.

I had just caught a good ride and was paddling back around the reef through the channel, which gave me a perfect view of what I expected would be another painful experience for the poor guy.

He scratched into the wave, was thrown down the face and leaned into his turn. This time it was perfect. He set his edge on a path straight down the line as the wave heaved over his head. His eyes were bugging out as the lip of the wave pitched and enclosed him completely. He was in the tube, hanging on for dear life. Two of the longest seconds of the day transpired, and then he came out unscathed.

His joy was unbridled as he kicked out of the wave, giggling like an idiot, his friends yelling expletives and praise.

He shot a smile my way, and there it was… his tooth… gone.

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