Surfing in Senegal for the first professional event in West Africa | World News



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AN A wave of boys climbs and descends on the black rocks, watching surfers paddling, picking up the right-hand end they know so well. Surfers from around the world jump from rock to rock, waiting their turn to compete, their boards wrapped in giant striped stockings.

Ngor, a Senegalese wave placed on the international surfing map by the 1966 surf documentary The Endless Summer, has never seen so many sun bleached hair. This week, the World Surf League brought their West African qualifying series for the first time, a historic moment to surf on a continent with abundant waves, but few people who have the means to take advantage of them.

With 60 surfers in the competition, all trying to earn enough points to enter the Championship Tour, Senegal Pro gives the best surfers in the country the chance to compete with international professionals. It also brings a lot of surfers to Senegal for the first time, which local surf business owners hope will encourage them to return with their friends.

Surfing fans watch the men's qualifiers in Senegal Pro



Surfing fans watch the men's qualifiers at Senegal Pro, the first World Surf League event to be held in West Africa. Photo: Ruth Maclean / The Guardian

As surfers bend and wriggle in the turquoise waves of the Atlantic, judges and commentators sit on a catamaran, announcing the scores of a loudspeaker to the flock of spectators on the promontory of Ngor Island. Its sandy paths and umbrellas are only half a kilometer from the mainland of Dakar, capital of Senegal, but the relaxed atmosphere and lack of cars provide a permanent holiday feel.

Every morning, fishermen in boats of bright colors leave the coast in search of life, and every night men go down to the sea to wash their sheep in the ocean. In summer, the beaches are full of people doing athletics, fighting and running. Life on the coast of the country is inextricably linked to the sea, but few people know how to surf.

A man washes his sheep at sea in Ngor, on the outskirts of Dakar



A man washes his sheep at sea in Ngor, on the outskirts of Dakar. Photo: Ruth Maclean / The Guardian

"They have the waves and the people [have come] here for them, "said Beyrick De Vries, a successful South African surfer who participated in Pro Senegal." They just need a few more swimming lessons. "

There to catch your eye on the next generation of surfers is Oumar Seye, the country's first professional surfer, owner of a number of surfing companies and around whom the Senegalese surfing community spins. He organized Senegal Pro, in which six local surfers participate.

"It's something very, very important," Seye said, with his own branded cap back, between directing and answering questions from a stream of foreign surfers. "For 10 years, we organized surfing events when the World Surf League called us and said," We think you're ready to organize. [a qualifying series event]We said, "We're ready."

In the last decades, the Senegalese surfer community has grown, and there are several surf camps, shops and schools scattered throughout Dakar. But they mainly serve foreigners, tourists or temporary residents of the city at the most western tip of Africa.

On the long, hazy beach in Yoff, north-east of Ngor, young boys try to surf on any suitable floating flat object they can find, or ask for a spin on the starter's planks of tourists as they sit exhausted on the sand. . But for those who want to turn surfing into a career, it's hard to get into the gold circle of recognition, sponsorship and travel to attend major surfing events.

Senegalese boys and girls watch surfers attack Ngor Right



Senegalese boys and boys watch surfers attacking Ngor's right. Photo: Ruth Maclean / The Guardian

Senegalese boys are often fanatical about football or wrestling, surfing is not well known and girls are not often encouraged to play any kind of sport. No Senegalese woman entered the contest, where the cash prize for women was less than half that of men. WSL's decision to offer equivalent cash prizes, taken after intense criticism of the disparity in a youth tournament in South Africa, has yet to come into effect at second-tier events.

The rock-climbing kids are just the group that organizers and surfers hope to spark interest in – and reassure international surfers who have little idea of ​​African surf destinations outside of South Africa and Morocco.

According to De Vries, the "best wave on planet Earth" is in Walvis Bay, Namibia, although he raises a sun-spotted eyebrow when asked to be more specific.

"The shape of Africa is perfect for swelling on both sides," he said. "There are a lot of good waves in Africa and a lot of people do not know. It's a very rich continent in waves."

At a cost of about £ 90,000, and without government support, Senegal Pro will depend on sponsors to be a permanent stop on the tour.

"No money, we can not do that," Seye said.

Ariane Ochoa, Spanish surfer, watches the men's sleeves in Senegal Pro



Spanish surfer Ariane Ochoa watches the men's sleeves in Senegal Pro. Photo: Ruth Maclean / The Guardian

However, the hopes are high enough that there are already plans, though vague, for events in other West African countries. If Senegal Pro is successful, Seye hopes to expand to Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Cape Verde.

"I think it will grow and they will do more in Africa," said Ariane Ochoa, a Spanish surfer in Senegal for the first time. "Everyone likes to be here. The people are really kind, you have the mood and the waves. "

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