Surfing the Sahara

Q&A with Abdelila Yafi - Sahara Surf.

Words by Ruth Osborn

Tell us about your first surf trip to the Sahara…

Man it was flat. It was summer so there were no waves but that was cool. We knew that the surf was small so we didn't expect to get waves we just wanted to check some spots. We had some time off and wanted to use it to go and check the Sahara out, to see what is available. We left Agadir late in the afternoon and drove 650 kms south until El Ayoun getting there about two or three in the morning. The next day we drove a further 200 kms to Boujdor and stayed one night there and finally 285 kms onto Dakhla. On the way back we did the whole 1200km from Dakhla to Agadir in one day. It was a short trip, only 5 days, it was full on.

What's it like being on the road in the Sahara?

The road to the Sahara is flat and long and straight. You can drive and drive and drive, for a very long time, like 100k, and you don't see nothing - you don't see no buildings, there's not many cars coming back the other way so you don't cross over a car for ages. When you stop it's really serene, really cool, you just have the road and the desert, that's it. The Sahara is different from anywhere, from all the other places you go to.

So the surf must be really worth the travel?

The surf spots we checked on our first trip looked great, it was flat but we saw the surf potential. When we went to the Sahara the second time in January (the main season) it was a different story. It was going off. We had good south swell, big period and the surf was like eight or nine foot. We really saw what some of the point breaks in the Sahara had to offer. We got to one of the surf spots and I wasn't even sure whether I wanted to go out. It was pretty heavy, hollow and breaks so close to the rocks. A perfect and very tempting wave but dangerous as well. The reason we did all those thousands of kilometres and you start to question whether you want to do it or not. But yeah of course I paddled out and caught a great wave.

Surfing in Taghazout has its own flavour but surfing in the Sahara when you're out on the peak, looking back at the sand dunes and the desert, and there's nobody there except you and your friends… it's a totally different experience. There are a lot of waves in the Sahara and some spots, some waves, have all the criteria and potential to be some of the best waves in the world. In the Sahara you do have a lot of surf options, but when you talk about the best waves there they're not easy to surf, one should be good.

The Sahara is pretty unexplored surf territory, why?

Sahara surf trips are not easy. You spend a lot of time on the road and it's such a huge coastline you need to know what you're doing and where you're going otherwise you'll be wasting your time. When you're in the Sahara you can drive for hundreds of kilometres and not see the ocean. Most of the time there is a kilometre or two between the road and the coast which makes it hard to have a look and see what's there. When you're driving you realise how hard it is to find spots.

On the road to the Sahara there are a lot of police check points. Before the main cities like Tan Tan and El Ayoun there are police stops. The police check everyone's passports and they register eve rything - your name and address, passport number - everything. Leaving the city the same thing, it takes a lot of time.

Also in the Sahara you don't have a lot of things available. You can't get a beer in many places and there's only one bar where in Dakhla - it's the Sahara and not Las Vegas. There are restaurants and everything in the cities, it's not like you're going to starve, but the Sahara is not the kind of place where you can go 'I want this' but you ask 'what can we get? what is available?' In the Sahara you have to be prepared to go with what is available. This kind of trip is not for everyone.

Are the local Swarahians welcoming?

The Sahara is not very populated, you meet people when you are in the main cities, but otherwise when you go looking for waves you really only meet soldiers. There is a lot of military in the Sahara, but I've never had a problem. Yeah the local people are cool there. The Swaharians are proud people, they like people to give them respect, like everyone. On all the surf trips I've done I've never had a problem. When I go on trips I respect the people, you know how it goes, you always give a good first impression, be friendly and respectful and you'll be welcomed.

What makes you want to go back and surf the Sahara?

The surf. That surf spot Untouchables. It was flat when we first saw the spot but because of the topography and the setting of the place I knew there was going to be something interesting there. When we came back there was swell and a heavy wave was breaking. The wave is very similar to the one in Mexico where they held the WCT, the spot south of Puerto Escandido. A long barrel and breaks so fast, I was like woahhhhh. No one knows where it is and going to a place like that, surfing a wave like that for the first time… makes you want to come back.

Full article first appeared on the Sahara Surf Blog