In 1974 a Californian surfer named Larry Yates released an obscure surf movie called The Forgotten Island Of Santosha. The film recorded tribal dances, religious processions and perfect waves reeling over offshore coral reefs on a mysterious and secret island in the Indian Ocean.
Santosha is a Hindustani word for ‘peace,’ and the filmmaker never revealed the true location of the island. Surfers the world over were filled with exotic yearning on seeing the film, and when it was finally revealed that Santosha was actually a pseudonym for Mauritius, a short-lived, but intense, surfer pilgrimage was initiated.
These early visiting surfers from around the world found the island of Mauritius difficult to traverse, and the waves to be tremendously fickle, with only a few good days of surfing to be had in a year. Yates had struck it extremely lucky, and had unwittingly marketed a somewhat false surf destination, much to the locals' chagrin ever since.
But first, some history. It was Portuguese sailors who first visited Mauritius in 1505, and established a visiting base. Many years later, three ships of the Dutch fleet were blown way off course during a massive cyclone while heading to the Spice Islands and landed on the island in 1598, naming it in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau. In 1638, the Dutch established the first permanent settlement.
The French then moved in to seize Mauritius in 1715 and later named it Ile de France. The French mercenary pirates who were based on the island regularly sunk British vessels on their way to Britain from India. The British got annoyed about this, and set to gain military control of the island. The French were defeated by the British in the north of the island, and lost possession to the British in 1810. The British then changed the island back to its former name. Mauritius attained independence in 1968 and the country became a republic in 1992.
Nowadays, Mauritius is packed with more than 150 upmarket hotels and resorts lining up along the beautiful coastline. The island isn’t as littered with good waves as it is with good hotels, but there are some gems, as long as you know where to go, and more importantly, when to go.
Mauritius has a few excellent waves on it, with the jewel in the crown being Tamarin Bay – the very place that Yates visited all those years ago. But it comes with two problems – it is very inconsistent and doesn’t break for months at a time, and when it does break, it gets crowded and the local crew rule the lineup with unbridled aggression, sending all visitors in.
It needs a moderate to big SW swell to wrap in. As the beautifully crafted Stormrider describes, “hypnotic, cultured barrels that tour the NW-facing reef and long tube time is logged by the mix of locals and lucky holidaymakers.
“This long, perfectly formed, barrelling left becomes ultra-shallow at low tide, so higher tides are safer. Tuck-ins and speed slashes are the order of the day so lesser surfers should stick to the inside reform or beachbreak. Humourless crowds, urchins, sharp reef, currents and sharks.”
One Eyes is another great wave and more consistent that Tamarin, but the locals can also be a presence here. It is best to surf most of the spots during the week, and give it a bit of a wide berth on the weekend when the locals gather.
Further down the same One Eyes reef is another reef pass called Passe de L‘Ambulante and it is an excellent wave that is usually empty.
Further south there is a wealth of exciting options, but the prevailing wind is southeast and blows the whole coastline out for the majority of the year.
This wind is great for kite-boarding or downwind paddling, but not perfect for surfers. Get lucky with a northerly wind and you’ll be amazed at how many proper waves exist in the south and suddenly appear in the offshore.
Some are close to shore, others are out beyond the fringing reef. One of them is an incredible A-Frame barrel hidden in plain sight, one of the best waves on the island, and it is nearly always empty. If you find it, you will have to puzzle a way to get out there.
Clue: hire a boat from the tiny beach hidden behind the big rocky outcrop, and make sure you negotiate a pick-up, otherwise you’ll be stuck outside of a very far reef with no way back except for paddling into a giant river mouth 2 km’s west of the spot.
There are waves in the north as well, along the western seaboard. They need quite a bit of swell to get in there, but there is one very good and long left-hand reef as well as two right-handers, in close vicinity to each other, with one getting quite big at times but staying epic as it gets bigger.
The surf aspect of a trip to Mauritius definitely needs a bit of a zen approach. You might get waves, but you have a very good chance of getting skunked.
You might get great waves, but you have a good chance of getting chased out the water by bristling locals, you might get howling trades for the whole time, you might score perfect waves in the south, or you might end up chilling by a resort pool, listening to a man playing a banjo while you sip on cocktails, which isn’t that bad at all.
Mauritius is a great surf destination if everything comes together. If not however, it is a destination where there are more than enough options for a great non-surfing holiday.
Other info: The climate is warm, the water is tepid, and all you need is boardies and a rash vest. You’re also going to need some sunblock.
The currency is the Mauritian Rupee, one Pound gets you 45 Mauritian Rupees, and a Big Mac Meal Combo will put you back Rs220.
You have to try the Green Island rum. It’s the local white rum and also comes in a spiced version. The local beer is Phoenix, best served super chilled, as most beers are.