Welcome to Ngor Island
Fifty years ago, Bruce Brown & Co. landed in Dakar, Senegal, to begin filming for the legendary surf movie "The Endless Summer." At the time they were told, "There's no surf in Africa." But as they quickly learned, there is, and it gets pretty good. Today, thanks to Brown's visit five decades ago, Ngor Island, a quarter-mile offshore from Dakar, remains one of the hotbeds of West African surfing.
Jumping in is always the hardest part. There's no telling where you fit into the food chain in the middle of a wild ocean.
The Great Wide Open
"The first time you paddle out and there is a swell, it's so intimidating," says Mitch Anderson (pictured), who worked at Ngor Island Surf Camp for three months. "You're out in the middle of ocean and these massive waves start coming through. It's such a scary wave, but you get used to it."
While many surfers paddle out to reach Ngor Right, it's easier when you get a lift. The mornings are still a bit chilly through the beginning of spring, making a 3-millimeter wetsuit perfect for that time of year. Water and air temperatures warm up considerably for summer.
Left to right: Mour Mbengue, the two-time Senegal champion (2010 and 2011); Samba Ba; Samba Rocky Samb, aka "Jakie"; and Kouka Ba, Senegal's 2007 national champ. All four grew up in Ngor Village on the mainland and work as surf guides for Ngor Island Surf Camp.
Open to swells from every angle, Ngor Right, Senegal's most famous waves, is rarely flat. In fact, most times one has to wait for the swell to calm down before it's surfable.
On A Mission
Loaded up for a long day on the road -- Ngor Right isn't the only wave in town. There are certainly other less celebrated coastal corners, but getting there can be an adventure.
Scene from Ngor Village
Almost everywhere in Dakar is 5 miles from the ocean, but just as in surfing hotbeds the U.S. and Australia, it's those who grow up closest to the coast who grow into the best surfers. Fishing villages like Ngor and Yoff have become the epicenter for West African surfing.
The young boys from the village will often share a board among friends and wear wetsuits that have been left behind by visiting surfers.
The break simply known as "Secret Spot" is home to a dedicated local crew. For surfers like Jakie, it's a place he can easily walk to from his house. "We [the locals] can come and surf, then we can take a little break, see some friends, and surf again."
Vivier is a right reef break that is another favorite with the locals and great for learning to ride barrels.
Wrestling is one of the most popular sports. Dakar and the beaches are frequently the site of pickup matches.
Breaking in shallow water over a rocky bottom, Vivier offers a more challenging ride for the crew that has the other breaks in the area wired.
Fishing is an integral part of the Dakar community and some of the best fisherman, like Kouka Ba, are also the best surfers. "Our fisherman have to know about the swell, and they can read the swell by the moon," says Jakie. "A father or brother will show you just one time how to read it and then every time you see it."
For those who really want to step up there is Ouakam, a small, intense version of Backdoor in Hawaii when the swell is on.
Jesper Mouritzen and his wife, Soraya, opened the doors to Ngor Island Surf Camp in 2009. Their 3-year-old daughter, Mia, catches up on the latest issue of Surfer magazine with two of her favorite guides, Jakie and Kouka, at breakfast.