It is a commonly held belief that surfing began in Polynesia, but this belief is not shared by Kevin Dawson, a professor of history at the University of California, specialized in aquatic cultures and in the African Diaspora and who, in the introduction to the book Afrosurf, tells us that “the earliest testimony to provide an account of surfing was written in 1640 and describes a scene that took place in the country that is now called Ghana.”
Published thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, this project initiated by the South African surf brand Mami Wata (which means Mother Ocean) and its co-founder, Selema Masekela, aims to explore the untold story of surfing in Africa. While not nearly as well known for surfing as California or the southern coast of Australia, Africa is nevertheless a continent that offers an incredible variety of waves and wild surf spots. According to Masekela, “Afrosurf will redefine the way people perceive this activity and the lifestyle that goes with it.” Between the traditions of each country and an approach that is often not quite as flashy, Afrosurf puts the nobility back in a sport often associated with big brands, sponsors and financial imperatives.
The book’s many authors and photographers, including Nicole Sweet, Alan Van Gysen and Michael Ochs, to name a few, introduce us to both iconic and unknown figures from the African world of surf. From Ghana to Cape Verde, from Nigeria to South Africa, we discover eighteen countries through portraits of male and female surfers who tell us about their journey, such as Joshe Falkner, for instance, who only met his gangster father once, as a teenager; or fifteen-year-old Aita Diop, who was born in Dakar and who looks back on her early days of surfing. Despite the support of her family, the young woman who feels that the ocean has been by her side for as long as she can remember tells us how challenging it is to be a young female surfer in Senegal. The book also looks back at the history of Afrobeat, the Nigerian musical genre that reached its heyday in the 1970s with singer and musician Fela Kuti.
With a combination of staged portraits, photos taken in the trough of the wave, and breathtaking shots of cities and ocean, Afrosurf features more than 200 photographs, as well as illustrations, poems, cooking recipes and even a short comic book. “All the profits from the book will be donated to two African surf therapy organizations: Waves For Change and Surfers Not Street Children, says Meltaka who, with this book, intends “to bring about a change in the history of surfing.”
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Afro Surf, Mami Wata, edited by Selema Masekela, Penguin Random House, 200 photos, 320 pages, 30£.