Surfing in Morocco, Part I

Surfing in Morocco, Part I

Coastline at Safi, Morocco

One of the many reasons I came to Morocco was for the surf. The nation has nearly 2000 kilometres of coastline, the vast majority of which is regularly belted by Atlantic swells. Once the destination of counter-culture adventurers way back when, Morocco is now an established surfing destination with some world renowned breaks. Having not had a surf since leaving New Zealand, I figured it was high time to get back into the water.

I bought a wetsuit from a bloke when I was in Casablanca, and kept an eye out for boards for sale online. Surfing is pretty popular in Morocco, and there were quite a few boards listed, but none that would suit my lanky 193cm frame. While I was in Marrakech I sent out heaps of emails to surf shops on the coast, asking if anyone had anything around the 6’10 to 7’0 mark. I wasn’t having a lot of luck, until a bloke at Safi, a seaside town 2.5 hours’ drive north west of Marrakech, answered my plea. He had a couple of boards he thought might work for me, so a few days later I picked up a hire car and headed for Safi.

Morocco very much reminds me of northern South Australia. Sparse vegetation, rocky scarps, stone ruins and sandy creek beds lined with eucalypts. That’s right, the Aussie gum tree is widespread throughout north and western Morocco, having been brought by the French during the colonial times (as a timber resource, and also planted to control soil erosion and provide wind breaks on farms1). Driving from Marrakech to Safi was an interesting juxtaposition of the familiar and the exotic, with date palms, mosques and donkey carts breaking up my nostalgic daydreams of arid Australia.

Arriving in Safi was, literally, a breath of fresh air. Marrakech is known as the Ochre City, as the majority of buildings within the town are reddish-brown in colour. However, it could well have been named after the colour of the air too, which hangs in a choking haze across the streets and laneways. In contrast, Safi was fresh and clear, and it felt great to step out of the car, look out across the Atlantic, and breathe in big gulps of clean coastal air.

Next day I headed out to find the bloke with the boards. His shop and surf school was beside the town’s main beach, and after finding a park for the car, I went in. The young fella on the desk made a phone call, then told me his boss would arrive in a few minutes. Pulling up in a 4WD ute, the owner introduced himself (I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t quite catch his name, so will call him Ahmed) and explained that the boards he had spoken about were at his house. He told me to jump in, and off we went, climbing up through the winding streets.

It was fun talking to Ahmed – a born and bred local – about surfing in Safi, and the changes he had seen in the sport since he was a kid. He told me that in the old days there were no surf shops in Safi (possibly not even in the whole of Morocco), so I asked where he got his gear from. ‘Hippies.’ He told me. ‘When we would see their cars with boards on the roof we hoped they would leave us their wax and legropes. But it is very different now. The kids these days can get everything they need…’

Pulling into Ahmed’s driveway, I asked him about his surf shop and school. ‘Did you build it all from scratch?’ ‘Yes, but if I was relying on it, I would starve to death,’ he laughed. ‘But my reward comes from the seeing the local kids learning and improving.’

Ahmed’s enormous black Labrador-cross-horse met us at the garage door, which when opened revealed racks of wetsuits and boards. ‘A second shop!’ I said, and Ahmed smiled as he made his way along the row of boards. ‘See this one? He said, pulling a board from the rack. ‘This was a present from Sunny Garcia’. Now that was something; the Hawaiian was World Champion in 2000. Ahmed returned the board and selected another. ‘This one, I think. It’s a 7’0.’ A rounded pintail with a yellow spray, it looked like a ripper. ‘Good for barrels,’ said Ahmed. ‘How much do you want for it?’ I asked. ‘500 euro.’

Over 800AUD for a used board was little more than I was hoping to pay, and I told Ahmed it was a bit out of my price range. He was fine with that; to be honest I think he was a bit reluctant to part with it. He also admitted that the 6’10 he had mentioned he had decided to keep. Looks like I was out of luck, but I really enjoyed meeting Ahmed and learning a little more about surfing in Morocco both past and present.

Ahmed had told me that the swell was building, so the next day I drove down the steep switchback road to one of the car parks overlooking the bay. A few blokes were out, and watching the waves I could imagine how Safi’s famous point must look when it’s firing.

Standing in the warm sun overlooking the water, I tried to figure out what to do next: drive the 2.5 hours north to Casablanca and check out a board that had just been listed online; or head south to the surf town of Taghazout and try my luck there. It also occurred to me that I had yet to fold the back seats down in the car and figure out the best way to squeeze a board inside.

I returned to the car, opened the back door, and looked for the usual buttons to drop the seats. They were no-where to be found, and my search for some other form of mechanism and also came up with nothing. So I popped the boot to investigate further, and found that the back seats were fixed in place by a welded bracket.

This discovery was both surprising and infuriating. What car built in 2022 does not have folding rear seats? I was particularly annoyed as I had checked online to ensure that the make and model I had rented had this capability. So it turned out I wasn’t going to Casablanca or Taghazout to find a board; I was driving back to the rental mob in Marrakech to see if I could swap the car for something that wasn’t fitted with a rear seat mounting from 1975.

With no board and no suitable car, my Moroccan surfing adventure had not started well. In fact, it hadn’t started at all…

1Mast Producing Trees, 2023, ‘Eucalyptus Trees in Morocco: Unraveling Their Origins

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2 thoughts on “Surfing in Morocco, Part I

  1. So near and yet so far. Just think how wonderful it will be to finally get out in the waves! Great post. Love the description of the landscape and people you meet.

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