West Africa’s Surf Capital
Words by: Craig Ritchie
Photos by: Greg Ewing
Where: Senegal is located smack in the middle of northwest Africa, lying south of Mauritania and north of Guinea and Guinea-Basson. Dakar, the smallest yet most populated region of the country, established itself as Senegal’s prime surf destination ever since it was showcased in Bruce Brown’s classic Endless Summer back in 1966.
What: The Dakar peninsula offers a wealth of different spots, which operate in a variety of diverse wind and swell conditions. From the high-performance skate-ramp-like left-hander of Baie des Carpes to Club Med's fast barrelling rights, and Ouakam's left and right A-frame perfection, there's something for surfers of all abilities. Many of the surf spots are situated at incredibly picturesque locations, with mosques and rocky yet verdant cliff faces making for great backdrops for all those beautiful lineup shots.
When: November to March are the best months for sure. You can still get some decent surf through the rest of the year because a number of different spots will work on the prevailing summer winds, but be prepared for potentially long flat spells.
Why: Senegal was one of the iconic surf trips of the 60s and was one of the first places in Africa to be surfed. It is very, very different than your average Indo trip. Senegal is really affordable to those traveling on the U.S. dollar, and its unique culture will make for an incredibly memorable surfing experience. Also, as with most of the countries north of South Africa's borders, it is a surf destination still in its infancy and there are a wealth of nearby spots just waiting to be discovered by adventurous travelers.
How: U.S. citizens do not need a visa for tourist or business travel, so you will be able to simply arrive and get your passport stamped. You will need to get taxi rides to the different spots, which only cost around $5. You can bargain them down if you think that is too much, but this is northwest Africa and a third of the country lives on less than $1.25 a day, so don't be too hard on the guys. One spot you should definitely check out is Ouakam, which lies between N'Gor and Dakar city center, about fifteen minutes from N'Gor by taxi. The N'Gor Surf Camp, which should be all visiting surfers' first port of call, will provide you with one of two guides. These guys also happen to be the two best local surfers in Senegal and are stoked to be sharing the lineup with visitors. Tip them with some clothes, wax, leashes, or whatever surf gear you can spare, because visiting surfers are these guys' only source of equipment.
Places to stay: N'Gor Island is home to by far the best surf-oriented accommodation at N'Gor Surf Camp. Dakar has five-star hotels and the like, but you'll be missing the vibe entirely if you stay there. Note that N'Gor Island does have solar-powered electricity, but no hot water. Nevertheless, there's good food, friendly smiles, and the guys at the surf camp really make an effort to show you the best time possible. Accommodations at N'Gor Surf Camp will cost you from $350 per week for a shared dorm up to $560 per week for a single room. That includes transfers to and from airport, daily breakfast and dinner, and a local surf guide who will take you to whichever spot is working best that day. And you will be waking up to N'Gor right, which is both a fun right-hander and an indicator for what the other spots on the peninsula are doing.
Places to eat: Dakar has plenty of spots to check out for a wide variety of cuisine. There are many good restaurants in N'Gor itself, with an overall French vibe to the food. You'll find your fill of hamburgers, baguettes, and great fresh seafood. There are also numerous street vendors who will sell you a cheap meal, just be careful of eating meat as there's no guarantee of quality. If you're on a higher budget, you can stop in for a meal at one of the pricier-end hotels.
Babes and dudes: Senegal is not the ideal surf trip if you're looking to score. However, as one of the main stops between Africa and the U.S. there are a ton of hot flight attendants frequenting the hotels during their stopovers. You walk past these hotels on the way to some of the surf spots, so keep an eyeball open for attractive things lounging around the pools. If you hit the clubs, be forewarned, they can be very expensive.
Crowd factor: Dakar is far from crowded. There are only a handful of locals because most people in Senegal simply can't afford the equipment, meaning that the vast majority of spots will be just you and your surf guides. What locals there are get by on hand-me-downs, so consider sharing the love on your way out. An extra board or even just a leash might see someone through months in which they would otherwise be unable to surf.
Stuff to bring: Before you get there you need to have proof of a yellow fever vaccination, so get your shot and documentation. In terms of inventory, you'll need to pack all the extra surf equipment that you'd take on any trip to a remote spot where you can't easily pick up supplies: spare leashes, wax, and so on. Also, it would be a good idea to bring a backup board as well as ding-repair stuff because you're not going to find anyone around who can do it for you. Don't forget, too, that while you can get away with boardies in the summer months, the peak swell season requires a 3/2 fullsuit. Oh, and bring a set of tweezers because Senegal is urchin central!
If the surf is flat: Take a trip through Dakar. You'll have a guide who can show you Senegalese dancing and numerous other aspects of the local culture. One cool thing about Dakar is that unlike some other African surf destinations, it feels safe on the streets. There is a strong sense of community and a resultant community-based authority leading to a lack of crime and a maintenance of social order that rarely requires police intervention. You can also play golf at the Golf Club de Dakar Camberene, or just kick back and drink cheap beer, which costs around $1.25 a bottle.
More information: Check out surfcampngor.com, it has shots of all the nearby spots as well as further info for your travels. Also Google Earth has high-res photos from all around the Dakar peninsula, and you can actually see a lot of the popular spots breaking on a day that gives a pretty good indication of the shape of the waves.