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South Africa: Mami Wata’s ‘Afrosurf’, rides the wave of Afrosurfonomics

By Nicolas Michel
Posted on Friday, 30 April 2021 11:05

Matthew McGillivray, a professional surfer from South Africa, competed during the World Surf League Qualifying Series final at the Mediterranean Sea in Netanya, Israel, on 20 January 2018. Ariel Schalit/AP/SIPA

The South African brand Mami Wata has just released a beautifully illustrated book dedicated to surfing on the continent.

Besides being an African water deity, Mami Wata is also a surfboard and clothing brand based in Cape Town, South Africa. “Our mission is to connect the world to the power of African surf,” its promoters say, as if spreading a new religion.

This same tone is reflected on their website. “We started Mami Wata because of love and belief. Our love for surfing, design and Africa. Our belief in the power of African surf.”

Their mission is  ‘to be a creative force for good in Africa’ and they do this by creating and manufacturing their products in Africa, supporting Waves for Change — a surf therapy NGO that helps over 1,000 children — and strengthening the continent’s surf tourism and economy (which they call ‘Afrosurfonomics’).

To spread the good word across the pagan world, the envoys of Mami Wata have opted to publish a book, something that has worked wonders with other monotheistic religions. Not simply a book, but ‘the book’: one which a reader returns to, again and again to find inspiration, advice and information.

“When I started surfing, I was afraid of the ocean. I didn’t know how to swim. One day the boys took my board out to sea and I swallowed a lot of water. I thought I was drowning. I was screaming. But I liked it. It helped me build my confidence and motivation. It helped me to become a good surfer,” says Maryam el Gardoum, a surfer from Morocco.

This was how Afrosurf was born, thanks to funds raised through its Kickstarter campaign. This is not a commercial endeavor, as all profits from sales will go to two surf therapy organisations: Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children.

“Only a surfer knows this feeling”

Afrosurf is not just another book. Designed by Peet Pienaar, it contains superb photographs; a few recipes; a playlist (Manu Dibango’s Electric Africa, Fela Kuti’s Zombie, Hugh Masekela’s Bajabula Bonke, Burna Boy’s Ye, etc.); A brief history of surfing in Africa and the diaspora by Kevin Dawson and above all, numerous profiles of surfers from the continent.

The first surfer we meet is Kunyalala Ndlovu, a designer from Zimbabwe. In the chapter titled Nobody surfs in Bulawayo, we discover the story of a young teenager living 2,000km inland.

“Here I am, 12 years old, surrounded by slums and savannah, with no ocean in sight. My father is standing in front of me with a gift that will forever change my life… a Billabong T-shirt. On the back is a picture of a surfer spinning inside a roller at the 1996 Billabong Pro Kirra, with the words ‘Only a surfer knows this feeling.’ I can’t describe exactly what I felt at the time, but what I can say is that on that day, this black kid from the suburbs of Bulawayo decided he would rebel against the slums and become a surfer.”

Further on and many years later, Ndlovu tamed his first ‘real’ wave. “On one particularly grey winter morning, near the wreck of Big Bay, after 15 years of dreaming, paradise opened up and the little boy from Bulawayo caught his first green wave, a run along the brittle face, and he finally became what he had always dreamed of being – one of those who know the feeling. A surfer.”

From Sierra Leone to Morocco

Page after page, Afrosurf takes us on a tour of Africa’s surfing enthusiasts. We meet Kadiatu Kamara, the only surfer from Sierra Leone, who tells us about her beginnings. “When I started surfing, I was afraid of the ocean. I didn’t know how to swim. One day the boys took my board out to sea and I swallowed a lot of water. I thought I was drowning. I was screaming. But I liked it. It helped me build my confidence and motivation. It helped me to become a good surfer,” she says.

Much further north, in Morocco, Maryam el Gardoum has been surfing the waters of Tamraght village since she was a child. She earned the nickname Mohamed because she surfs  ‘like a boy. ’

She says: “My first board was given to me by a cousin. Then a friend of my brother gave me a wetsuit. Then there was this boy, Dakhouch, who helped me with equipment, who bought me boards, wetsuits and who allowed me to participate in the Moroccan championships… He really pushed me. I didn’t want to go, I thought I wasn’t strong enough; I was only 14 and I would have to compete against older girls. But I went, and I won.”

Be like Gardoum. Don’t hesitate, just get on your board, ride the waves of Afrosurf and embrace a pagan religion of pristine foam and sky-high waves!

The book Afrosurf can be ordered online on Mami Wata’s website for £45.

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