Afrosurf: the forgotten history of surfing in Africa recovered in a new book

Fábio Afonso Fernandes, also known as Fafa, surfing a dreamy point break right on São Tomé in an image from Afrosurf PIC: Greg Ewing / courtesy Mami Wata

While the rich surfing traditions of the Hawaiian Islands have never been in doubt, and although it is difficult to argue that surfing in its current form has not developed as stated above, there are has always had this nagging thought: With all these perfect waves crashing in warm waters around the world for thousands of years, what are the chances that people from other cultures have also tried to ride the waves for s ‘have fun?

As long-suffering readers of this column will know, a few years ago Last Words did a little first-hand research into the claim that the Moche people of northern Peru had the idea of ​​good surfing. earlier than the Hawaiians, with archaeological evidence suggesting they used reed surf boats called “caballitos de totora” as early as AD 200. Thanks to a closing sale at the Eyemouth Maritime Museum, I was able to get my hands on an inexpensive basement caballito and try it out in small waves off the East Lothian coast. Bottom line: The ancient Peruvians definitely developed a true wave-surfing vehicle, but they probably couldn’t do much with their giant straw missiles other than hang on and head straight for the beach.

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It turns out that Peruvians were not the only ones to develop a form of waveriding before 1778. Thanks to a new book called Afrosurf, a project initiated by Selema Masekela and the team of the African surf brand Mami Wata and presented By University of California history professor Kevin Dawson, the African chapter in surfing history is finally told. Africa, writes Dawson in his introduction, has “a 1,000-year-old surfing tradition,” the sport was “developed independently from Senegal to Angola,” boards three to five feet long were ridden. “lying, sitting, kneeling, or standing” and the first known account of surfing on the continent was written in the 1640s in what is now Ghana.

According to Bruce Brown’s iconic 1966 surf film Endless Summer, when he, Robert August and Mike Hynson toured West Africa with their surfboards, they “introduced” surfing to the locals. However, as Dawson points out, this claim is somewhat exaggerated. “If viewers take their eyes off August and Hynson,” he writes, “they will see young Ga from the village of Labadi, near Accra, Ghana, riding traditional surfboards, which are being played. can still be found on some beaches. in the film, standing on American longboards illustrates their surfing tradition. “

And speaking of longboards, it turns out that the Africans of the old world sometimes also rode longboards, measuring around 12 feet long, and used them for paddling long distances. English anthropologist Robert Rattray (1881-1938) photographed paddleboards on Lake Bosumtwi, located about 100 miles inland from Cape Coast, Ghana, and explained that the Asante used these boats because that they thought the god Twi prohibited canoes on the lake. So Africans not only understood how to surf before Europeans, they also had their own SUP craze hundreds of years before us.

Oddly enough, it appears that African surfers also surfed off the east coast of what is now the continental United States long before the first white Americans ever rode the waves there. According to Dawson, “accounts indicate that in the 1700s enslaved Africans were surfing and canoeing from South Carolina to Brazil.” Having said that, maybe someone should make some changes to the Wikipedia page on surfing history. As it stands, he states that “surfing on the east coast of the United States began at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in 1909, when Burke Haywood Bridgers and a colony of surfers introduced surfing to East cost “. It might also be worth revisiting the claim that Bridgers and his friends were responsible for some of the “early surfboard appearances in the Atlantic.” before the whites who came and did the same a few hundred years later in the neighboring state? old surfing tradition, we’re probably talking about a couple of fishermen on homemade boards somewhere off the coast of West Africa around the same time that Harold and William were preparing for the Battle of Hastings.

An insanely perfect Liberian lineup PIC: Arthur Bonbon / courtesy Mami Wata

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