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Afro Surf: Africa's vibrant surfing history

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In the 2020’s, we can deep dive into any subculture in music, fashion, or art, just by opening a social media app. One such subculture is the African Surf scene. A vibrant world with the hallmarks of African culture woven into its colourful tapestry, showing a side of surfing you’ve never seen before. 

Published by African Surf brand Mami Wata, the book Afrosurf captures this history with a bucketload of style and colour. It’s the first of its kind, documenting African surf culture through a sizeable and expressive coffee table book of bold street art graphics pressed on glossy paper. 

“I think people are beginning to pay attention to the exploration of niche subculture experienced in Africa, because it’s a new form of African self-expression,” Selema Maesela, co-founder of Mami Wata, tells AnOther. “It is the case when it comes to music in the arts and everything else that Africans decide to be passionate and thorough about; those expressions are unique and come with their local signatures. What skateboarding feels like in Ghana or Nigeria will look and feel different from what skateboarding might feel like in Barcelona or New York.” 

Curated by writers and photographers around the continent, its pages feature interviews, stories and art that veers into previously unexplored territory. Covering one fifth of the Earth in the North and Southern Hemisphere, Africa is a vast treasure trove of surfing potential that’s either “realised, undiscovered, or overlooked, to avoid war zones.” The book tours the length of the African coastline from deserted breaks in Horne of Africa, to the Ivory Coast, sharing music, folklore and food along the way. 

We hear from writers like Bayo Akomolafe, who harbours a deep respect for the ocean, offers an alternative lens to the western way of viewing nature as a commodity. “The ocean is majestic because it exceeds us, because it silences us, because we came from it, because our bodies are composed of it,” he writes. Of our ability to restore the natural world, he suggests “we must meet nature anew, and embrace an approach that may not look like a “solution” at all: it might look like seeing the ocean as an elder, an agency in its own right, and learning to listen to its manifold wisdoms.”

Afrosurf shares insights and stories from everyday people, capturing its street culture first hand with interviews and portraits. It also explores anomalies like Cass Collier, the first surfer to brave Africa’s biggest wave; a 50ft swell in Cape Town’s shark infested Hout Bay. Or Kadiatu Kamara from Sierra Leone, who shares her experience as one of the few female surfers in her region. “It’s been lonely for me to be the only girl in the water with all the guys. In Sierra Leone, women are afraid of the ocean. They think there is evil in the water. And that makes them scared. But now they are having confidence and loving to be in the ocean and sharing waves.” 

The book even touches on surfing's potential to have a positive impact on the environment and local communities through the concept of ‘Afrosurfonomics,’ coined by nonprofit Save the Waves. “Surfing is a non-extractive coastal resource,” says its Executive Director Nik Strong-Cvetich. Waves attract surf tourism, a type that requires lower numbers to function than standard tourism. Just one hundred surf tourists visiting for eight months of the year can create 3.6 million of capital per annum for the country. But Strong-Cvetich notes communities shouldn’t entirely rely on tourism, since it can also be damaging. To counter this, Save the Waves have defined three key ingredients to protecting the surf ecosystem; 1) a mobilised local constituency; 2) a legal protection of the area; and 3) effective stewardship to combat pollution, trash and erosion. 

The allure of Afrosurf is how abruptly it disrupts the mainstream held views of surf culture. It exposes a rich surfing history that’s alive and well today, but has gone mostly undocumented in the mainstream. “I think this book challenges the perception of what surf culture means in the world,” notes Selema Maesela, co-founder of Mami Wata. “You know, there is a misconception and idea that surfing is something that is, for the most part, a practice of white people particularly, through the lens of Southern California and Australia, you know, with a little bit of a nod towards the Hawaiians and Polynesians but that’s it. That those are the definitions of what surf culture is. This book, I believe, smashes open and redefines what surf culture means. As you see in these pages, how indigenous culture meshes with this surfing lifestyle and in various regions across the continent creates its signature of what surf culture feels like.”

Whether it’s Indigenous Australia or African Surf culture, it’s taken decades before these important facets of surfing have received the recognition and attention they deserve. Today, we’re able to learn more about and celebrate this part of surf culture previously hidden from the mainstream. The success of Afrosurf reflects just how important it is to see the full picture of this popular pastime, beyond the western world.

Mami Wata raised their first production costs on Kickstarter and committed to donate 100 percent of profits to surf therapy organisations Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children.

Purchase your copy of Afrosurf here.

 

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