On Wednesday, the QS1,500 Senegal Pro will see WSL competitors for the first time in West Africa, and probably bring the region to light for many of you. It isn't exactly the best known coastline to surf fans, so we decided to look into it with a local pro.
Enters Philippe Malvaux. Hurley's Team Manager in Europe and head coach at the Hurley Surf Club, former competitor representing France, what most might not know is that Philippe grew up in Dakar, Senegal and spent twenty odd years surfing the coast.
Surfing in Senegal is not new, in fact there's already surf tourism, but it's still in its infancy. Endless Summer revealed the potential in the 60s, but nothing followed. Then Bernard Capdepont, a sailor, made a movie about his trip down from France to Senegal on his boat, called ‘Vagabond Surfer' in the early 80s. It's mainly windsurf, but at the end he surfs in Dakar. Philippe Malvaux tells us that's the spark that made the first surfers in Senegal go and discover spots around.
Philippe arrived there aged 6 when his parents moved for work. He learnt surfing in 84-85 and considers himself a second-generation Senegal surfer.
"There was already maybe a dozen guys surfing," he says. "They were just a few years older than I was, all expatriates. I started together with Didier Piter, we were about the same age and became friends then. At the beginning there was absolutely nothing there, you basically had to come to Southwest France in summer and bring a single board home that you'd surf all year. Then we started seeing guys slowly come down on holidays to surf, but it was still marginal."
The country boasts some 500+ kilometers of coastline, and a variety of landscapes, breaks and wind/swell options to satisfy all types of surfers. Philippe tells us though, Dakar is the place to be.
"Dakar is a point formed by an old volcano," he adds. "It ressembles the Canary Islands in that, with sort of similar rock formations. When you head North on the coast it's all beach breaks, with some really good waves around Kayar. Going South, there's a continental shelf that slows down swells, so there are waves, but generally not as good."
"So Dakar is definitely the safe bet to find waves," he continues. "There are two sides of the point. On the South side ‘Les Almadies', which is a very rocky stretch of coast with plenty of waves, and the wind blows offshore on that coast 9 months a year. Right on the point is Ngor, that illustrious point break that was featured in ‘Endless Summer', and then on the North side is a beach called ‘Le Virage' which is where we all learnt to surf, it's pretty much always surfable. There's a stretch called ‘la petite côte' about 50-60km South of Dakar where a lot of people go surf on weekends, waves are easy and fun there, much like California waves."
The potential for epic surf did not stay silent for ever, and things are starting to change in Senegal. That's where locals come in.
"To me Oumar Seye (the organizer of the Senegal Pro) is the main actor of that change," Philippe said. "He believed in the potential of the region and decided to act on it. He built a surf camp, a restaurant, a surf school. He was the first local pro surfer, he traveled and got sponsored, and when he came home he decided to give it a go. He took a bunch of guys under his wing and they're now the best surfers in Senegal, all from the tiny island of Ngor."
Now, why YOU should put Dakar on your next Go-to list!
1. Guaranteed surf and good vibes
"You know you're going to surf, and you know you're going to get waves," Philippe said. "There are a lot of spots and a lot of options, if you book a random holiday, you're going to get good surf. If you go on a swell, you're going to score Epic surf! The vibe in the water is super chill, everybody is extremely welcoming, everywhere for that matter in and out of the lineup."
2. The weather
"No rain, do I need to say anything else?" he jokes. "The weather is awesome, very dry. It can be chilly though, especially in the water in winter because of the ‘upwelling'. It's a phenomenon where strong winds on surface chases the water, and so colder, deep water moves up, bringing plenty of nutrients and in turn, fish. By the way if you like fishing, you won't believe it there, it's awesome."
3. People and the culture
"I mean to me the most beautiful thing in Senegal is the people," he reflects. "The country could be landlocked and terrible I'd still go back for the people. The food is awesome too. My favorite dish hands down is the ‘Tiep Bou Dien', it's a traditional red rice and local veggies with ‘thiof', which is like a premium version of a merou. And there are many more incredible dishes to try out."
4. If it ever goes flat (which it doesn't ;), you won't get bored!
"There's an incredibly rich culture in Senegal," he adds. "The first president of the Republic of Senegal (Leopold Sedar Senghor) invested a lot in education and culture for his people and it's obvious now. There are a lot of artists, painters, musicians, singers and more, so museums as well."
"Then there are multiple things to see and do as well, like the Retba Lake, which is like a bright pink lake due to the extremely salty water, on which you float like on the dead sea. There's Goree Island, which is culturally important as it was built as a fort to keep slaves, it's a very interesting visit, right in the heart of Dakar. And if you're not familiar with Africa, you have to get out of the city and head into the bush, check out the Baobab forest and rustic little villages. The inside of the country if an unforgettable experience as well."