I booked a one-way ticket to Africa the other day.
It’s not the first time I’ve been, and it probably won’t be the last because Africa, war torn, diseased, impoverished Africa has somehow become a place oh, so close to my heart. I flew to Zimbabwe last year, with my closest friend and ultimate partner in crime, Anna. We were on a surf trip, but we thought we’d start in dusty Zimbabwe and check out Victoria Falls before heading south in search of waves in South Africa. What followed was seven months of the greatest adventure, from pumping winter surf in Jeffreys Bay, shark infested waters of Capetown, a week in a tiny Hyundai packed full of boards in the back roads of the Namibian desert and close to four months on the beach in Mozambique.
When we first got to Tofo, Mozambique, we were both still yearning for the salty perfection of Jefferys Bay but within a week the isolated East African village started to feel like home. Our grand plans of travelling north to Tanzania and the island paradise of Zanzibar rapidly faded from our thoughts and within a month we’d ditched our flights home and decided to stay for the summer.
Mozambique, located north east of South Africa, bordering Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania has a tumultuous history of Portuguese colonial rule and a savage civil war lasting for more than thirty years. A war that sent the country all but to its knees – leaving it one of the poorest countries in the world, wrought with corruption and disease.
Despite all this, the Mozambican people are some of the kindest, most welcoming, hilarious people I have ever met – traits characteristic of people that have never known what it is to have too much. Never known excess of material possession, yet have more appreciation for human connection than we ever really see on our side of the ocean.
Praia Do Tofo, a village located in the southeastern region of the two and a half thousand kilometre long coast – most of which lies undiscovered – is the country’s major surf destination. When I say major, I mean there are waves there and there are people that surf, but this is not to be confused with the normalized idea of crowds and industry as usually associated with ‘major’.
A short walk from the dusty, slow moving market, is Tofinho point. A hollow right hand point break that gets world class during the right conditions and usually populated by one or two locals, a few expats and the occasional tourist. Most of my time there I would sit waiting in the morning for someone to come so I didn’t have to surf alone.
The town itself sits directly on the beach. White sand and water so clear I used to get sore eyes because I couldn’t resist opening them as I duck dived. Palm trees line the shore and kids selling coconuts and bracelets slowly roam the waterfront in the hot African sun. The people move slowly, a pleasant mixture of ex-pats and locals, a dynamic blend of new world and old world, no urgency to the lifestyle of paradise they have chosen.
The bay changes rapidly, the beach changing shape as different weather patterns hit the coast. Sometimes hosting a mellow longboard wave breaking over shallow sand or a punchy shortboard wave close to shore. The bay stretches into long, isolated beach with a variety of banks that work depending on the swell size and direction. The water is populated by whale sharks and giant mantas, with some of the best diving in the world. People often ask if it was sharky, but someone I knew who had worked as a dive instructor in the area for more than ten years had seen only one shark large enough to attack a human in that entire period.
With only a tiny local surfing population and gender roles inhibiting the participation of a lot of the local girls, the female surf population was surprisingly strong. A few younger girls, introduced through the local swimming program were gutsy in their approach. There are tight knit communities of expat women, most of whom learnt to surf on moving to Tofo, who are slowly exploring the wave rich coastline and inspiring other women to surf. A few of them have recently started a company – East Coast Girls Surf Co, selling packages to girls of any surfing ability that include surf lesson, daily yoga, beach side accommodation and surf adventures. The only one of it’s kind in the country.
The surf community is tiny. On one of my early days there I was surfing at Tofinho point. There were a couple of other people out. It was a little windy but super rippable. After a few waves the other guys in the water went in and I could see them hanging by their cars on the headland in the dying afternoon sunlight. I surfed for a while and one by one the cars disappeared and left just one lone figure sitting on the point watching. I soon went in and didn’t see the girl on the headland leave. I found out later that night that she was a local surfer babe and had stayed to make sure I was ok out there alone. I hadn’t even met her. This kind of tightness within the surf community was something I had never really come across before. The vibe in the water never competitive, everyone just stoked to be living such a life. The culture, vibrancy, the people generous and kind. It was nothing like the Africa I had imagined.
I’m going back for the cyclone season. There’s a secret spot up the coast that I want to get when it’s firing. I don’t know when I’ll return, because despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Mozambique is so very rich.
For more information on East Coast Girls Surf Co. visit www.eastcoastsurftrips.com or follow them on Instagram @eastcoastgirlssurfco
x Lucy Small
You can check out Lucy’s blog here.