Sublime storytelling brings depth of African surf culture to the surface
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 10 January, 2018 - Surfers living in a dusty township in Mauritania or Western Sahara live dramatically different lives than their brethren in Coolangatta or Hossegor. But go anywhere in the world and you'll find that stoke is universal - we are all searching for a few blissful seconds of weightlessness on a wave.
The film “Beyond - An African Surf Documentary” taps this chase and deftly threads the story of Africa’s budding surf culture through several interviews with people in Cueta, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia.
The creators of the award winning film “The Old The Young And The Sea” - director Mario Hainzl and producer Andreas Jaritz - map a thoughtful exploration of how people in Africa pursue a pastime that has thrived in Western leisure culture. They talk to surfers of all ages: craftsmen, tycoons, taxi drivers, nomads, fishermen, pioneers, women at markets and tourists - all to bring the story of North and West African surfing to light.
Lineup photo by Felix Gänsicke
The narrative starts in the north with a central African man considering jumping the wall at Cueta, a Spanish territory on the very northern tip of Africa, to pursue a new life in Europe. He describes the boarder fence as resembling the one from Jurassic Park. “That fence is something for dinosaurs,” he tells the camera. “It’s not for humans.”
This simple observation illustrates the contrast between those on one side of the fence - Africa, and those on the other, Europe. It’s also a good jumping off point for the beautifully filmed, leisurely paced 1:45 minute documentary.
The film visits stoked teens and budding pros in centres with an established surf tourism culture. Places like Morocco are similar to other global hot spots like Bali. We find hotels, restaurants and guides who all earn a living from the constant stream of European surf holiday makers.
But in Tarfaya, in deep-south Morocco, we are introduced to a surf club whose youth explain that they have nothing. They look at surfers born in established surf cultures to the north and can see the equipment and income that’s missing from their corner of Africa. The club members session each day at a spot created by a wrecked freighter. They froth for good surf, and the club leader explains how the sea has taken over their lives. He’d like to see Tarfaya become a surfing centre with tourists and surf clubs.
The Dakhla, Western Sahara story is told by an older Swiss windsurfer who left Europe behind to live a nomadic life in his camper van. He recounts how everyone told him this area is too dangerous, “but here I am” he says, living a simple life and surfing everyday while his wife collects shells on the beach. It’s a rare moment in media where this part of Africa is presented as a quaint retirement adventure.
The film also follows SurfExplore’s Sam Bleakley as he drives through the sands of Mauritania with a guide to steer him clear of the land mines that still dot the country. During one tense encounter the military escorts them away from the coast. Sam discusses the surf tourism benefits seen in Morocco but wonders aloud why Mauritania misses that. The whole of Mauritania has seen only a handful of surfers over the past decade.
In Saint Louis Senegal we catch a glimpse of how its fishing industry feeds a good portion of Africa and meet the country’s first and only BMX rider. It’s not surfing, but it’s full-tilt Western leisure culture in a dramatically different setting. The rider goes through a repertoire of tricks on a boardwalk fronting an abandoned industrial beach, the moves he’s busting are the exact same ones kids are doing in Venice Beach California in front of partying onlookers. We also meet one of the area’s favourite surfers - a freakishly tall man who rides a 1980s windsurfer sans sail complete with improvised rope leash that ties around his waist.
Dakar, Senegal to the south has a thriving surf scene compared to Saint Louis. We hear the story of a man who was given a surfboard by a French tourist and how he followed a more Western surfer’s path of dropping out of school to pursue waves. His parents, the community, everyone thought he was crazy. But he got sponsored, travelled to France and went on to become Senegal’s first pro. He’s now helping the next generation of Senegalese pursue a surfing future where none existed before.
The movie succeeds in telling the story of North and Western African surfing because it doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with overly dramatic editing or soundtrack - these components are very subtle, almost invisible. “Beyond” works because the film doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling. It lets the subjects share their lives and leaves the learning and interpretation to the viewer.
“Beyond” is a beautiful meditation on and exploration of Africa’s surf culture which we discover is incredibly diverse yet rife with stoke - just like anywhere else on the planet.
If you are foturnate enough to live near one of the upcoming film festivals catch it on the big screen. If not, the VOD for "Beyond - An African Surf Documentary" is available through Nomad Media.