Senegal: Checking in on Africa’s next surfing frontier

Posted - News Posted for Senegal News, World Surfing News.

Senegalese National Surfing Coach Rene Laraise provides an update on the state of Surfing in the west African nation

Senegal has been making waves in the world of surfing.

From the first Senegalese surfers competing in the 2017 World Surfing Games, to hosting the 2026 Youth Olympic Games (which will include Surfing), things are looking bright for the future of Senegalese Surfing. 

Ideally situated as the western-most point on the continental landmass of Africa, the coast of Senegal is graced with strong swells from all corners of the Atlantic Ocean, making it an ideal location for surfing. 

Since being introduced to the surfing world in the 1964 film ‘Endless Summer’, the world-class waves that the country harbors are nothing new, but recent developments in the grassroots development of the sport have begun to truly put the country on the map as a potential breeding ground for future surfing talent.

Rene Laraise has been at the forefront of Surfing’s progression in the country, starting out as a young surfer himself in the 1980’s and transitioning into one of the coaches for the country’s national surfing team.

Laraise has accompanied and trained Team Senegal in their appearances at the last three editions of the ISA World Surfing Games, where they have been getting in their reps against the best competition in the world — valuable experience to take back home to Senegal. 

The ISA got in touch with Laraise to discuss the state of Surfing in Senegal and its up-and-coming potential as a global hotbed for the sport.

Take Off Ngor Surf School has played a key role in developing the surfing youth of Dakar.

Take Off Ngor Surf School has played a key role in developing the surfing youth of Dakar.

1) ISA: Tell us a little about yourself? How did you end up becoming the coach for the Senegalese National Surf Team?

Rene: My name is Rene Pierre Laraise. I am 46 years old and have been surfing for 31 years. I am the National Team coach along with Pape Samba Ndiaye. We are both part of the second generation of Senegalese surfers. 

When we were young, we didn’t have the opportunity to have our elders to help us improve our surfing or give us any kind of surf gear. My passion for this sport pushes me to give anything needed to help our little brothers who are new to the sport! It all started by participating in the competitions that were held by the local surfing legend Patina, then being part of that process by joining the new team of the Senegalese Surfing Federation. As we went along, I became a surfing instructor and loved what I was doing, so I naturally came to coach the National Team.

2) ISA: Senegal seems primed to become the next surfing hotspot in Africa. What has made surfing gain popularity in Senegal, especially among the nation’s youth?

Rene: Since ‘Endless Summer’ one, our country has been known as a land of surfing. Mother Nature gave us the gift of having 400km of beach breaks on the north coast and almost the same on the south. The other thing is that the capital Dakar, where the most known spots are, is almost an Island. Being so, you’re less than 10 minutes from each side north or south! The wind is always good on one side. 

Participating in the ISA events contributed to putting Senegal on the map amongst the Surfing community. The level our surfers have shown there has definitely thrust Senegalese surfing into the spotlight.

Senegalese National Surfing Coach, Rene Laraise.

Senegalese National Surfing Coach, Rene Laraise.

3) ISA: How many people do you estimate are consistently surfing in the country? What is the surf scene like?

Rene: We are at least around 300!

Most of the surfers are expats, but the local crew is growing exponentially due to the good work the surf schools are doing, specially Take Off Ngor School, which focuses their teaching on the local kids. They have a good crew and most of them are leading their category’s events.

The ISA scholarship program is also a very good opportunity to help that young generation obtain quality gear while continuing their education.

The Federation is doing its job by promoting surfing around the country and has started organizing events outside of Dakar. The local newspapers are focused now on the sport as we are now Olympic and surfing seems to be the star of the next Youth Olympic Games we’re holding here in Senegal.

4) ISA: How is the quality of the waves in Senegal? Where are the best breaks?

We got all types of waves from beginners to expert.

The main surfing area is located in Almadies where we have reef breaks.

  • The easiest wave and the more crowded is ‘Secret Spot’ (where I started in the late 80’s).
  • Next on the degree of difficulty are ‘Vivier left and right’, mostly for bodyboarders on the left. The right is shorter and hollower; a good wave to train barrel riding (my favorite one!).
  • Expert waves are ‘No Return’ which is a right hander that works with south swells, ‘Speed Point’ a left mostly for bodyboarders, Club Med with two spots ‘Tir a l’arc’ and ‘Bonbonne’.

‘Ngor Right’ is famously known, and depending on the swell direction and height can go from beginners to expert. Next to the island ‘Gauche de Loïc’ and ‘Baie des Carpes’ are really good lefts that are no longer ridden due to marine pollution. Other spots like ‘Ngor Gauche’, ‘Calao’, ‘Gauche de Lous’ are not as well known. Even I’ve never surfed ‘Calao’!

5km down south from Almadies is ‘Ouakami’. This spot first, by its position, is our jewel. It’s in a nice bay with a beautiful Mosque with traditional fishing pirogues out front. We have a left and a right breaking along a sharp reef full of sea urchins. Second is the quality of the wave, which makes it a world class one — a fickle one by the way! I remember a year where it didn’t break at all — just some small sessions. 

Furthermore down south ‘Toubab Diallaw’, Yenne’… these are good spots on big north swells. 

The one we cherish is ‘Kayar’, that one is our ‘La Graviere’ (famous French spot) perfect on east wind.

Omar Tierera surfing one of the popular spots on the Dakar coast. Photo: Rene Laraise

Omar Tierera surfing one of the popular spots on the Dakar coast. Photo: Rene Laraise

5) ISA: How is the talent level? Who are the best surfers?

Rene: Wow! There have been really big improvements since we’ve started competing in international events. The 2008 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship is where it started. Since then, the surfers’ skills have been getting sharper. Today many of the surfers are QS level. With more help, I’m sure we can easily have a QS Winner. Cherif Fall is leading with no contest! Not far behind are Sidi Camara,  Assane Mbengue, Mbabou Gueye, Louis Houmaire, Ismaïla Samb, Modou Samb, and Thierno Samba. The young guns are led by Demba, Sita, Birame, who are all knocking on the door. 

6) ISA: Since 2017, Senegal has sent national teams to compete at the ISA World Surfing Games. What changed in 2017 that made sending a team possible and how has Senegalese participation in the WSG affected the surfers at home in Senegal? 

Rene: As I’ve said earlier, the first time we participated in an ISA event was in 2008 at the World Junior Surfing Championship in France. At that time we were not a Federation yet, but the top management had that in target and even if we didn’t have our politics set up, we believed that would be a great start in business, and France was easier to travel for us than the rest of the world. We did everything possible and brought a team of two boys.

Without help it is very difficult to field a team! 2017 was the second time we participated in an international event and, again, due to the proximity (France) we could afford sending a team. The government started helping us that time and we were able to send a team (men and women) every year since. Our international participation pushed the locals surfers to do their best in our national events as they are part of the national selections. Those international appearances resulted in several new clubs, much more competitors, and more media attention. 

Team Senegal prepares for the Parade of Nations at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

Team Senegal prepares for the Parade of Nations at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

7) ISA: With the Youth Olympic Games coming to Senegal in 2026 and surfing being included, how do you think that will affect the growth of the sport within the country?

Rene: Hosting such an event in our country will for sure boost every sport. In terms of organisation, the federations will become more structured. The athletes will take advantage of the preparation help and all that emulation will definitely push the interest of the populations in any kind of sport. Our unknown sport will be propelled to the front of the scene! Surfing looks to be next star of those YOG, even in the presentations the Olympic committee does, surfing has a lot of appearances. 

We’re confident that surfing will be known far and wide in Senegal and the quality of our surf will spread all around the world. 

8) ISA: Having traveled the world and seen the surf scenes in many countries, how does the surf scene in Senegal compare? Are there differences, similarities? How so?

Rene: To be honest the first thing you notice in many surf countries is the crowd, and what comes to mind is “thank God it’s not like this at home!” As everywhere, surfing is growing here and there is more and more people in the water. This is something we have to deal with as we are actors of this success. Here we’re lucky! In 2020 you can still surf a famous spot and have max 20 surfers in the lineup. Sometimes you can find perfect conditions alone. The climate is good and we (elders) push the kids to be fair and share the waves with those who can’t ride from the peak or are struggling to catch a wave. Here, the moment you respect the basics (saying hi when you arrive, respect your turn, and so….) you will have a good day and maybe be rewarded with the bomb! 

9) ISA: What is your approach to coaching Senegalese surfers?

Rene: There is a big part of psychology in coaching. The respect of the elders is something very anchored in Senegalese education. I’m using that fact and a brotherhood relationship with the athletes. My approach is installing a climate where we can debate, discuss everything, and share experiences. This works best than just giving orders to execute. The style of coaching matches the personality of the surfer.

10) ISA: Are there any particularly challenging barriers to growing surfing in Senegal?

Rene: Some cultural factors used to be a barrier for girls surfing; such as they belonged to the kitchen and dedicated themselves to staying at home learning with their mums and grandma how to take care of their future house and husband. Time has changed the minds and as they are still learning the basics of housekeeping, they are allowed to choose what they want to be or do. Now they are in almost every sport. There’s a good crew here of Ngor and Yoff natives having fun and sharing the waves with us!

The economical barrier is still the big issue in having more surfing athletes. The surfing gears are still out of reach for the majority of the populations. We’re lucky some big surfing brands are coming and offering sponsoring to the kids. 

11) ISA: What is something unique about surfing in Senegal that the world should know? 

TERANGA! The art of receiving people.

This use to be and is still the way Senegalese people live. Sharing the spots with the locals is something really easy here. With just the respect of the basics etiquette, you can earn friends and can consider yourself at home. 

12) ISA: Any additional thoughts or comments?

Thanks to the ISA team in all sectors to allow the little countries to talk about themselves, spreading their vibes to the world. The opportunity we have with the ISA Scholarship Program has been helpful to the Federation. We’re hoping things get back to normal soon.

Six Senegalese ISA Scholarship recipients prepare to hit the water in Dakar. Photo: Rene Laraise

Six Senegalese ISA Scholarship recipients prepare to hit the water in Dakar. Photo: Rene Laraise