Outside of a handful of well-known breaks in South Africa, Africa doesn’t exactly scream ‘surf trip’ for most people. But as the world’s second-biggest continent, and surrounded on most sides by vast expanses of ocean, there’s bound to be an abundance of great places to surf. Below, we take a look at five of the best waves you can find in Africa.
Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa
Arguably Africa’s most famous wave, Jeffrey’s Bay has been a staple of the World Surf League for all but three years since 1996 – and for good reason. Situated in South Africa’s Eastern Province, the wave is regarded by many as the world’s best right-hand point break. And it’s hard to argue. From top to bottom the wave consists of no less than ten different sections, and on its day can be surfed for up to one kilometre – a distance which is covered at breakneck speed. The wave can serve up multiple barrels, and some of the best waves ever surfed in the professional competition have taken place here.
The break made waves even outside of the surfing community back in 2015, when Mick Fanning had a run-in with a great white mid-competition. He escaped unscathed, as did the shark, but the competition was called off and Wikipedia now aptly lists the winner that year as ‘Shark’. Of course, the presence of sharks is an inevitability at most spots in South Africa – and indeed many throughout Africa – and for the most part they keep to themselves, but this one made J-Bay famous even among those with no interest in surfing.
Skeleton Bay, Namibia
Namibia is something of an anomaly within the surfing world. Though its location on the south-west coast of Africa sees it receive consistent swell from the South Atlantic, much of it is so desolate and hard to access that few surfers bother trying to surf there. Skeleton Bay is something of an exception. Regarded by some as the longest sand-bottomed left in the world – at least prior to the discovery of our next wave – the wave burst into public consciousness a little over a decade ago.
The whole set-up of the wave is almost surreal. Its surrounded by sand, but not the beachy kind – this wave is smack-bang in the middle of a desert, and the flat, sandy ground continues into the ocean to produce a mechanical, barrelling left which can be ridden for kilometres. Videos abound of surfers catching the wave of their life here; a sucking, heavy left which sees the lucky few who get to ride it enjoy up to seven, eight, nine – or, really, as many as they want – barrels from start to finish. Rumours seem to pop up sporadically that the sandy banks which create the wave are moving, spelling its end, but just as quickly a swell appears and with it a video of somebody surfing it and proving that Skeleton Bay still has plenty to give.
The Left, Angola
And speaking of long lefts…according to the select few who have ever seen it in person, The Left in Angola is a bit like Skeleton Bay, only easier to surf and twice as long. It hasn’t technically been named, so goes as The Left for now, and was brought into public awareness courtesy of a short video made by surfers Davey and Benji Brand and producer Dan Mace back in 2013.
According to them, the wave goes forever – kilometres and kilometres of a barrelling, sand-bottomed left-hander. On the day filming for the aforementioned video was taking place, the period was in excess of 20 seconds, and according to the filmmakers, the spot would resemble a lake for almost half an hour at a time before 10-wave sets would rumble through. That gives you plenty of time to get out to the line-up, and so perfect is the wave that you can drop in virtually anywhere along the multiple kilometre stretch for which it runs. Angola, however, is not the most surfer-friendly place on the planet for a number of reasons and even finding this place is difficult – let alone accessing it – so while it might be one of the greatest waves on the planet, it’s likely to stay a wave which only a very select group ever get to surf.
The African Kirra, Mozambique
Sitting on virtually exactly the same line of latitude as Skeleton Bay, The African Kirra – clearly not named by locals – is the crown jewel of surfing on Africa’s East Coast. Of course, the name is a reference to Gold Coast’s Kirra Beach, one of the best waves in Australia, and it’s easy to see why this break drew such a comparison. The crystal-clear blue, warm waters aren’t dissimilar to what you’d find in southern Queensland, while the peeling, barrelling right-hander also bears plenty of resemblances.
There are, however, two key differences. The first is that on the right day, you can surf here by yourself; the same can’t be said for Kirra, which must be one of the busiest breaks in the world. The second is that for much of the year, the waters here are flat. It’s only between January and April that nearby cyclones generate enough swell to turn this spot, but when they do it’s something to behold.
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Slightly north of the halfway point on Senegal’s west coast, the Cape Verde peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Unsurprisingly given its geographical setting, this peninsula is jam-packed with waves, including Ouakam, known as Senegal’s best wave. And unlike some of the other spots on this list, Ouakam is pretty accessible in a country that, perhaps somewhat surprisingly to many, actually has a long history of surfing and plenty of amazing surfers.
The wave itself is an A-frame reef that offers up both right and left-handers from a fairly small take-off spot which can rapidly get crowded during the 20-30 days per year in which it works. But it’s worth jostling for a spot. The wave begins as a fast barrel before opening up into a big, spacious wall with plenty of room for manoeuvres, something the locals do at an incredibly high level.
Given how much of Africa’s vast coastline remains unexplored by surfers, it’s likely the above list is only a drop in the ocean – so to speak – in terms of the best waves the continent has to offer. They do, however, provide a snapshot of the extraordinary quality and variety of waves present around so much of Africa, one of the last untapped frontiers of surfing.