Gold, diamonds and left pointbreaks
Investigating grassroots Afrosurfonomics in Robertsport, Liberia with Mami Wata co-founder and Chief Surf Officer, Andy Davis.
Iron ore, rubber, gold, diamonds and pointbreaks, Liberia is indeed a land of many riches. Endowed with plentiful fresh water, substantial mineral resources, dense tropical hardwood forests and a favourable climate for agriculture, like many African countries, Liberia has emerged from its history and is looking up.
Could this small West African country become an African surfing super power? Well maybe...
Image: @wyattland @surfliberia
Something happens when you first lay eyes on a perfect wave. A glorious and hypnotic befuddlement at the infinite providence of nature. This is followed by a slew of questions: How could something so incredible just occur? How often does it get like this? How long will it last?Where is my damn fin key?
This is how I felt when I first stumbled out of the jungle and onto the beach in Robertsport and saw the set-up. Standing under the giant cotton wood tree, rubbing my eyes and gawking mutely at the elegant lines wrapping around the multiple points and running faultlessly along ruler-edged sand banks.
To surfers, perfect waves (and the time and health to enjoy them) are the greatest treasures. More valuable (and relatable) than bitcoin and Tesla shares. They fizz with potential and arouse strong passions. Good waves are powerfully magnetic and deeply coveted.
Image: @wyattland @surfliberia
This is a global currency.
Strangely enough, in this age of technological advancement and virtual realities, very real and perfect surfing set-ups exist in parts of Africa that are as yet, almost unknown and in some cases, not even enjoyed (in surfing terms) by the local communities that call these valuable geographical fortuities, home.
Surf breaks are just another example of Africa's vast prospects.
At Mami Wata, we believe that quality surfing set-ups must be harnessed for the greater good. But can waves drive a new paradigm of true sustainable development, local inclusion, growth and well-being way beyond the meagre trickle down paradigm of modern economics? We don’t just think so. We know so.
This is Afrosurfonomics, a doctrine that breathes life into our brand purpose of being a creative force for good in Africa. Alas, there are no magic spells or silver bullets. Afrosurfonomics is a game of incremental and carefully considered baby-steps… and partnerships. The game of love with true friends. Done right, it can lead to remarkably beneficial outcomes.
Take for example what is happening in Robertsport, a fishing village, along the northwest coast of Liberia, nestled along the banks where the mighty Lake Piso spills into the Atlantic Ocean. Like many African towns, Robertsport has a large and aspirational youth population (thanks to 17 years of peace, improved living standards and advancements in basic healthcare) and a scarcity of opportunities to engage them all.
Meet Provide the Slide.
In 2019 Swiss/German surfers Chris Klein and Simon Mendoza, (both goofies), came to Robertsport in search of adventure and the fabled lefthand pointbreaks. They found a group of eager local surfers, having been turned onto surfing's potential by visiting surfing aid workers, missionaries and adventurers. But they had no boards! Can you imagine the agony living at one of the world's finest surfing setups, easily comparable with J-Bay, Chicama or Raglan - with no surfboard?!
This torturous state could not be tolerated!
Chris and Simon put their own boards in the hands of the local surf crew, with the promise to send more when they got back to Switzerland. And that's the short story of how Provide the Slide was born. Soon 36 surfboards had been collected by the budding organisation and were transported to Robertsport and entrusted to local surfer, Morris Sheriff, to distribute.
Universal Outreach Steps In.
The effect of those 36 surfboards cannot be understated. They were the catalyst that transformed a loose collection of youths into an engaged surfing community. They created a movement that galvanised a lot of support around the dream of what Robertsport could be. Liberian-based Canadian philanthropist who heads up the organisation Universal Outreach (and is one of Liberia's first surfers - also goofy) Kent Bubbs Jr., picked up the momentum and lent his considerable talents and infrastructure to help establish the Grand Cape Mount County Surf Club. A club that is wholly owned and run by the Robertsport surf community. The former Town Chief and founding Surf Club chairman, Varney Kazalu secured a prime beachfront property from the town council, (between the Inner Cottons and Fisherman’s surf breaks), as a home base for the fledgling surf club. Traveling French freesurfer and filmmaker, Arthur Bourbon, shot the excellent film 'Water Get No Enemy' in and around Robertsport, and on the back of the film's popularity, launched a successful GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the Grand Cape Mount County Surf Club buildings - which have now been completed.
Momentum was building organically. Having since distributed boards to Ghana, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, Provide the Slide started collecting more boards for the Surf Club in Robertsport. In total they've sent over 80 boards to this surf community. Universal Outreach trained members of the surf club in hospitality and supported local entrepreneur Philip Banini in setting up his guesthouse next door. Next the guys from Provide the Slide hit up Stefan Weckert a shaper based in Spain who specialises in eco-surfboards, to come to Robertsport to run a week-long ding repair workshop, with the intention of empowering the grand Grand Cape Mount County Surf Club members to maintain and repair their boards. Ding repairs are a valuable commercial skill in a surf community, and invariably lead their practitioners towards the dark art of surfboard shaping.
Image: @wyattland @surfliberia
Afrosurfonomics is more than the sum of its parts!
After a fortuitous introduction to Chris and Simon from Provide the Slide in Bern, Switzerland, I was invited, on behalf of Mami Wata, to accompany the organisation, on their return to Robertsport in May 2022, to bask in the glory of the many achievements of the Grand Cape Mount Surf Club, to throw down some wobbly backhand cutbacks in in the Liberian National Champs, to lend a hand in the ding repair program, to surf many lefts, provide my slides and to brainstorm, research and investigate further ways that Mami Wata could support the principles of Afrosurfonomics, in general, and this young and powerful surfing community, in particular.
It was an offer that was accepted as readily as a cold Club Beer after a marathon surf session at Outer Cottons.
Now with added Surf Therapy, with Waves for Change.
The outcome? Beyond forever memories, long rides and the glow of some of the finest and most uplifting vibes… together with Provide the Slide, Universal Outreach and our long term partners at Waves for Change, we are most proud to announce that we will be establishing a surf therapy program at the Grand Cape Mount County Surf Club. The intention is to anchor the nascent surf culture of Robertsport with a free program that is centred around creating well-being by providing mental health services that address the social, cultural and developmental issues of the community - all delivered through a surfing curriculum.
To the uninitiated all that goodness might sound a little far-fetched, but that’s exactly the kind of work Waves for Change does. From the cornerstone of surf therapy, we aim to assist the roll out of further skills development and economic opportunities through lifesaving, learn-to-surf coaching and other surf-adjacent competences.
Just as we did when we built the Harper Sliders Surf Club and created AfroSurf - the first book to celebrate original African surf culture; we’ll be calling on you, our powerful global community of friends, lovers and those who feel the power of African surf in their bones, to get involved and help us develop, share, improve-upon and deliver the gospel of Afrosurfonomics!
Can I get a hallelujah!?!
And please do watch this space.