Look at the camels - surfing in Morocco
Following my instructor’s voice above the waves, “Look at the camels. Look up,” I manage to stay on the surfboard until I am 2 metres from one particular camel, the Atlantic lapping at his cloven hoof – the camel’s toes if you will.
It’s amazing how quickly we can adjust our ‘normal.’ The camels on the beach had me gobsmacked me for the first couple of days - watching their fascinating faces, the way they sit down, pee, sleep. By day three, they were part of the landscape, simply something to help keep your gaze up.
It was my first time in this, or any, north African country. This trip was a no brainer;
a direct 3h30 flight from Luton to Essaouira (arrive fresh), which is a
super windy place in Africa (kitesurfing),
being able to be on the water within 1 1/2 hours of landing (efficient),
lots of activities (surf, ride camels, quads, wander in the medina, eat lots) and
sun just as temperatures drop in the UK (long live summer)
good wifi and some down time to be able to keep working (this is a press trip, and I have Evening Standard, Relay and Team52 duties to keep up)
A long customs queue, a clean airport and into the Kiteworldwide van. As with any brand new place, the senses engage, seeking something familiar – a smell, a face, a style of building. I see the familiar in the shrubs of southern Africa, the architecture of Spain, the roadside trees of Portugal, the smells of Nepal.
We enter the medina – the old walled part of the city, navigated by alleyways, fig trees and bread shop landmarks. It’s just like the Morocco I have imagined from movies. I dump my bags in the Kiteworldwide/ Explora surf house riad, an airy building based around a courtyard. Six rooms, communal breakfasts and a a couple of team dinners make it sociable. I join forces with two other British journalists, there for the same reason I am - to write about kiting in Essaouira so you can choose whether it's for you (article out soon!)
A 3 minute taxi and 7 DIR (50p) later, we are on the beach at Explora Watersports. With the wind not quite blowing as a kiter would like it to, I quickly decide to join a not-quite-beginners surf group with the Explora Watersport team - Miranda and Nassir’s - encouragement.
Surfing is fun! I knew that. But my weekend attempts to learn in November and February in Devon and Cornwall mean I only remember how cold and numb I felt.
With instructors Momo and Rachid, I start my journey to become the surfer I always thought I would be as a young teenager. A stickler for detail, Rachid teaches in a style I respond well to – clear explanations and exercises, celebrations when they’re due, corrections when they’re not. Over the four days Matt, Jess and I progress to hardboards, laugh a lot and get suitably exhausted becoming "much better, much better than beginners" - see video on Instagram!
The days are long and time flies. By the evening we are ready for bed, but dinner and a wander around the Medina is an experience worth staying up for. In Essaouira there are plenty of good quality restaurants: The Loft (try the puddings), Megaloft, Ramses (Moroccan - run by women), The Coast (Moroccan), No. 11 at the fish market (pick your fish and they grill it) to choose from. Our night out with Rachid, with the brief to do what he does when he goes out with his friends, was my favourite.
It’s 10pm and the streets are still buzzing as we go from stall to stall on the high street buying meat, vegetables, bread and olives. We walk into a restaurant and hand over our shopping bags. The food arrives 20 minutes later, grilled to perfection. Delicious and not another tourist in sight – just indoor smoking and cats to keep us company!
Taking tea and watching the world go by is a popular past time, as is drinking and dancing in Taros – the roof top bar and club. The harbour, with the towers starring in Game of Thrones, is a fun place to explore – descaling, gutting, selling, cooking and eating all right there and then.
Wandering through the Essaouira medina, with shops selling argan oil, spices, wicker handbags, jewellery, cushion covers, crockery and rugs is relatively hassle-free in comparison with other Moroccan cities. By dressing in long baggy clothes you minimise the attention you get as a tourist, making wandering around even more relaxing.
Just as I’m ready to become a pro surfer, we get a call from the surf school saying the wind has arrived. Good bye (for now) surfing, hello kitesurfing!
It’s been a year and a half since I did a solid few days of kiting (another epic trip – with Kitesisters in Tulum, Mexico). My one day down at Greatstone, near Cambersands in Kent, in May was helpful but it’s refresher time.
Yusef and I work together to get me back to scratch, water starting in waves, cruising with the kite steady and transitioning smoothly (not sitting down to turn direction). By the time I’m feeling back to my old self, preparing for jumps, I’m tired.
Time to go back to shore. Obviously I have visions of myself kiting up to the camels, popping my board off and glamorously shaking my salty hair dry. Or not....
Sunday’s lesson: Waves come in sets – don’t pick the moment that the waves are at their peak to try come into shore, and don’t try do it with all the local kiters around surfing said massive excellent waves! If you should panic and fall, it's not fun. For you or the kite.
Monday's lesson: Have fun. As soon as Yusef reminded me to have fun, everything lightened and I was riding and transitioning effortlessly. Didn't quite manage to master the jumps I was trying to do. That will have to wait for next time.
So the week is over. I fly home today and I don't want to!
The Kiteworldwide experience was great. Check out their kitesurfing trips all over the world.
Their local Essaouira partners, Explora Watersports are exceptional teachers and fun people to be around too. Thank you Nassir, Miranda, Jo, Sara and the Moroccan Tourism board for making it possible!
Now your turn!