14 February 2014

Sierra Leone: Surf's Up in Sierra Leone

When we think of surfing in Africa, it's usually images of South Africa and its high waves that come to mind. In West Africa surfing is not so common but the tiny country of Sierra Leone could be the next hot spot.

As 17 year-old Kadiatu Kamara (known for short as KK) waxes up her surf board and gets ready to hit the waves, she explains how her local surf club has not only helped her gain self-confidence but has also helped her stay in school because money from the club goes towards her school fees. And that's the whole idea - to give back to the community the money the surf club brings in.

"I like surfing because surfing can keep me busy and it changed my attitude. My mother doesn't have money to pay for me to go to school and surfing helps me to pay my school fees," KK told DW.

Young surfers head for the waves of Bureh Beach

The club, which opened in 2012, is located near a fishing village called Bureh Town which has a population of about 200 people. It's home for KK and most of the surfers.

Club manager Jahbez Benga says part of the takings also goes towards paying for transport for children and young adults to attend school as as well as towards health services in Bureh Town. A share of the proceeds is also invested in the club itself.

Sustaining the environment

Benga told DW help has also come from German nongovernmental organization Welthungerhilfe which provided funding for the surf club. The NGO wanted to offer an alternative sustainable lifestyle for people in the community.

"Some of the guys before, they were charcoal burning, they cut down the trees to burn coal. We all agreed if they build us this surf club, some of the guys would stop going to the forest and the surf club would support the community and now we all have a lot of trees and it's good for all of us," Benga said.

Forestry management is one of Welthungerhilfe's goals and country director Jochen Moninger is pleased with the community's decision to stop cutting down trees.

"If you go out there in the bay, in your boat, you see the hilly mountains with the rain forest - it's just beautiful," Moninger said. He estimates that the club brings in about 2,000 euros ($2,700) a month.

Gaining confidence

For 17 year-old surfer Charles Samba, being a part of the surf club and working there as a volunteer has helped him gain self-confidence, just like KK.

Charles Samba works as a volunteer at Bureh Beach Surf Club

He says his social skills have improved because of the clientele the club brings in, many of whom are foreign nationals.

"Now I know how to speak with people. Before I didn't know, like if I saw white people I would run, but now surfing makes me speak with different kinds of people," Samba said.

Bureh Beach Surf Club was initially set up by an Irishman named Shane O'Connor. He has always been an avid surfer himself and when he discovered the untapped beach in Bureh he decided to create the surf club with the goal of helping the community. Many surf boards were donated from Ireland.

Promoting tourism

O'Connor says eventually the hope is to get other West African countries all working together to promote tourism through surfing.

"Here in Sierra Leone we have a club now. There's also one in Liberia, one in Ghana, one in Ivory Coast and we're trying to form a little bit of a West African association, which is slowly coming together," said O'Connor.

Sierra Leone's young surfers are now eagerly looking forward to an international surfing competition to be held at Bureh Beach this coming September.

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