Wow, where do you start when you’ve just had an amazing surf trip. This was the first time I’d been to Morocco and I’d heard a lot of scare stories, (every surf trip has them) over crowded, dirty water, people getting robbed, surf that’s too big and I have to say I never experienced any of this. O.K, the water quality was a bit bad on some days but no worse than I’ve surfed at Shanklin after a good storm.
Day 1 and we flew from Heathrow at midday and by half past four I was in the line up. It was small but a nice introduction for what was to come and I was surfing in board shorts. That night, after a dinner that cost little more that £3, it was clear the surf was building. The noise as I tried to get to sleep just kept getting louder. I know the phrase “rolling thunder” is a bit of a cliché but it really did sound like rolling thunder and it’s very hard to sleep through when it’s right under your window.
Day 2 and when I woke the swell had jumped from tiny to clean 8-10 feet lines and everywhere I looked there were point breaks going off. I surfed Panoramas and it was a bit of a humbling experience to say the the least. Getting outback wasn’t to much of a problem and even surfing the big powerful waves was O.K but getting back in was something else. The shore dump from waves that had already broken twice was massive and a bit like running the gauntlet. Boards were broken but thankfully not mine.
Day 3 and the swell had dropped to a nice manageable 6 foot. I was picking waves up on the point at Panoramas and riding them for about 500 yards. They were without a doubt the longest waves I’ve ever ridden. After just 5 waves and a 500 yard paddle back out I’d now paddled 2500 yards but only had 5 waves. My shoulders were killing me so it was time for lunch. Anyone that’s been there knows they grow the best bananas in the world. These are picked ripe, unlike our ones that are picked 6 months in advance and kept in airtight containers until the supermarket wants them. A kilo costs about 80p, the cheapest lunch ever! After they went down it was back out, another 4 waves, another 2000 yards of paddling and I was done. After another cheap meal and not feeling like doing much I was pleased to see a South African guy, James, already setting the projector up in the hotels little cinema. The word cinema doesn’t really do it justice. It’s a chill out area with cushions everywhere to crash on while you choose which one of the 200 surf films they have on the hard drive that you’d like to see projected onto a white wall.
Day 4 and the swell was pretty much the same as yesterday so it was another day at the office and more stupidly long rides. That night though I discovered the place we were staying had an amazing roof garden complete with hammock, guitar and another cushioned seating area big enough for about 50 people. The view, whether it was day or night was fantastic and there was always different people to meet up there. I think I had a drink and a chat with someone from nearly every continent up there at some point. South Africans, Aussies, Americans, Dutch, Germans, French, Irish, and even the Welsh.
Day5 saw the swell drop and by Moroccan standards it was small but still more powerful and clean than your average Island wave. For most of the morning the tide was too high for anywhere to break properly but as it dropped back the point at Panoramas starting working. Because it was small, maybe shoulder high, a hollow wave was running close in along the line of the rocks. Seeing one guy out I ventured out with your typical Brits abroad hangover and had what was one of the defining surfs of the trip. The guy that was out on his own was a local called Salem and after I’d introduced myself he told how the wave breaks, where to sit and what to expect. After some good old fashioned surfers banter, pulling leashes, flicking water and dropping in on each other, I had about 30 good fun waves. We were joined by a few others that day but most of them seemed to be frightened by the rocks so I think we had nearly every set wave. I’d made a friend and he asked me to stop by where he worked the next time it was working.
Day 6 and because of modern technology everyone knew what was coming. The chart was showing 17 foot and although it clearly wasn’t it was still big and ugly. We’d met a German guy called Ulv who was staying at the same place as us. He had a hire car and a sense of humour, I know I know but he turned out to be one of the coolest guys I’d ever met. Anyway, he offered us a lift to Agadir which was about the only place that was going to be small enough to ride. As we pulled into the car park the rain arrived and it was a race to get a surf in before it washed all manner of unspeakable things into the ocean. The wave was hideous. Clean and head high but shutting down in one big close out the length of the bay. I was glad to leave it behind. We spent the next hour driving round the city getting lost whilst looking for the supermarket for that all important ‘beer run’.
Day 7 and everywhere wass still massive and ugly. Ulv had an idea that Imsoune might be good and said he’d be glad of the company. Ims is a small fishing village about an hour and half up the coast, maybe less the way Ulv drives. The Japanese bought the rights to the best fish from this village and in return they built a harbour and fishery. When it’s massive everywhere else there’s a wrap around wave from the harbour that I’d heard sometimes goes on for 500 yards. We were the first to arrive and the tide was too high. Later as the tide dropped back and every surfer in Morocco descended on the place the waves got a little better but never that good. Ulv assured me it was because the sandbanks weren’t right and then added “just don’t mention zee war” which became the catchphrase of the day. As we drove back along the coast there was a point break, I don’t know the name there’s just too many, with one guy out enjoying a perfect overhead evening glass off to himself. Can’t win em all.
Day 8 was the only day I never surfed. There was big waves everywhere and the sun was out but the wind had picked up and after watching countless people fail to get out I decided to rest. All the locals where getting warmed up for the festival of Eid. It’s the biggest festival in the Muslim calender. After being warned that all the shops would be closed for two days I hooked up with a surf guide that worked there for another beer run. The supermarket was packed with Moroccans stock piling food so it was a bit like Tesco the day before Christmas. Everywhere you look you see people buying sheep or goats ready for Eid. They’re tied to roof racks, hanging out of boots or piled high on the back of low loaders. That evening I talked to a local guy called Mohamed who worked at the place we were staying. He explained a lot about his religion, the Berber people and their culture. By the end of the evening I’d made a friend and…T.B.C
Day9 and everywhere was a bit crap apart from one place, Anchors. It seems to be the one place that everyone wants to surf, has to surf and likes to say they’ve surfed but today it was fickle. I’m sure on its day it’s a world class wave, I’ve seen the photos, but today the tide was too high, it was crowded and after a steep take off and short ride it just sputtered out. Four guys on longboards were sat way out back and taking the lions share of set waves but then they were from Wales. I got out frustrated after 3 waves and walked back to the hotel to wait for the tide to drop back. I wandered round to Panoramas and asked Salem if he thought it was going to break. He told me to come back at 4 o/clock and we’d go in regardless of size. I went back and after a race across the rocks with him to see who could get out first I had the second best session of the trip. The tide starting pushing. The waves picked up to about shoulder height and once again we had the lions share. After about 40 waves in blistering heat I was surfed out. That evening I chatted with Mohamed again about his life and family until the wee hours of the morning and…
Day 10 Eid. I came downstairs for breakfast and the local staff had been replaced by the owner and manager. The staff were going home for Eid. Mohamed asked me if I’d like to be his guest and go with him and his brother to their family home and celebrate Eid. Still bleary eyed and knowing what to expect I hesitated before saying yes, I’d be honoured. The surf was pretty much flat everywhere as we drove towards the little village at the foot of the mountains where Mohamed grew up. His family had lived there for generations and I was unsure what to expect. For those of you that are squeamish go straight to Day 11. The houses in the village are simple. Concrete floors, bare walls and small windows, some rooms have none. The main room has a rug and cushions and after slipping your footwear off you’re invited to sit on a cushion while his mother serves breakfast. Fresh mint tea, warm home made bread and dishes of sweet honey, arogan oil, nuts, cake and not a pre-wrapped Kellog sign in sight. After breakfast Mohamed washes ready for prayer while I enjoy the silence with his mother. Nobody else in the little village spoke English and his mother spoke only Berber. It’s a language that most locals don’t write but learn by ear. Once he’d washed I walked up to the open air mosque with him but not being aloud inside I walked into the mountains to admire the view. Words aren’t going to do it justice so I won’t try. After about half an hour he drove up and picked me up with some friends, it was time.
We drove down and he changed into some old clothes, things were going to get bloody. He led me into a little stable with no roof where there were four older guys sharpening knives and his young cousin Mohamed, (popular name in Morocco). His cousin was only six years old but he said it was important for him to see what happens because one day he would have to do it. It’s a ritual that’s been taking place for centuries. One by one two sheep and three goats were lead in and after being laid on their side they had their throats cut. A bush is then placed under the head while the blood drains into the soil. The head is then severed and a sharpened stick is used to pierce a hole in it’s leg.
One of the men place their lips around the hole and the animal is then blown up like a balloon. Once inflated they beat the dead animal with a stick to loosen the hide. It’s then strung up, skinned and gutted. While this is happening women come in and out leaving washing bowls and water to clean and carry the innards. Apart from the blood nothing is wasted. After the third animal I was starting to feel queasy so I stepped out for some air. Little Mohamed followed and even though he didn’t speak a word of English he took me on a tour of his village. Once again I was invited into another home and more tea, bread and sweet dips appeared. The owner of this home had just finished doing his own sheep outside his front door and wanted me to take a picture of him holding the freshly skinned animal in his arms. I obliged and being the uncle of Mohamed he told that his home was now mine and I was welcome there any time. I arrived back at the stable just as the last carcass was being taken away to a kitchen and the teenagers were making away with the hides for later on. We went back to Mohamed’s and with little or no ventilation the place was filled with the smoke of cooking meat. Once again we kicked our shoes off and took our places on the cushions. First up was a skewer each with various parts of the animals internal organs including the lung. After that it’s the main course which is meat on the bone braised in a kind of gravy. There is no cutlery and everyone just tucks in with their right hand. Warm bread is dealt out like cards by mum to mop up the rich gravy. When this is gone and you feel like you can’t eat another thing a large plate of fresh fruit is placed on the table and everyone eats as much as they can as quickly as they can. I can only assume it’s to add some much needed roughage to the Eid diet. When the feast is over I ask to wash my hands and I’m led to the kitchen where water is poured over my hands with a cup. This is because the government have cut off the water supply because they want the land and everything is carried into the homes in whatever holds water. It seems they want to develop it and turn it into another Benidorm. After so much food it was time to walk it off and Mohamed took me to his beach, the beach he grew up on, the beach his grandfather carried a boat down to everyday to work the fish rich waters. Again, I can’t do it justice so I won’t try. To be taken in by a local and treated as one, to join his family for their biggest celebration, to be fed and watered and be asked for nothing in return but friendship was an honour, a privilege and the perfect end to the surf trip. Tomorrow I was going home.
There’s a million cultural and religious things I learned there that I haven’t touched on because I’m aware this is a surf story. All in all I’d say Morocco is one of the best surf destinations for a number of reasons and a few people from the Island that have stayed there agreed. Firstly it’s not a long haul flight so it’s cheap to get there and relatively quick. It’s still quite cheap as it’s not a part of the dreaded Euro. The dry sunny climate means there’s not a mosquito in sight, major bonus. The surf is excellent and I lost count of the amount of uncrowded and unridden point breaks in such a small area of coastline. Lastly, the Berber are amazingly warm and friendly people and if you treat them as a friend you will be treated as such yourself.
In July 1980 Dave Williams(Magic), Mick Thompson and myself arrived at Moliet Plage south western france having travelled down in Daves VW Camper, as the advance party for the Isle of Wight Surf Club. We were waiting for Dave Jacobs, Steve Williams, Keith Williams, Ann and Tony Macpherson and there parties to arrive.
Magic and Sid at La Barre
Whilst there we would get acclimatised to the French way of life. Our days started with an early morning surf, followed by breakfast, mid morning surf, followed by lunch, (which usually consisted of Baguettes, cheese, tomatoes, a bottle or two of red wine all for the equivalent of 1£) then a siesta in the sand dunes behind the beach. A late afternoon surf, evening meal with another bottle or two of wine, then an evening surf before bedtime.
Keith, Mick, Sid, Neal and the back of ‘Magic’
This formed the pattern of our days, and as we wound our way through the camp site every morning we would acknowledge a Dutch family camped further nearer the beach with a smile to start with, next day we were greeted with a broad grin, then the day after followed laughter by the end of the fifth morning they greeted our journey with unrestrained laughter. We never did discover what they found so amusing but after the forth day we had run out of milk and Mick had resorted to putting red wine on his cornflakes. Dave never did get the wine rings out of his Formica table top
Back Row: Steve Williams, Dave ‘Magic’ Williams, Jenny Jacobs, Neal Fordham, (Steve’s friend?), Jo Clark, Rob Clark, Keith Williams, Annie Macpherson, Tony Macpherson.
Front Row: Mick Thompson, Paul Jacobs, Mark Jacobs, Dave Jacobs, Kathy Watson (Wheeler), Sid Pitman, Sue Fordham
By 1993 I had a newer VW Camper, it was better equipped and I had surfing a lot. The previous year I had done a trip out to New Zealand surfing at Raglan and Piha and stopping on Oahu, Hawaii on the way home. I was very excited about this trip to France.
This time Shaun Baxter, Mark White and Jo Turner were coming with me and we had heard there was quite a contingent of other Islanders heading to the South of France.
After an overnight stop at Avranches to pick up Jo we set off for the Messanges area again. We arrived just as the sun was going down and I couldn’t wait to get everyone to the beach. It was high tide and only a bit of a shore break, but a swim in the warm Atlantic was lovely after the long drive.
For the next few days we had small waves on a low tide and nothing at high tide. The sun was out and it was very relaxing, but there was only so much sun bathing we could do. It wasn’t long before the sand dunes started to look like they could be fun. I had brought my snowboard with the intention of trying a bit of sand boarding with it. We were soon at the top of the biggest sand dune with snowboard, surfboards (no fins) and a bodyboard. The sand dunes weren’t steep or long enough for the snowboard but were pretty lethal on a surfboard with no fins.
On one trip to Hossegor we bumped into Martin Potter coming out of a café. Jo asked if she could have her picture taken with him and he was more than happy to oblige.
The evenings were spent with a few bottles of French beer or glasses of wine and a barbeque. Mark, Jo and myself were quite happy to chill most evenings at the local bar but Shaun was determined to go clubbing and would often walk or hitch along to ‘Club Le Fun’. He would come back with tales of crazy nights and sexy French girls, until one night he returned much earlier than usual grumbling about ‘elephants’ and ‘too much to drink’ as he went to bed. In the morning when we questioned him he said that when he turned the corner near the stadium he came across an elephant and had turned back thinking he had over indulged in the delights of French Red wine. We laughed at this ridiculous story but when we walked into town later that day we found that the Circus had arrived in town during the night with elephants, tigers and other exotic things. It suddenly made lots of sense and we all saw the funny side of it until we realised the conditions in which the animals were kept. The Tigers were obviously heavily sedated and in cages that were barely big enough for them to stand in.
Mark took to preparing and cooking food straight away and we were more than happy to let him as his meals were lovely. Jo got stuck in with the chores too, I tried to keep using the excuse that I did all the driving but they wouldn’t put up with that for too long, while Shaun did the washing up.
While the swell was small we went down to Hossegor to watch the Rip Curl Pro. When we arrived Luke Egan was on fire in his heat against Millar with some powerful moves. The next heat saw Shane Beschen beating Thomas and then we watched Dino Andino go through against Rob Bain.
The final was between a young Rob Machado and Damian Hardman. Damian’s experience proved too much for Rob and he went onto become the 1993 Rip Curl Hossegor Pro Champion.
With small waves we had time on our hands and Mark became very creative , making himself a nose protector from kitchen foil. Shaun had hit shops coming back with some John Lennon style mirror sunglasses.
Mark’s cooking got better and better, especially at the bbq. I remember lots of great meals using only the small hob in the van and the bbq, he would cook anything from rice, pasta, potatoes or couscous.
Earlier that year I had bought a couple of old longboards from Clive Richardson. The largest of which came to France with us just in case it was small. It was huge and very flat so I could catch the tiniest ripples with it. The only problem was that it was so heavy and the walk to the sea over the sand dunes carrying it on my head was a killer. I only managed to carry it over the dunes for 2 sessions on it, preferring to struggle on my shortboard, than carry that longboard. It made me appreciate what it must have been for surfers years a go with the big old logs.
The swell had improved and we had started to get a few good waves but it was now time for Jo to head home as she had to prepare for university. We dropped Jo at the train station in Bayonne, and noticed the pressure chart on a local newspaper. It looked very promising for good waves in a day or so.
The next couple of evenings we would always be found sat on the top of the sand dunes searching the horizon for the new swell as the sun went down. We weren’t the only ones and soon got chatting other surfers, Rich from Hayling Island who worked for Haven and his friends, Pete, Phil and others….
After a week of tiny waves we made a sacrifice to the surf god Huey. Mark made a tree mobile and donned zinc war paint (sun block). We lined up the boards and made a sacrifice of our most prized surf magazine that we’d brought with us.
When the swell hit it was epic. On the morning of the swell when we got to the top of the sand dunes and our first sight of the swell with corduroy lines to the horizon it almost had Shaun and myself sprinting to the ocean. As we started to put our leashes on at the waters edge we realised that Mark was missing. Looking back towards to sand dunes we saw Mark still standing at the top, mouth agape staring at the swell.
Initially the swell wasn’t big but it was solid and Mark said they were some of the fastest waves he’d ever had. Sadly later that day Mark was hit by some idiots board which bruised his kidneys and he was forced to seek medical attention from the local Doctor.
The swell grew over the next few days with the left really putting on a display and a couple of perfect ‘A’ frame peaks between Vieux Boucau and Messanges which broke as good as I’d seen before. These were my favourite breaks as you could sit just behind the peak and get barrelled on take off.
After a few great days of surfing we sat on the dunes with new friends Rich, Pete, Phil and others and watched this huge storm moving towards us. The wind seemed to hit us all of a sudden with no warning and we only got back to the bar before the rain started. The storm really hit that night with the most dramatic thunder and lightning show that only someone who has camped in those pine forests on the edge of the Atlantic will appreciate.
For the rest of the trip we had predominately on shore winds so spent a lot of time down at Capreton surfing in between the groins and enjoying the great fish restaurants and café’s or I would try and tempt Shaun and Mark to run down the beach and get as close to the shore break as possible for a photo. We also bumped into a gut called Liam who worked for Sola down at Capreton.
Another thing about surf trips is the music you listen to at the time. I remember listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins and a couple of great compilation tapes that Esther (The National Trust warden at the time) and an old friend of mine had done for me (I feel the need to download those tunes from ITunes, now where are those tapes)…
This is 1971 and Hutch and I are coming off Barricane beach in Woolacombe. By this time we were both living in England and found it more convenient to leave our wives together (after a year or two with children) in Hutch’s house in Southsea, and to go down to the west country for a weekend rather than to come to the Island. Woolacombe was much closer than Newquay so we would leave at around 6:00 or 6:30 on a Saturday morning, reckoning to be in the water by 10:00 and then return late Sunday afternoon. I’m carrying the board that the customs confiscated.
In 1972 we went back to Biarritz where there was quite a gang from the Island I remember the Isle of Wight contingent sitting on the sea wall outside the surf club at Cotes des Basques, Biarritz watching the then world champion (Corky Carroll).
From left (ignoring the little girls) is me, Rory Angus, an Australian chap that we hooked up with, Bob Ward (I think, he was certainly around), Trev, his girlfriend, an English bloke called Alan that was with the Aussie, and their two girlfriends one who was English the other Australian.
The “IW” campsite. Hutch in the middle, Rory on his right andTrev + girlfriend in the background.
Rory at Chambre d’Amour. The waves were very small but he insisted it was worth going in, we gave him flack about surfing on wet sand.
Hutch on the left, unknown on the right. This is on the sandy beach between Bidart and Guethary
Hutch at our campsite.
Chambre d’Amour. Trev’s girl, Trev and Rory with Hutch in the car. Hutch and I were a bit better organised that the rest of them and did most of the shopping. Each day we would go into the little supermarket in Guethary and buy a platter of peaches, about 4 baguettes, two cheeses and 7 or 8 litres of beer. The girls there thought it was only for us so we achieved a little notoriety for our diet, but it was really for the other guys as well.
Tony Macpherson may remember it as the year he spent a night in a French gaol! He was camping in his van on the beach at Bidart and I asked him to try to sell a board for me. Despite my suggestion that he didn’t advertise it, he put an “A Vendre” notice on the board. The police hauled him off for not paying import tax or something. The options were to pay a fine or forfeit the board, he chose the latter and I lost my board! Tony didn’t offer to recompense me.
At that time I had a board that had been made by a guy called Fitz at Westcoast boards based in North Devon. (Fitz subsequently died, I believe he tried to cool his electric shaper down by plunging it into a bucket of water). This board was fairly extreme for the day at 6’3”, and was an absolute delight to ride, but I found great difficulty in picking up waves, you had to be much nearer the hook than I was comfortable with and so I decided to sell it. I approached Tony Macpherson who was spending his holiday in a camper van on the beach in Bidart and suggested something along the lines of that if he would put the word out amongst the French surfers and sell it for me he could have 10% of the sale up to £30 and 50% for anything above that. However, I knew that the French customs had started clamping down on people selling surf equipment without paying import duty, so I told Tony not to put an “A vendre” (for sale) sign on the board, but just use word of mouth amongst the French guys. A couple of days later we went back up to Bidart, my board was nowhere to be seen. “Good” I thought, “Tony’s sold it”. When I asked where Tony was, no one knew. All that they could tell me was that the previous evening the police had shown up, and had whisked Tony and my board off somewhere. When Tony returned a few hours later it transpired that he had put a for sale sign on the board, and the police demanded to see the import documents, but when those weren’t forthcoming they had dragged him off for further investigation. The result was a fine of 290FF or forfeiture of the board. 290FF was about £30 which was approximately the value of the board, so Tony had told them to keep the board and had walked.
‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell Hutch and I started body boarding at Compton in 1955. My parents rented one of the huts that were out there then. The boards were just flat plywood sheets – the “posh” people had boards with curved up noses but ours were home made. We […]
In 1991 I managed to persuade Stuart Jones and Richard Harvey to do a surf trip to the South of France. At that time Stuart and Ritchie in my opinion were among the best surfers on the Island…..
As is often the way the very next day the swell came up and it was cranking. We were all bleary eyed, very hung over and the waves coming through on the left were some of the best I had ever seen. When two guys started to paddle out we could see it was a good size too. We soon got ourselves together. This was what had come for, so we got into our wetsuits and paddled out…..
The swell lasted nearly all week and it was soon obvious that we were staying at one of the best set ups along the coast as one day a load of pros including Tom Curren, Lisa Anderson, Michael ‘Munga’ Barry, Paul Russell and others turned up with Maurice Cole and a few Surf Photographers to surf our left hander.