social & political


The cover of AFROSURF is a knockout. A surfer wears boxing gloves, positioned in a defensive stance atop his board. Black and yellow lines radiate from his body, outlined in gold, framed by the book’s title in big black and green letters. It is a bold, colourful statement, and a welcome departure from the typical aesthetic prevalent in surf culture. 


“African surf culture? It’s about to explode!” – Grant Twiggy Baker

AFROSURF is a collection of essays, interviews, photographs, illustrations, poems, comics, and recipes, all tied together through the central theme of African surf culture. 50 essays and over 200 photos make up the limited edition art book, published by African surf brand Mami Wata. In short, it’s a celebration of surfing in Africa and African surfers who are no longer looking outwards to the West to define surf culture, but taking inspiration from their own people, their own countries, and their own cultures. 

Today, women, surfers and the youth of pack Lido Beach in Mogadishu - © MARCO GUALAZZINI

Lido Beach in Mogadishu © Marco Gualazzini

The book explores themes of community, loss, passion, pop culture, spirituality, and representation. Surfing is a sport, but is also a way to connect with the water and build community. The relationships to surfing described in the essays and interviews are not always carefree; surfing can be treacherous, an act of rebellion, or a deep expression of oneself. AFROSURF presents us with new ways to look at and think about surfing, ways that have been largely ignored but, if this book is any indication, not for much longer. 


Afrosurf: Senegal, Lupi Spuma © Afrosurf

Cass Collier dives into the energy and connectedness you get from surfing and relates it to his Rastafarian beliefs. Chemica Blouw highlights her work with Waves for Change which uses surfing as a tool to support the health and well-being of youth through community. Aita Diop talks about the ocean as being ever present in her life in Senegal and how she navigates the societal expectations placed upon her as a young girl and surfer.  Klyne Maharaj goes back to his youth and discusses the impact that American surf and skate culture had on him and on South Africa. An essay by Kunyalala Ndlovu highlights the need for representation and the power and influence it yields. He is critical about the “overly saturated bank of surfing photography and film that drives surf culture through a western gaze.” He points out that “[t]he possibilities are endless for us to reimagine a new future of surfing culture.”


Surfing in Liberia © Arthur Bourbon

Ndlovu makes an excellent point. If the surf industry is serious about inclusion and diversity, they will take cues from AFROSURF, and think outside the Western box when it comes to the way they market and portray surf in media and advertisement. The book serves as a reminder that the prevalent aesthetic that has been around since the 1950s, borrowed largely from Western culture, is overplayed. There hasn’t been room for other perspectives, other stories, and other histories. There also needs to be a rewrite of surf history for a more accurate retelling. AFROSURF takes ownership of this change and not only provides a showcase for African surfers to decide how they are depicted and what stories they want to share, but also corrects common misconceptions. The book opens with a history of surfing by Kevin Dawson, who sets the record straight, letting us know that the first written record of surfing was actually in Ghana, not Hawaii. 



Aita Diop, winner of a scholarship with the International Surfing Association © Djibril Drame

Michael February talks about this being the time that African surfing is recognized globally. I hope he is right and that AFROSURF has a ripple effect. There are so many people that participate in surf yet have been excluded from surf culture. It feels like AFROSURF is proudly leading the movement towards inclusion, showing us how rich and diverse surf culture could be, reminding us that surfing belongs to us all.

Words by Jordan-na Belle-Isle. Header photograph by Alan Van Gysen.

Jordan-na Belle-Isle

Jordan-na is a Montreal-born, Toronto-based SUP instructor and lake surfer. She has been paddleboarding for over seven years and is certified with the World Paddle Association. Her SUP and surf adventures have taken her to spots in Canada, Hawaii, the continental US, and the Philippines. She has been featured in the Toronto Star and the Welland Tribune, as well as the short documentary film “In Winter.” She is also an organizer for Lake Surfistas, a grassroots group that connects and empowers women who surf the Great Lakes. Find her on Instagram.