Searching Sahara: The pursuit of clean, empty waves is a shared obsession for us all and leads us to explore some of the world’s most isolated shores….. Western Sahara is one of those shores. I, like many of us, spend 90% of my time surfing shifty beach breaks in onshore mizzle covered from head to toe in 5mm neoprene so to peer over the edge of a sandy cliff top and be greeted by a scene that I'd only witnessed in magazines was truly breathtaking.
Corrugated lines: Swell marches relentlessly towards the land, seeking some endless point on which to unleash their momentum. With 1000km of untamed, sparsely populated coastline, most will explode unseen and untouched by the cut and thrust of glass and fin, unblemished by the caress of fingertips on their silken faces.
This is an unforgiving coast: One man's pleasure is another man's pain....the limitless energy of this tempestuous ocean, that bestows upon us the gift of waves, is the same force that has left the shoreline of Western Sahara littered with the skeletons of less fortunate seafaring vessels. They serve as a small reminder that this awe-inspiring wilderness is not to be underestimated.
Hassan; Guide, Joker, Lifesaver: A good guide is worth their weight in gold. We travelled with Spot-M who are based in Mirleft in Southern Morocco. Co-owner Hassan Benjamal was our captain and wave guru for the trip and his supreme knowledge of these unchartered surfing badlands meant we were always in the right place at the right time. Hassan’s connections and Berber banter smoothed our path and opened doors to experiences that would otherwise have been inaccessible.
Avoiding land mines: Turning sharply off the road, we bounce across the arid terrain towards the coast. Hassan reassures us that this area has been cleared of mines but we take no chances and follow the tracks of the fishermen's trucks extremely carefully. Through the dusty haze we start to see the ocean....crystalline barrels shimmer across the reef.
Endless exploration: The potential of this area is only limited by your sense of adventure and time....the more you put in the more you'll get back. On our two week trip we merely scratched the surface and I can't wait to return and seek out more nameless gems like this one.
I'm no Kelly Slater: I may not be a pro but still enjoyed the best waves of my life. This is not a trip for beginners but, as well as dredging, reef-sucking barrels, there are plenty of waves for us mere mortals.
Not your average surf camp: Before we left Cornwall I had a dream.......A gentle rumble rouses me from my sleep. The tent canvas billows gently, stirred by the mellow offshore breeze. I unzip my door and peer out at the pristine dawn. Immaculate lines wrap themselves into the bay and detonate in a frenzy of whitewater as they cascade down the outstretched reef. I pull on my wetsuit and tip toe across the rocks. The set subsides and I jump into the water and stroke for the outside. I bob amidst the blue, breathing in the perfect isolation that surrounds me. My anticipation rises as the horizon pulsates. I spin and paddle into position. The sea around me jacks up and catapults me down an endless, glassy face. After five hundred meters of perfection I pull off the back, thighs aching, heart pounding and gaze back in ecstatic disbelief at the distant take-off zone......some dreams do come true.
Journalists are not welcome in this disputed territory and travelling with large amounts of photographic equipment can arouse suspicion. At one dusty check-point I was singled out and asked to accompany the officer into their sentry post. With flashbacks of Midnight Express playing in my mind I was told by the officer that I was a journalist.
Making the most of one of the smaller days: Living in the swell soaked South of Morocco, Hassan has year round empty surf on his doorstep. Although he usually doesn’t get out of bed for anything under 10 feet he could occasionally be persuaded to enjoy the scaled down stuff…
A different world: Like many of the spots, this left doesn't show up on Google earth and you won't be able to pop into the local surf shop to ask for directions.....surf shops don't exist in this part of the world. In fact, most of the children that we met along the way had never seen a surfer before, laughing at the strange rubber suits we struggled into and stroking our boards in admiration.
Those who seek shall find. If you are someone whose heart starts to pump at the thought of exploring the unknown and are prepared to sacrifice some of life's little luxuries for the call of adventure then this could well be the journey of a lifetime.
WHEN he's not taking pictures of waves in the Sahara, Mark Mercer is normally to be found tending to the prince's oysters. This isn't a euphemism, he really does cultivate molluscs for Great Britain's monarch-in-waiting, Prince Charles.