Deeper into Morocco
By Chris Mather
Taghazout, Morocco, is where I currently call home, coming here to photograph surfers and maybe spend a few hours in the water myself. This was the plan; on the whole it is working out well.
The hospitality I have been shown has grown, as have the friendships. I even find myself now having been given my very own Moroccan name, Bdris. It’s funny how such a small thing as a name can put a smile on your face.
It’s funny how such a small thing as a name can put a smile on your face.
The winter season is now very much upon us, this has brought some cooler evenings but the main change has been the introduction of rain. Now being an Englishman, this is a topic, rain, that I’ve been raised on, and even though I was definitely not excited to see it, I need not panic.
The worst spell lasted almost a staggering 4 days. For the locals this brought rapturous applause and smiles. No wonder when you realize that this is one of the heaviest rains in the last 5 years.
Dusty dry riverbeds transformed into overflowing torrents of red muddy water, unfortunately this water weaves and winds its way until it finds the ocean. Surfing at this time is probably not advised, you are quite likely to find yourself paddling out dodging the odd palm tree or whatever else happens to have been washed downstream.
For any of you who have been out here at this time, you’ll understand that these natural occurrences have a way of highlighting our impact on our environment and sadly not in a positive way.
Large amounts of debris having been washed away, all of the man made variety, reminding me of what a wasteful and cavalier society we’ve become.
With the rain comes another change, another one of nature’s surprises. Dry arid landscapes transform overnight into lush green fields and rocky mountains thriving with fauna and flora as far as one can see.
This is truly an inspiring country, be it the people, history, culture or simply the surroundings.
Getting back to the surfing, something that here you are very spoilt with. World famous breaks surround one another, some with ominous names such as Killer point or Dracula’s, some more simply named such as Boilers (due to the large ships boiler that provides an interesting landmark or obstacle, depending on how daring you are feeling).
With so many great waves, you’d expect a flurry of great surfers. Again Morocco delivers. To name them all, well it may be easier to just hand you the phonebook but I’ve been lucky enough to befriend one, and he is certainly one of the most promising. Yassin Belqber is his name.
To say this young Moroccan is as connected to the beach as the sand itself is an understatement, which all becomes apparent when you watch him surf.
Needless to say this guy rips!
Now for every great surfer there are a dozen good ones and for that dozen there are a lot more just learning. This brings me to a high and low moment of my adventure. The ocean is a wonderful playground but we must never forget how insignificant we are in comparison. I was reminded of this fact in black and white.
The first instance occurred when I was out for a surf. Head high sets rolled through and like so often, rips and currents worked mysteriously out of sight. Unfortunately for one unlucky guy they weren’t out of mind.
Having been tossed around a number of times in the surf, he found himself clutching his leash, but that was it. No big flotation device at the other end. Now caught in a rip being pulled down and towards rocks he found himself in a situation which a certain bunch of soldiers would describe as FUBAR.
Thankfully I was in earshot and heard his calls, as I paddled over I realized quite how serious this was, as he struggled to stay afloat. Doing my very best Hasselhoff impression, I plucked him from the water and hauled him onto my board, then started to paddle for shore.
With both of us piled on to a single board, paddling had been made tricky, so I decided to send him in on the next breaking wave and swim in myself. Here came another reminder of the power of the ocean, as I now found myself caught in the very same rip.
It is at this moment I must stop and thank my mother for throwing me in the water from a very young age, as I managed to fight my way into shore, with a large sigh of relief and a few deep breaths.
Back on terra firma, I’m pleased to say that all was well, with one very relieved guy. As he coughed up a little more water he was re-united with his board and reminded just how lucky he had been.
The second instance came within days. This time though, the poor sole was not so lucky.
Out one day I was walking past one of the many beaches here where I came across quite the commotion. Local Moroccan’s and a large number of police were gathered on the beach.
Amongst the locals, one could hear the wale’s and sobs of a grieving family member, amongst the police was the cause. The body of a local man lay prone on the sand. As coroners covered the body over, this looked to be the unfortunate scene of a life claimed by the ocean. Later I was to discover that events were much more dark and sinister.
Thankfully instances such as these are few and far between but it reminds me that even in this bubble of sun, sea and surf, life is to be cherished.
With Taghazout being spoilt for choice when it comes to breaks and with a steady stream of swells hitting the coast showing me the amazing potential this place wields, there have been many great sessions, but one in particular still brings smiles and great memories from all those there.
This particular session occurred at Killer point. Double overhead conditions charged in, as a dozen others and myself paddled out. The atmosphere in the water was charged but not with aggression, just with a sense of incredible fun as you sat amongst friends cheering each other on, hooting and hollering as we took wave after wave.
Three waves that day really stood out, Yassin took the first. No surprise that he was sat deeper than everyone else and as I watched he paddle into one of the biggest waves of the day.
Paddle, pop, air drop then he pulled into a drawn out bottom turn that would have seen him circumnavigate the moon if he hadn’t decided to take out some aggression on the lip freeing his fins and sending a halo of water skyward. My housemate took the second, small in stature but large in presence.
At 5ft Lisa looks far from intimidating but dare to cross her at your own peril. This girl tells it as it is and gives as good as she gets, in and out of the water.
After surviving a couple of crazy wipeouts, she nailed one, literally causing my jaw to drop. Unfortunately for me I’d stopped paying attention to my own position, which resulted with a trip over the falls, backwards. Finally though came the wave, unanimously voted wave of the day.
Known as Red K, a guy who reminds me of an old school big wave charger, with his stocky build, big smile and warm personality. All of us were paddling back to the line up, scrambling as an outside set came through but not Red. He had decided that he was in the perfect spot for what was coming.
As we reached a point of relative safety, a mix of gasps and cheers started to erupt, as Red somehow managed to take off from behind, under, or in the lip, still now I’m not entirely sure, needless to say the man was deep, very, very, DEEP. Did he make it you wonder, and for a good few seconds so did we. By some means of divine power, he did.
Out of the abyss he appeared, with a smile the size of the wave he had just ridden.