Living the Moroccan dream

I sat gazing out the window of a Boeing 737 at the vast and juxtaposed land below me. The evening sun brushes the snow-tipped Atlas Mountains, casting shadows over circles of irrigated green dotted amidst an endless expanse of harsh scrub. 

Four hours ago I was fighting the familiar bitter wind on O’Connell Street, attracting a few strange glances due to the fact that I’m trailing what is best described as a body bag behind me.  With three boards, a tent, a wetsuit and a few clothes I’m heading to the small fishing town of Taghazout in central Morocco, with a continuous loop of iconic surf footage from the areas famous right hand point breaks filling my mind.

I have done plenty of road trips before, both for surfing and mountain biking: living in a van for months on end, surviving on pasta, showering in ponds and driven by a love for the sport that can keep you searching for new places your whole life, desperate for an uncrowded wave or fresh track to satisfy the yearning.

Usually, money and time only allow us to venture to the obvious and easily accessible places in Europe, but with the reach of low cost airlines ever expanding, places like Morocco are becoming a cheap and exciting option, accessible for as little as a €100, four-hour return flight direct from Dublin. 

All Mike and I had booked was a return flight to Agadir, and with little more of a plan than to rent a car and find some waves we landed with great anticipation.  After a bit of bartering with a car hire company and some creative packing we had the boards and luggage crammed into our little two- door and were driving into the bustling streets of Morocco. 

With neither of us thinking to bring a map and a large lack of signposts, we drove through the chaotic city blind and loving every moment.  Every sense is affronted, the stifling air wafting the potent scents of the city through the car, horns blasting aimlessly and the drone of the evening prayers echoing across the streets from the mosque.  

The Moroccan roads are crazy: red means go, right of way seems optional and motorways are shared with donkeys and camels.  At one stage we were stuck behind a kid on a pedal pop (a 50cc motorbike/bicycle), who was trucking along the middle of the motorway whilst texting away on his mobile, his helmet hanging from his bars! 
Somehow we found our way to Taghazout, and when a local told us his friend had a room we could stay in for 50 dirham (about 4 euro) a night we gladly put our tents back in the car and followed him up the dark and shambolic streets, dodging goats and kids on motorbikes until we got to the house. 

Whilst the outside, like all the surrounding buildings, was bare concrete and crumbling brick, the inside was plastered a dark red and orange and beautifully decorated with the owner Hassan’s own artwork.  On top of the fire sat a conical clay pot, a simmering stew of chicken, vegetables and spices.  These tagines, a Moroccan specialty, became our staple diet while we were there.  Some unfamiliar Reggae was playing out of his speakers and a shisha pipe was bubbling away on the table, the whole house a hazy waft of spices and flavoured tobacco. 

We woke at first light with high expectations. The surf media has descended on Morocco recently and all we could think about were the pictures we had seen in videos and magazines of perfect, reeling point breaks framed on a hazy aquamarine ocean.  The surf forecast looked good, large swells and low winds. 

However we were met with grey skies, grey ocean and lumpy, messed up waves.  Not quite what we came here for, but we had a fun session nonetheless, despite paddling out to a  dirty brown estuary no doubt containing most of the town’s sewage.  The next few days were similar, scouring the coast’s many points and beaches for surf, looking at swell charts and wind directions, wondering why the ocean wasn’t playing by the rules and producing what the forecast said it should be.

We decided we wanted to get away from the crowds and surf camps of Taghazout, so we packed our car and headed out.  The road north varies from miles of dead-straight coastal roads to meandering mountain passes.  Goats roam the scrub and climb the almond trees, perching precariously in their thorny branches, searching for the nuts. Lines of washing hang still in the sleepy midday heat and women walk with donkeys for miles along the road. 

We stopped on a cliff top overlooking the ocean and I hopped out of the car, toilet roll in hand.  I wandered over to the cliff edge and was astounded by the spectacle before me: line upon line of clean swell, refracting around an outcropping water break and producing a kilometre-long, perfect right.  This is why we came.  We drove down to the harbour at a ridiculous pace, frothing with excitement.  Suits on, sun cream on, drink of water, a quick jump of the harbour wall and we were out the back.  We surfed until our exhausted bodies wouldn’t allow us to continue, practically inhaled dinner and collapsed in our tent, utterly ecstatic.

The rest of the week was incredible, the sun burning though the clouds and turning the ocean a stunning colour, catching the floating Saharan particles to cast a hazy shimmer over the coastline.  When we were too tired to surf we explored the surrounding villages, chatting to gap-toothed old fisherman and eating a ridiculous amount of tagines.

As we sat bobbing in the ocean in our last surf of the trip, watching the spray of the waves catching the dropping sun’s last rays in a beautiful spectrum of colour, we were talking about what we would usually be doing at that time: sitting in the last lecture of the day or battling the traffic on the way back from work, dreaming of this moment.  Why does it have to be a dream? You don’t just have to go somewhere in search of surf to enjoy it, to walk around a bustling market for the first time, to eat new and exiting food and to learn a bit about another culture and language.  You don’t have to prebook every last detail of your trip; in fact, you get the most out of it by doing the exact opposite.  If we had booked in with a surf camp, not only would it have cost triple the amount but I wouldn’t have arrived back in Dublin with Hassan’s tagine pot, a bag full of spices and a recipe for a stunning meal.

But this trip just whet my appetite.Whilst we did our best to explore and immerse ourselves in the place, there is only so much you can accomplish in a week, and that area of Morocco is now fairly well-charted in terms of surf. Twenty years ago the west coast of France still held secret spots, and going to Thailand for the summer was unthinkable, but times change and surfers and travellers are forced to venture into ever further and more inaccessible places for the same buzz of exploration.  New frontiers are opening up: Senegal, Angola, Peru, Costa Rica and India to name just a few.  Who knows what the world will be like in 30 years? But I think it’s safe to say these places won’t stay untapped for long.