Surfing, A Field Guide

The famous beaches of Hawaii and South Africa are far from the only places to catch a wave

Surfer Godpower at Tarkwa Bay, Lagos, Nigeria

Each Wednesday, our newsletter takes readers around the world, exploring a single theme through a number of places. We call it our Field Guide. As warmer days have arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re turning our attention to surfing cultures around the world. As it happens, the famous beaches of Hawaii and South Africa are far from the only places to catch a wave. This week, we journey to Nova Scotia in search of “Arctic waves” and visit a burgeoning surfing community in the Gaza Strip.

The Regulars of Tarkwa Bay

Meet the surfers and vendors of a secret beach community

By Sa’eed Husaini and Camylle Fleming

Tucked away in Lagos, Nigeria is Tarkwa Bay. The bay’s beautiful beach was host to a modest fishing community where most inhabitants squatted in abandoned villas or lived in shacks made of rusting corrugated metal. With a few luxury beach villas and chalets and no electricity poles or drainage, Tarkwa Bay was a draw for surfers and folks who want a simpler life. The bay’s man-made shipping inlet helped to create natural waves perfect for surfing.

Tarkwa Bay was one of Lagos’s last surviving public beaches. But in early 2020, the local community at Tarkwa Bay was largely and violently evicted. These removals were part of a wider wave of evictions by the Nigerian navy and port authority; according to the Lagos-based Justice Empowerment Initiative, tens of thousands of people were displaced around Tarkwa Bay and its surrounding islands.

Read the stories of the regulars, surfers, boat builders, artists and more, who helped build the Tarkwa Bay community before it was suddenly destroyed.

In a region where the common narrative is conflict and daily life is marked by struggle, surfing offers a means of escape. The sport in Gaza is still in its infancy; from the first surfer in the mid-eighties there are now some 20 or so surfers each with their own surfboard, and others who borrow boards when they can. Equipment is near impossible to find in the Gaza Strip so international donors have helped to get boards and wetsuits into the territory. With more resources it is possible the sport could flourish. But for now, the group is small. They are some of the very few who are able to escape confinement and find some semblance of freedom, every time the waves come.—Text and photography by Andrew McConnnell, “Gaza Surf Club,” Stranger’s Guide: Mediterranean.

Did you Know?

In 2018, California surfer Ben Weiland made a film about his decade-long pursuit of “Arctic waves.” In the film, Weiland dons snowshoes to access remote surf spots in search of the perfect wave. “Nova Scotia and Maine have some of the coldest ocean temperatures in the world because of the way the currents work,” he says. “There are also really great waves … [and] the Aleutian Islands get all of those storms that come straight off the Bering Sea and the North Pacific in the wintertime.”

Former professional big wave surfer Van Curaza started Operation Surf in 2008 with one very unique goal: to offer “surf therapy” to soldiers injured in battle. Not only does physical exercise, like surfing, feed the brain by getting oxygen flowing and building new nerve cells, scientists hypothesize that the chemical cocktail created when we surf includes dopamine and adrenaline, which could explain the rush surfers get. Curaza and his crew wanted to use what they believed was the restorative power of the ocean and surfing to help heal “injured bodies, minds, and souls.” He says he could see a transformation occur when former soldiers who had lost limbs in the theaters of war caught their first wave. Eleven years on from when he started his organization, Curaza is convinced more than ever that surfing can help their rehabilitation and offer an alternative form of nature-based therapy that could also help veterans with PTSD.


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… at a time when I was recovering from a long and nagging illness; when many of the people around me began getting married, having children, moving away, or on, or staying exactly where they were, without me, at a time a pair of hurricanes were heavy on the neck of Central America, I went to Mexico to surf. I went because of these things. I went because the stories I told myself had begun to fail.

—Steven Kotler, West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief.

He heard the sound of waves striking the shore, and it was as though the surging of his young blood was keeping time with the movement of the sea’s great tides. It was doubtless because nature itself satisfied his need that Shinji felt no particular lack of music in his everyday life.

—Yukio Mishima, The Sound of Waves



Our Lagos guide will absorb, fascinate and entrance. Featuring some of the biggest names in Nigerian journalism and literature—including an original essay from Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka—the guide offers an intimate portrait of modern Lagos. Experience the extraordinary breadth of ...

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