Paradise in the Heart of the City
The secret heart of downtown Lagos is the beach at Tarkwa Bay, a neighborhood where cosmopolitanism intersects with leisure and hustle. Lagos, a city the Portuguese named “Lakes,” is almost entirely navigable by boat. There are at least 15 beaches (public and private) in Lagos, yet it’s common to meet folks who have never been to one. And most Lagosians have never been to Tarkwa Bay.
The bay’s beautiful beach is accessible by a fleet of small boats for hire. Lagosians can jump in a water cab for a few dollars, and in 15 minutes, they are splashing in the waves. The beach is lined with small huts providing shade where patrons recline in chairs to sip coconut drinks and nibble food. There are vendors selling food, souvenirs, art and tablecloths. Music is playing everywhere.
Tarkwa Bay is host to a modest fishing community where most inhabitants squat in abandoned villas or live in shacks made of rusting corrugated metal. There are a few luxury beach villas and chalets, but there are no electricity poles and there is no drainage. Tarkwa Bay is completely off-grid, a logistical hassle for many of the bay’s inhabitants, but 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 is one of Lagos’s last surviving public beaches. Most of Lagos’s beaches have been privatized, including the iconic “Bar-beach,” which was a bustling weekend destination and is now closed to give way to the six-billion-dollar real estate development Eko Atlantic.
During British colonization, Frederik Lugard, a colonial administrator, had a bunker on Tarkwa Bay. Even to this day train tracks lead from his former house to the shore. Town folklore says that the tracks once carried slaves from the land to the water. The train was later used to carry stones to craft the breakwater inlet that disrupts the waves of the Atlantic from beating up against the banks of the Lagos harbor.
Somehow, the neighborhood still feels like a secret—most Lagosians don’t know that Tunde serves the best pizza in Lagos, or that Akin from Pop Beach Club has a plan that he thinks can convert plastic to electricity and contribute to community development! Or that it is the site of Nigeria’s first and only surfing school, led by the powerful surfer Godpower. The interviews that follow are a window into the textures of Lagos’s beachside downtown, through the voices of some of its inhabitants and beach-going regulars.
–Camylle Fleming and Sa’eed Husaini
Editor’s Note, July 18, 2022: 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.
“The government’s justification was that oil pipelines pass through many of those communities and were frequently vandalized,” said Stranger’s Guide contributor Sa’eed Husaini. “But that doesn’t explain why they evicted the entire community and demolished nearly all of the houses.”
Meanwhile, Husaini reports, “the nicer beach front chalets and tourist tents were left in place.”
Vulcan, the boat-building fisherman
For four years and seven months now, I’ve been in Tarkwa. I come from Kogi State. What brought me here was fishing. I came here with my net and I slept here on the rocks. I set the net in the evening but by morning, I got a fish. One black fish I sold for ₦400 the first day. So, I did this for a month. One time I sold a big fish for ₦3,500. Every night, I cast my net and in the morning I check. Sometimes I have enough to sell, sometimes just enough to eat. When I swim to cast the net and I started seeing plastics in the water, I wanted to make a boat out of plastic. And so, by now, I’ve made a boat many times… Plastic boats, plastic houses. Kevlar is plastic, fiberglass is plastic. Materials they use to make boats now, it has a plastic liquid. Styrofoam floats on water. Where a metal ship will sink, Styrofoam can make it stay afloat… It can be beautiful.
Akudo, Creative designer
Godpower, Surfer and surfing instructor
The oldest person I’ve instructed was 69 years old. He’s from India. He came with a yoga trainer. And he said he wanted to learn how to surf. I had to teach him how to swim. Before he balanced on the boat, it took us 15–30 minutes, just to balance. Before he started paddling, it took us another 15 minutes and I pushed him on the wave. The first wave he caught, he wanted to run away. Then, I gave him rope and said he can still go. I now pushed him on the other one, which was just a surf straight down to the shore. So after that, he just waved to me that he’s done. Lesson over. But he really had fun, he really had fun. He came back again six times.
Ben, The water lover
For me, looking at this water, I have no problems. We don’t have this in my village where I come from, we have rivers, streams. There they have hard currents, so if you’re strong you cross. And I’m used to crossing water. There, sometimes the water will rise to the level of my neck and I will still cross. So, here, seeing this water, it is a normal thing to me. I’m not scared of the water. I’ve heard some people can swim one day and the next day drown. But I don’t feel anything afraid inside of me. As long as a human being is there, I can also be there. Sometimes, I can stay here until 12, watching this water, climbing the stones.
Tunde, Runs a pizza parlor on the beach
Prophet Mohammad said you don’t really need much, just a handful of items to be filled up. However, if you want to consume more than that, you should split your stomach into three parts, and say one part for food, the second part for water and the third part for breathing air. For me, it’s hard to practice that. That is the truth. I did nutrition in college, and with that in mind, I said okay maybe health is something we should all live by. And I try to put that into my daily habit. I can only try.
Akin, Owner of Pop Beach Club
I can’t remember my first time in Tarkwa Bay. It was too long ago. I came here as a child. My dad came here as a child. My granddad had a place here. My earliest memories were of almost drowning. Jumping in and realizing the tide was so strong. I think I learned to swim around three or four. I was away when I was in school, but it was one of the first places I came back to when I returned. It’s a place I bring special people to. I always wanted to create a place here where people could meet and feel as if you are doing more than you are. We are a social enterprise, so just by you’re being here you’re helping. Pop Beach is a gift. When you live in God’s cathedral, you cannot help but view things in a different way—living holy. My Tarkwa Bay of the future? I’d really love a community that preserves what it is. Because it’s made up of all these colonial buildings stuck in a time warp, I’d like the preservation of the space. I’m so afraid that they will keep developing and kill everything. It’s so close to Lagos city, so people come here to decompress and it’s great. You have to preserve it. If I were in government, I’d impose a reserve here. Because the city will keep on moving and the city needs its lungs.
Camylle Fleming is a café owner, birth doula and writer based in Lagos. She is an African-American woman with interests in wellness, hospitality and Black women’s reproductive health.
Sa'eed Husaini is a writer and activist based in Lagos, specializing in the study of political ideology in Nigeria.