In Western Ghana, Locals Are Reclaiming Their Surf Scene

Although many give Bruce Brown’s 1966 film, The Endless Summer, credit for introducing surfing to fishing communities in GhanaSenegal, and Nigeria, the sport has been happening along the shores of Western Africa, including Ghana’s 300-mile coastline, for centuries. West Africans independently developed surfing before outsiders arrived; since at least the 1640s, sea merchants knew surf patterns well and used wooden surf-canoes to fish and ride 10-foot tall waves. Yet in present-day Ghana, surfing is largely the domain of tourists.

Sandy Alibo is working to change that. The entrepreneur and self-proclaimed ”rooky rider,” is helping rebirth the legacy of African surfing as the founder of Surf Ghana, an NGO that uses the sport for education and empowerment. Most recently, she opened Surf House, a brick and mortar space for surfers to connect and grow their entrepreneurial skills in Busua, a quiet fishermen’s village turned surfer’s paradise five hours outside of Accra.

When Alibo arrived in Busua seven years ago, many people she witnessed surfing were from the diaspora, but even more were white tourists—and while there was already a string of surf schools operating, they were mostly built for foreigners, with few Ghanaians part of the ecosystem. “I was a little bit frustrated to see that, even in Africa, there wasn’t a lot of Africans surfing,” says Alibo. “It’s not like they didn’t surf, but they didn’t really have tools and resources to practice properly.”

That is starting to change. On a busy Sunday afternoon at Ahanta Waves, a popular ecolodge and surf school, surfers from the UK, Germany, and Ghana gather—all in need of a beach retreat following the buzz of Detty December, the annual homecoming when descendants of the African diaspora return to Ghana and Nigeria. Along Busua’s main stretch of beach, the contemporary surf community integrates with traditional village life: A colorful, long wooden boat painted with Ghanaian proverbs like Nyame Abasa (“God’s Arm” in Twi) bobs with each wave as fishermen untangle their nets for the day’s catch; in the background, laughing toddlers splash in the sea as their parents prepare lunch over a bonfire. At Surf House, meanwhile, a young group crowds a table during an intense round of Ludo, a popular board game in Ghana, while others tap away on their laptops at communal co-working tables. Bookshelves are lined with surf and Black culture-inspired titles like Charlotte Mensah’s Good Hair.

Surf House isn’t the only organization working to make the sport more accessible to locals. Nearby is one of the area’s most famous schools, Justice Brothers, where lessons benefit local youth as part of the Obibini Girls Surf Club. Through free swimming and surf classes, the program empowers Ghanaian girls toward self-determined futures, encouraging them to take up space in the sport and drown out limiting cultural expectations. Owner Justice Kwofie opened his doors in 2013 with two boards and a dream; today, together with his brothers and cousins, he hosts surf, hiking, and yoga experiences for travelers wanting an active vacation.

For Surf Ghana’s Alibo, who also runs Freedom Skate Park in central Accra, the project began as an Instagram account “to improve the narrative about surfing and skateboarding in Ghana and in West Africa in general,” she says. “I wanted us to learn to better document the Black and African surf scene and to improve African and Ghanaian representation.”

A surfer during his morning routine on Busua Beach
A surf school in Busua a fishing village turned surf town on Ghana's coast

What began as a digital community now provides access and tools to help others develop sports, arts, and culture entrepreneurship, while also facilitating a discourse between tourists, surfers, and the African diaspora to create new opportunities like a surf training club for locals. The collective has also created a handful of jobs, including hiring a community manager and content creator, hosts events, trainings, and workshops, and provides free WiFi. “Internet in Ghana is still a luxury,” says Alibo. “Some people earn around $50 a month—almost 20% of people’s salaries. We wanted to create a space where people can connect, meet, and plan their projects so they can develop their entrepreneurship journey as surfers.”

Creating easy access to quality equipment and professional resources is another a priority. Since 2017, the collective has imported hundreds of pieces of surfing gear to ensure the community can practice freely; in 2022, in partnership with The Paddle Paddle Surf Project, Surf Ghana shared 90 surfboards, and with the support of Vans, produced 100 original surf tees and 50 board shorts as community offerings. It also works with the International Surfing Association to provide professional certification for Ghana’s top surf schools.

And while Surf House will occasionally operate as a tiny-house Airbnb, it’s only bookable twice a month for visitors to Busua—another effort to give Ghanaians a sense of ownership over their surf scene, while still helping position the country as an ideal destination for travelers. “I feel this project gives balance between mass tourism and how we can benefit the youth,” she says.

Another step towards finding this equilibrium? The newly-launched Surf Club, a training program to help under-18 Ghanaians grow toward their aspirations of professional athleticism through fitness classes and guidance on how to establish healthy routines, create surf content, and manage their time as student-athletes.

“Most of the time, when you think of an NGO, you think of something miserable, but honestly, our project is the contrary,” says Alibo. “It’s about Black joy. It’s about modernity and innovation. Surf Ghana is an NGO–[but] it’s more like a movement, a collective. It’s something that people want to be a part of.”

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