Traditional African Sports and Games: West African Surfing

By Michael Nakasissa
Updated: February 17, 2006

GEORGIA—Various surf historians — like early 1900s surf pioneer Tom Blake, scholar Ben Finney and James Houston, as well as Leonard Lueras — have all noted that there were other spots on the planet where forms of surfing were practiced. One was the mid-western coast of Africa and the other was Peru.

Off the coast of western Africa, “in areas of Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Near Dakar, Senegal,” wrote Finney and Houston, “… African youths and young fishermen regularly body-surf, ride body-boards and catch waves while standing erect on boards about six feet long. These Atlantic skills seem in no way connected with the Pacific, either historically or prehistorically. Evidently, it’s an old pastime in west Africa; young Africans were seen riding waves while lying prone on light wooden planks as long ago as 1838, long before surfing began to spread from Hawaii.”

This was a reference to the British explorer Sir James Edward Alexander observing surfing by natives in Equatorial West Africa in 1835. Volumes one and two of Alexander’s Narrative of a Voyage of Observation Among the Colonies of Western Africa, published in 1837, are remarkable in their scope and detail. The often poetic accounts of every detail of West African life in the early 1800s — sex, murder, slavery, war, passion, drunkenness, death, revolt and a note on surfing — are impressive.

James Edward Alexander was anchored off the island of Accra, off the Cape Coast not too far from the “yellow sands” of what used to be called Guinea. On November 16, 1835, while describing native island life, Alexander noted that, “from the beach, meanwhile, might be seen boys swimming into the sea, with light boards under their stomachs. They waited for a surf; and then came rolling in like a cloud on the top of it. But I was told that sharks occasionally dart in behind the rocks, and ‘yam’ them.

Link to Source: Retrieved from on Feb. 17th, 2006. Article: Roots of Surfing;