Previous Next
Matador Ambassador Nathan Myers travels with filmmaker Taylor Steele and Balinese pro surfers Marlon Gerber and Mikala Jones to surf an abandoned town in the Sahara.

THERE’S SAND IN EVERY CRACK. Tiny deserts in my shoes, my cameras, my earlobes, and fingernails. Last week, “Sahara” was just a word from the movies. Now I can’t get it out of my eyes.

I remember a local news reporter asking us why we’d come here. It’s a good question. I’m thinking, why is there a news crew here?

I remember driving into a town I’d seen from space. An abandoned jigsaw of cinderblock huts in this forgotten nowhere cove. Staring down from Google Earth, I thought, why is this town abandoned? Later, actually standing there, I am no less confused.

Sahara is a place without answers — a shifting riddle of endless sand.

An old man crawls from the ruins. He is covered in mud. He yells when he speaks, telling us the government chased everyone away from this town years ago. They don’t want people to know about it. He blames the octopus for everything. We nod and smile; the octopus is definitely to blame.

As he tells us this history, clean point-waves reel across the point behind him. It’s 100 degrees out and we are putting on wetsuits. There are military checkpoints every 50 kilometers out here. Why so many stops? What are they checking for? There’s only one road for a thousand miles. What’s changed since the last stop?

Some checkpoints are military. Some are police. Some are military police. They all want to see our passports. They all want to know what we’re doing out here. They all want to make us tea. No one is ever in a hurry here. But we are running late.

* * *

We left in a rush , late already. Balinese pro surfers Marlon Gerber and Mikala Jones were ready to go within the hour. Filmmaker Taylor Steele and I were already at the airport. No sleep. Overpriced tickets. Upset wives. We lost half our camera gear to Moroccan customs and just kept moving. A journey like this can rip you wide open.

And then we have to sip tea from fly-infested cups with strangers in the desert. The strangers have guns. They speak a strange language. If not for our Moroccan guide, we’d probably still be down there. Sipping tea. Covered in flies.

Sahara is a no man’s land. A “non-self-governing country” is the official term, if that even makes sense. Morocco ran off the Mauritanians and Algerians in 1991, but the UN won’t recognize their claim. Africa says the land belongs to the native Sahrawis, but these nomadic, tribal berbers lack government to back such claims. They might not even know about ‘em.

Now an unfought war simmers in the dusty nowhere of nothing. A nonsense of hospitable hostility in a place that makes no sense. Ask a question of the desert; the desert will ask one back.

This abandoned town hosted an excellent wave. There's a reason it's abandoned, I just can't explain it.

Everything looks the same out here. Hour after hour. Dirt. Rocks. Dirt. Sometimes we stop hike across the flat plains to the stare at the Atlantic. There are landmines. And there are pointbreaks.

We locate the break we’ve come here for and make our approach on foot. Massive dunes and high cliffs separate us from the Atlantic. Sometimes we pause for Taylor Steele to film some iconic “walking across the dunes” shots.

During one of these stops, two men appear from behind the dunes and begin screaming. “Get away from here!” they cry. “No pictures!”

Really? Localism? Here? They are surfers, wearing pink boardies and familiar logos. And they are angry.

“Go home now!” they scream. “We will kill you.”

There is pushing and shoving. Screaming and threats. The only surfers for a hundred thousand miles are fighting over an empty wave. It’s too strange to comprehend. We turn around and hike away. Confused. Stunned. Full of questions. Like, did that just happen?

Now it’s New Year’s eve in the Sahara desert. Not exactly what we’d been dreaming of, but we’re dealing with it. We spent our day surfing the pointbreak near that abandoned village. Talking with the crazy mud-man. The water was cold and the sets inconsistent, but Marlon and Mikala rode enough bombs to make the effort worthwhile.

Now it’s celebration time and we’re three million miles from a power-outlet. How did this happen? There is sand in my nose. We drive to the remote town of Dahkla, with its small, Beyond Thunderdome kitesurfing scene. In a dark, back alley, we locate a restaurant that serves beer. We order two each. And then they are gone. The Sahara is out of beer.

We drink tea and eat camel kabobs. We fall asleep without counting down the new year. Sand in my hair. Sand in my dreams. Sand in the final seconds of 2009. In the morning, a fierce scirocco wind is sending sand out to sea. Great for kitesurfers. Bad for us. Wind ripples the sand like a carpet of snakes. Agitated sands.

The Saharan news crew finds us staring at their tattered seas. “Why did you come to the Sahara?” she reads off a dusty cue card. Their cameras and microphones are riddled with sand. They want to know. Surfers in the Sahara? A good question.

From inside her pink burka, the plump reporter winks at Marlon. He stops taking off his wetsuit. Mikala answers questions like he’s between heats on the world tour. She reads questions from the card. She nods and smiles. Everybody nods and smiles.

If Sahara were a question, sand would be the answer.

We drive the long, straight road back the way we came. We stop for the checkpoints. We share long, slow cups of tea. Like a dream on rewind. This never happened. I don’t remember a thing.

I remember conversations that made no sense. I remember flies crawling in my cup. I remember sand. I remember wind. I remember Sahara. And I blame the octopus for everything.

Travelers Stoked on this Gallery

  • Avatar Image
  • Avatar Image
  • Avatar Image
  • Avatar Image
Surf


 

About The Author

Nathan Myers

Nathan Myers is the world’s leading authority on guacamole combat. While his book Guac Off remains the definitive instructional for the avocado martial arts, his trilogy of short stories Broken Fables vol. I, II, and III should probably never be read by anyone again. A graduate of UC Berkeley and longtime senior editor of Surfing Magazine, Nathan has contributed stories and photography to Islands, Sierra,Destinasian, Maxim and LA Times, as well as most major surf magazines around the world. In 2009, he co-founded the open-source surf video competition Innersection.com — which awards $100,000 to the best surf short every year — along with veteran surf filmmaker Taylor Steele, with whom he previously collaborated on the surf-travel films Stranger Than Fiction, The Drifter and Castles in the Sky. He currently lives in Bali, Indonesia with his wife and two boys, where he continues to write, take photos, produce film projects and teach guacamole fighting.

  • Richard

    This is utterly brilliant. That is all.

  • Deise

    Wow! Amazing pictures!

  • Scott

    Stoked!  In the finest and first sense of the word!

  • http://miller-david.com david miller

    i love how you have this crew of total badasses here – famous filmmakers and pro surfers – and yet what really comes across is a sense of humility and respect for the place and the local people. 

  • Scott

    David – Yes!  Too often we get our glimpse of The Boyz on their 90 foot motor yachts, jet skis, unlimited resources, picking up waves in foreign lands, without ever really knowing that they ARE in another country, another culture . . . 

  • Guest

    Check that right ! lovely looking wave

  • Sandra Guedes

    I devored every world! Just wanted this to carry on and on! Perfect!

    • Sandra Guedes

       By that I meant “word”… or …. world of sand… lol

  • Abdelila Yafi

    It makes sense when you are a journalist and you want your story to be like booom!! great artical i must admit, full of sand though!   but i always say this to people, don’t expect Las Vegas if you want to come to the Sahara. Sure enough, things are different when you have to do all that work and 3000km in 5 days.
     I feel so bad the Sahara wasn’t Castles in the Sky premier section! sometimes when i think about it, i go like it is destined for that place to saty undercover  for more years.
    Glad to meet
    Abdou
    http://www.saharasurf.com

Battling the Scottish elements in search of empty waves.
These folks got out and got waves.
Their odyssey at Cortes Bank has consumed my life for the past three years.
Hawaii will be the first state to have high school surf teams.
For the recent high school student, Carissa's post-graduation plans seem pretty sick.
And when the wave came to an end, I knew more were on their way.
Everything you expect in a great surf movie, except the boards.
The wave feels much more like a river wave than an ocean wave.
"They say you haven’t surfed every corner of the planet until you’ve surfed...
Quiksilver Pro France's final day symbolized the state of professional surfing.
The story of surfing's most non-conformist shaper.
How some surfers are exploring history to create a greener board.
I see a dry erase board inside that has “volunteers wanted” written on it.