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A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd


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The African Hawaii

In São Tomé, a small African country, a surfer witnesses the growth of one of the youngest modern, alternative surf scenes in the world—an indigenous surf-riding culture called “corre-barra” by the locals.

WRITTEN BY

Franz Orsi

I am sitting on a steep ground overlooking a nicely shaped right-hander rolling in shallow pristine waters over a slab punctuated by sea urchins and corals. Around me, a bunch of local kids approximately eight or nine years old screaming for every wave coming in and talking to me in Portuguese, commenting on how they could have caught that wave as any surf dude from any other place on Earth would do. I suddenly realized then that I just happened to arrive in one of the liveliest surf community I ever met in my life.
As we speak about the surf, a bunch of other kids appear from behind the cliffs, paddling through the channel on some very special boards. Those boards look very flat and thin. As they get closer I understand that what they’re riding is actually a local version of a bodyboard made of wood. “Corre barra! Corre barra!” the kids around me started to shout. I ask what it means. They explain it to me by pointing at the young surfers in the water. As we keep on watching the scene we see a bunch of young kids dropping on every wave with their rudimentary boards. It is surfing at his very infancy—I thought.

The surf scene on remote São Tomé is as extraordinary as its setting is exotic. I spent part of my summer surfing the perfect point breaks of São Tomé together with a small bunch of local surfers who grew up catching waves on their wooden tábuas and are now ripping on regular but usually obsolete foam boards, mostly left behind by the few Portuguese surfers that happened to pass there.

The island is a former Portuguese colony. It’s now half of the tiny twin-island African republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, the smallest country in Africa after Seychelles, sitting some 300km off the coast of Gabon. The islands present themselves to the traveller as a small African version of Hawaii, which to some extent they are, with volcanos, lush green vegetation and shallow point breaks. The only difference is that the roads are terrible and the electricity is scarce. Here tourism remains an afterthought, which made it all the more intriguing to me.

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I was there not only because the waves in São Tomé were so good but also because I wanted to witness with my own eyes the vibe of this tiny African Hawaii where the invention of surfing, as I later learned, happened independently from anywhere else in the world. Yes, São Tomé as Hawaii has been one of the cradles of surfing. As for many other inventions in the history of civilization, similar discoveries happened independently in different parts of the world.

It was Sam George who first witnessed this independent invention of surfing in São Tomé. When he visited the island in 2000, the Californian surfer intended to “pioneer” its waves; what he found instead was an indigenous surf-riding culture—well and thriving—“corre-barra” as the locals call it. “Corre-barra” as I later learned literally means “ride-wave”. Wave riding, as we know it. And it has a long history on the island. No one knows when this tradition started, but kids on São Tomé had ridden hand-carved bodyboards on their bellies for as long as anyone could remember. It is just part of the local culture as much as fishing or dancing.

After that first visit to São Tomé, Sam George returned to the island in 2006 to make a film about this incredible discovery: The Lost Wave: An African Surf Story. What he found during his second visit was a small bunch of locals that started to carve their own surfboards out of wood and learned to ride on their feet. As he and his film crew left modern boards behind, a small stand-up surf community on São Tomé emerged. Surely it can be considered one of the youngest modern surf scenes in the world, but with a very long history coming from decades or even centuries of “corre-barra” tradition.

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Such state of transition (or coexistence) between “corre-barra” and modern surfing created an interesting dynamic within the local community. As kids learn to ride waves on the traditional wooden boards, using them almost as bodyboards and then trying to stand up from time to time, they also climb the ladder of the local surfing community. A certain hierarchy applies here: as kids evolve in their “corre-barra” skills they also start to be entitled to use more regularly one of the few modern surf boards spread over the local surf community. The foam boards stock is limited so it is carefully managed within the community. Sharing is key in São Tomé.

Witnessing the growth—and the stoke—of one of the youngest modern surf scenes in the world it was for sure some of the most interesting experiences in my life. As my days on the island were running by, I got to know virtually everybody involved in this lively surfing community. From the pioneers, like Chum, the king of the point break of Porto Alegre in the South, to the boys of Santana, who grew up riding waves on their wooden planks and now became progressive young surfers with no less talent or style than any Californian or European young gun. Their names are Jejé, Danilk, Zezito, Ailton, Assis and Edu. I started to spend my days with them, inside and outside the water, getting more and more interested in their stories and ultimately witnessing their growth as surfers and young men.

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While I was there with the boys of Santana I got to know that they were granted the chance to participate at the ISA Junior World Surfing Championships to be held in Azores, Portugal later in the year. A few surfers from Portugal who came across the surf scene of Santana – the surf capital of São Tomé – and got to know the local young guns impressed by the pool of talent and stoke decided to raise money and find sponsors to help these guys live their dream and bring them to compete at the World Championships. You can just imagine how excited these boys were about that. This was the first time travelling outside the country for them, and of course the first international surfing competition. And that was definitely what they dreamt about for all their lives. As for myself, I ended up booking a flight to Azores as well to meet them again in a few weeks’ time and to be a first-hand testimony of this modern surf fairy tale of the boys who learn to surf on some wood planks that were now going to the World Championships. That was a historic moment for surfing and a touching one for me and for all the people who helped to make it possible.

It’s not important to talk about the Championship here. History was made. And I believe that surfing benefited from getting in touch with the youngest modern surf scene in the world and for sure the one with more stoke. And vibes.

Long live the “corre-barra” tradition and to the history of an alternative surfing culture in Africa. I got back to my place with my mind full of images of stoke, happiness and loud laughs on and off the water. Long live the “corre-barra” because at the end of the day, we may find out that surfing was indeed first discovered in the Black Continent and that indeed “the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun”.

Images: Franz Orsi and Vania Marques

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Australia Wins Fifth ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship Team Gold

Team Australia capped off a historic week of competition in Denmark and continued their dominance in the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship, edging out France and New Zealand to earn the overall Team Gold Medal.

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Coming into the Final day of competition in Vorupør, located on Denmark’s northwest coast, Australia held the overall lead in the team points ranking. Their fate was in their hands, as a win in the Team Relay Race would cement their Gold Medal position at the top of the podium.

Team Australia jumped out to a lead in the Relay Race that only grew larger lap after lap, earning their fifth Team Gold Medal in the event’s six-year history.

Team Australia’s quest for Gold started at the first leg of the World Championship in Copenhagen. They got off to an amazing start with dual Gold Medals in the Paddleboard Distance Race from Lachie Lansdown and Jordan Mercer.

As the event moved to the northwest coast known as ‘Cold Hawaii’, Team Australia briefly trailed in the overall team points ranking behind Team France, but after SUP Surfing Gold from Shakira Westdorp and Silver from Harry Maskell, a SUP Technical Race Bronze Medal from Terrene Black, and repeat Gold Medal performances from Lachie Lansdownand Jordan Mercer in the Paddleboard Technical Races, they had gained the lead and never looked back.

Terrene Black pushes Australia’s lead on the second lap on the Team Relay Final. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans
Terrene Black pushes Australia’s lead on the second lap on the Team Relay Final. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

Shakira Westdorp, Australia’s team captain and Women’s SUP Surfing Gold Medalist, said:

“We showed our dominance from start to finish. Our whole team put in so much work and I think we deserved this.

“Winning Gold is what we come here for. This time around was definitely our most hard-fought Team Gold. There was so much high competition from other countries. It’s awesome to see the growth of SUP and Paddleboarding.

“For us to win with this strong field it shows the caliber of our athletes and our team spirit. We always have each other’s back and that goes a long way.

Closely following Team Australia in what was the most tightly contested competition for the Team Gold Medal in the event’s history were Team France with the Silver Medal, Team New Zealand with the Bronze Medal, and Team Hawaii with the Copper.

The final day of competition at the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship kicked off on Sunday morning with the Team Relay Race Semifinals and Final under partly cloudy skies and an electric vibe coming from the spectators waiting to see a Team World Champion crowned.

The first two Semifinals determined who would advance to the Final, which featured Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Japan, England, Hawaii, USA, Brazil, and the home nation Denmark.

In the Final the race for Gold was over after New Zealand’s SUP racer, Annabel Anderson, fell off her board twice on the second lap, allowing Australia’s Terrene Black to push ahead by 50 meters. Australia’s following legs of the relay, Jordan Mercer and Lincoln Dews, added to the lead gained by Black to earn the Gold Medal.

Heading into the Relay Race final lap, the anchor for Team Denmark, Casper Steinfath, was tagged into the race with his team in sixth position. Steinfath made quick work to catch USA and Hawaii who were holding fourth and fifth place. In a display of incredible determination, Steinfath passed star Hawaiian SUP racer, Connor Baxter, to earn an inspirational Copper Medal for the country of Denmark.

Team Denmark shows their national pride after winning the Copper Medal in the Team Relay Race behind a strong anchor performance from Casper Steinfath. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans
Team Denmark shows their national pride after winning the Copper Medal in the Team Relay Race behind a strong anchor performance from Casper Steinfath. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

Team France earned the Silver Medal and Team New Zealand the Bronze in the relay, solidifying their respective second and third positions in the overall team points ranking.

The Closing Ceremony followed the end of competition to celebrate the end of a historic week of competition in Denmark and to crown the 2017 World Team Champion.

Dignitaries present at the ceremony included, ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, Mayor of Thisted Municipality, Lene Kjelgaard Jensen, President of Friends of Cold Hawaii, Finn Jorsal, and President Danish Surfing & Rafting Federation, Jakob Færch.

ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, said:

“We have come to the end of the World Championship, and it’s great because we have had an amazing competition, but sad because now we go back home and say goodbye to our friends and the people of Denmark. I want to thank the organizers, volunteers, and everyone who made this recording-breaking edition of the event possible.

“We got everything this week: wind, waves, rain, and sun. We have deep gratitude to the people of Cold Hawaii for hosting us.

“This is the largest ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship in history. 42 countries, more 450 participants, and more than 700 team visitors gathered here in Denmark. We will all go home as ambassadors of the spirit of the Danish people.

“This week we experienced the highest level of competition and camaraderie. We have shared with our friends in Denmark the spirit of the ISA World Championship. ISA and SUP are one and we are going to be sure that it stays that way. The ISA is the only International Federation to organize a World Championship for SUP.  SUP is surfing and not canoeing. SUP will continue to flourish in Denmark and around the globe under ISA leadership.

“For those of you that didn’t take home medals, don’t ever forget you were here. You made history and represented your country, which is the highest honor.”

The ISA World Championship Series now heads to Japan for the 2017 VISSLA ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in Hyuga from September 23 to October 1.

To see photos, video, results from the event, visit www.isaworlds.com.

To replay past days’ live webcasts, visit http://isaworlds.com/sup/2017/en/live/.

Results:

Team Relay Race
Gold – Australia
Silver – France
Bronze – New Zealand
Copper – Denmark

Team Ranking
1 (Gold) – Australia
2 (Silver) – France
3 (Bronze) – New Zealand
4 (Copper) – Hawaii
5 – USA
6 – Brazil
7 – Denmark
8 – Italy
9 – Japan
10 – South Africa

Feature Image: Team Australia celebrates their fifth Team Gold Medal in the event’s six years, continuing their streak of dominance. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

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