Empty Waves and Total Chaos on a Vanlife Tour of North Africa
Six guys, three vans, and a month-long road trip to find surf among the most inhospitable terrain on the planet
Fuji superia 200, expired Agfa Agfacolour 160
I started traveling because of surfing. It has led me to some incredible places and outrageous experiences. Western Sahara is one of them, and throughout the month-long trip remained almost entirely on the outrageous end of the spectrum.
We began the trip in Portugal with plans to punch straight through Spain and Morocco to the bottom of Western Sahara and then slowly make our way back up and into Europe. With little but small towns spaced far apart and endless coastline to explore we figured it would be a pretty smooth ride. It didn't really turn out that way.
The first thing you notice crossing into Western Sahara is the police check points coming in and exiting every single town, as well as just randomly placed along the road wherever they see fit. There’s that, and the unrelenting landscape.
"There’s a raw beauty hidden amongst the harsh, desolate nothingness. And there are waves. Perfect, uncrowded waves."
Western Sahara is home to some of the most arid and inhospitable land on the planet—a fact we became intimately familiar with. The terrain is completely impersonal, devoid of defining features without any trace of life. Dull yellow and gawkily bending shrubs and trees give way to expanses of sand and the horizon. Relentless, unyielding road extends for as long as anyone would care to see. It's completely unparalleled to anything I have experienced before. But there’s a raw beauty hidden amongst the harsh, desolate nothingness. And there are waves. Perfect, uncrowded waves.
What started off as three men in one van quickly turned into six men in three vans. We had no real idea what we were doing or where we were going, relying largely on Google Earth to spot anything that resembled a decent wave and then just hugging the coast as best we could.
For the majority of the trip we saw no one and surfed incredible waves all to ourselves. The other side of the story though, is full of run-ins with police, arrests and escapes, problems with customs, bribes, being chased by the military, and of course, food poisoning.
But amongst the chaos was pure calm. Empty line ups, perfect points, amazing wedges, and only the sounds of crashing waves and us hooting to one another from the shoulder. But after a month of camping in the dirt, eating trash food, and not showering, it was kind of enough.
That said, I would go back in a heart beat. Only next time, I’d be a bit better prepared for what I was going to encounter.