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Africa’s original surf brand wants you to discover the continent’s endless waves. First stop: Dakar.
IN THE WOLOF language, native to the majority of Senegalese, the word buntu means “door” or “portal.” And many consider Dakar, the city at the westernmost point of Africa, the gateway to the continent. Bantu is a term loosely meaning “people” or “humans.” It designates a family of several hundred languages spoken by over 400 different ethnic groups stretching from central Cameroon to South Africa; that’s upwards of 350 million people, or 5% of the total world population. So it’s fitting that in celebration of Africa’s 16,000 miles of diverse coastline, entrepreneur Yodit Eklund established Bantu Wax, the continent’s original surf brand, and chose Dakar as its home base.
I arrive in Dakar during the second week of its month-long biennale, reinaugurated in the post-Covid era, and the city is pulsing with activity. Dak’Art’s bold and colorful billboards are posted everywhere, beckoning exploration, but my primary mission is to check out the city’s beaches, infamous waves, and urban surf scene. I meet Eklund on the shaded patio of Seku Bi, the intimate hotel of which she is also the proprietor. It’s discreetly tucked into a small impasse within the central plateau neighborhood. The air is salty. A breeze blows off the Atlantic stretching out just below and out to the horizon. “There are at least 20 beaches within a 20-minute drive that have a surf break,” she tells me. Uniquely situated on a peninsula that catches swells from both north and south, the city’s coast allows for consistent waves throughout the year, and has spots suited to every ability. Moreover, she continues, “Dakar is a fun place to come surf or learn to surf, but then you also have this other cultural experience: great music, great food, and a great art scene. It’s quite cool.”
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Raised to aspire to greater purpose, Eklund grew up living in Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, Sudan, and Côte d’Ivoire, but she technically spent the first week of life in Germany. “My parents were living in Ghana and I was born in Germany because my dad’s American, and there’s American soil there. He was like, if one day my daughter wants to be the president, she can be. I moved to Accra nine days later.” For college, she landed at Berkeley to study environmental science and economics, where she first picked up surfing. In her experience, waves were part and parcel of an urban lifestyle. Yet Africa was always on her mind. Upon graduating, her thesis project turned into a business plan, and Bantu Wax was launched with one style of board shorts and a bikini in vivid wax prints. The idea was to honor the patterns of her nomadic childhood, and to bring awareness to an undervalued resource: the beaches of Africa. In her telling, “Africa presented the perfect platform to launch a surf brand, because there are many beaches. It will always be sustainable and valid. I thought that if people started traveling [there,] they would contribute to the economy and encourage development. If I could open people's eyes to beaches in Africa, it would be a positive for everyone.”
Since those whirlwind early days, Eklund has sharpened the brand’s identity. For one thing, the product offering has expanded. “We have things that are industrially produced, artisanally produced, and quite luxuriously produced,” Eklund proudly states. Bantu Wax makes swimwear, apparel, monogrammed small leather goods, boxer briefs (for layering), and an assortment of summertime and beach accessories. The design ethos is driven by the skill sets and traditional practices that she and her team research and source across the continent. She’s emphatic when she tells me, “I will not make a Bantu product that's not made in Africa.” Wetsuits produced in South Africa are 4/3 mm only, colorful sun-bleached hats and visors are woven with natural fibers in Burkina Faso, beach blankets are worked on by Ghanaian flag makers, bandanas are pieced together by Kenyan sewers, and for the logo-obsessed consumer, a Bantu monogram was created to mimic traditional block prints, covering the surface of tote bags, wallets, and a cotton night shirt and short set.
The boutique, located on the ground floor of Eklund’s Seku Bi hotel, evokes the bounty of merchandise of an African market, with curation to suit a chic paddle-out and beach hang. La Marzocco–pulled espressos are at the ready while you shop. Pastel-colored jelly fisherman sandals spill out of tin buckets, crochet and straw market bags hang from sculpted wooden pegs, and an assortment of the brand’s graphic T-shirt and sweats mix and mingle with wetsuits. This is the only store in the world where shoppers can buy Bantu Wax gear in person. “We wanted to sell in Africa and be closer to the people that inspired the brand. We have a strong African customer today. That was my goal. I didn’t want to build a brand that wasn’t represented in Africa.” For the customer who does not yet have Senegal in their travel plans, Eklund concedes, “Our big thing now is pushing our digital presence, direct to consumer, and making the brand global.”
Tourists, adults, and kids are scrambling up onto longboards and catching the gentle ripples off the beach at Ngor village; others practice their paddle moves on sand, all patiently coached by the local surfers, who earn something extra by teaching visitors. As we wait to board a colorful hand-painted pirogue (traditional fishing boat) to cross the quarter-mile stretch of bay to Ngor Island, we discuss the evolving landscape of the surfing industry. “Africa has every race. You have Black, Arab, Indian, white; you have all these different races and they’re surfers, which I think speaks more to what the world is today,” Eklund says. Back in 2009 when the brand was founded, conversations around representation were uncommon. To see images of surfers outside the male, beach-blond, Caucasian archetype was not a thing. “We did that first,” she asserts. “I think we showed a different side to surf culture before anyone was really covering it. I see change in the industry, and I see people trying to adapt; I think in that way, we did open people’s eyes to a lot of things.” She’s happy to be at the forefront, serving as a sort of facilitator and guide for those in the industry looking to expand their rosters with fresh talent and get a foothold in this burgeoning youth-driven market. Local girls and women are finally getting in on the action, with economic opportunity of sponsorship deals, and cultural barriers that define gender roles are loosening. Malika Surf Camp at Yoff beach, run by expat Marta Imarisio, has pulled together a team of schoolgirls who practice daily, and has struck a deal that covers their school fees for the years to come. “I’m really excited that so many surfers are getting signed,” Eklund says. “They are the ambassadors for the oceans of Africa.”
Sand gives way to narrow cobblestone passageways lined by stone and cement walls, laid with colorful glass mosaics depicting scenes of mythology and geometric patterns. Ngor Island is an artist enclave chock full of galleries and rooms to rent, and home to the famous point break, Ngor Right, which became part of the global surfing consciousness with the classic ’60s documentary “The Endless Summer.” On the mainland, conditions are moderate with cross and onshore winds causing a choppy texture, but here, there’s a steady line and a glassy surface allowing for a long and steady cruise. Residents and travelers mix in the lineup. There’s no beef here. Teranga, or “good hospitality” is the most esteemed value in Senegalese culture, which in this case translates to a wave culture that embraces newcomers and locals alike. Although Dakar is currently packed with people, the seashore is an oasis of calm. Echoing my thoughts, Eklund sighs in contentment: “There’s nothing more luxurious than surfing on waves without crowds.”
At daybreak and dusk the beaches along the Route de la Corniche fill with joggers, wrestlers, soccer players, and calisthenics aficionados. This coastal stretch is a public space given over to sports and well-being. Women in headscarves and the latest kicks, groups of boys in football jerseys, and expats alike all come out to train, play, hang, and get their fitness on. It’s a way of life here. Respect, community, solidarity, and sharing are the other hallmarks of teranga, and it’s felt in every aspect of the city’s life. “I think Dakar is a great place to come get introduced to Africa,” Eklund says as we walk along the pathway. “The more we can build an economy around the beaches of Africa, the more people would demand to protect the ocean and the waves. If you never buy a Bantu product, but you come to Africa to go to the beach, and you spend money, I consider that a success.”
Along Almadies’ petite corniche, the spots to know are Vivier, Secret Spot, and Club Med. These are reef breaks with consistent rolling rights and lefts, shielded from the wind. The water can be shallow, so beware of rocks and urchins. If you’re not paddling out, this entire stretch is one cafe, restaurant, bar, and fish-grill spot after another. Vibe is chill all day and night.
Further down the coast is Ouakam, the most picturesque surf spot in Dakar and also the most challenging. Dakar’s famous Mosque of the Divinity sits in the center of the horseshoe cove. Waves here are almost guaranteed to barrel year-round. Bottom is rocky, and take-off area is small. This spot requires some skills.
Another breathtaking spot is Ngor Island, which has the famous Ngor Right and Left, point breaks in crystal-blue waters.
The long and sandy beaches of Yoff and Virage are best for beginners. Malika Surf Camp is located here. In winter, there can be monster beach breaks, but other seasons supply a steady heaping of mellow waves with a sandy floor.
Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.
Stephen Tayo is a Nigerian photographer whose work is influenced by his undergraduate studies in philosophy and an interest in contemporary anthropology, fashion, and social justice. His work offers social commentary on wealth, class, race, gender, and identity.
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