Dec 14, 2007
Author: Alex Jowett
I have, for a long time, held the belief that my job as a watersports photographer and writer is one of selling dreams and I have spent much time discussing this matter with various editors, athletes and other photogs. We always came to the same conclusion; the average reader of a magazine is looking to live vicariously through the lives of these athletes and looks at the magazines to dream a little dream about something other than their daily lives. However, after a recent trip to Morocco I changed my mind and realised that people don’t always want to see the unattainable, virgin paradise, soon to be spoiled because a bunch of riders just spilled its secrets to the world, and all the epic waves being ridden by said riders for the very first time. Sometimes peoples’ dreams come closer when they are given a link from their world to that of the crazy, vagabond athletes that fill the pages of these magazines month after month. But, even more importantly, sometimes I travel and go to places so that I can make other peoples lives easier by figuring out where is best to go, when, and how. Read on if you care to find out a little more about Morocco…… and no, you don’t need to be a pro, to go to Moroco!
As with most trips, this one started with a phone call. Daniel LeFebvre from the Big Air kite school in Quebec, Canada was calling me to see if I could join him and his crew on a trip to Morocco. I asked who was going. “Oh some guys from here and there!” “So, no pros?” I asked. “No, no pros, so and so was supposed to come, but they had to go to Brasil!” He replied. I told him I would call him back, but he said I had to let him know in an hour, since we would be leaving in two days. Sheesh, no pros and total last minute trip… I nearly told him no, but since the trip was all paid for, since I have been to and really love, Morocco a lot, and since I really didn’t have many plans for the following weeks I called him back and said why not? Translated to French it is “Pour quoi Pas?” and is always a great reason for a party. But that is something I learned in St Martin and is another story altogether.
I met up with the Big Air crew, a rag tag mix of investors, real estate movers and shakers, store-owners etc., I quickly realized I wouldn’t be getting any kiteloop, or handle pass sequences, and would have to just smile and see what happens. After a pleasant flight across the Atlantic on Royal Air Maroc we landed in Casablanca, a city with a romantic ideal, largely due to the movie of the same name, where the reality could not be further from the real thing. Casablanca is Africa’s second largest city, and you feel this immediately upon trying to penetrate the city’s, densely populated, core. Since none of us were looking to go shopping we headed straight to the coast, hoping for some good wind of waves. However, as soon as I saw the clouds as we left the airport I knew no one would be kiting that day. From my months of experience in Morocco I knew one thing…..if there are clouds in the sky, it usually means a low pressure system coming up from the south and if there is wind it will be onshore and nasty. And this day was no exception.*
We drove from Casablanca to the Atlantic coast town of Oualidia, a town famed for its great waves. But, less well-known is the fact that Oualidia has a very pretty little bay which is ideal for flat water kiting at high tide. Another time and I’m sure we would have enjoyed the bay, but instead we hid away from the rain in a quaint little restaurant and had pizza for lunch.
After lunch we drove a long, bumpy, coast road (note* best to take the highways when travelling between Moroccan cities as they are much better maintained than the smaller, coastal routes, unless of course you enjoy a bouncy, pot-hole filled romp.) until we arrived at our destination, the lovely little town of Essaouira. Essaouira, is dubbed ‘Wind city, Africa,’ and for a good reason as it is almost always at least a little windy, but most often, very windy in Essaouira, except, of course, when we arrived…..The luck of the Irish definitely wasn’t with us. Since it had been over a year since I had been back I took the free time to run around and visit some friends, do some shopping (something that is always fun to do in Essaouira,) and sit back, relax and have a coffee in the main plaza. Something that is great to do after 9 hours flying and almost five hours in a cramped truck. It felt good to be back in Essaouira and I hoped we could stay for a while, but since the wind wasn’t cooperating I had the feeling we would be leaving soon. Sure enough, the following day the guys decided we would head south, but not before checking out the small town of Diabat, famous for the fact that Jimmy Hendrix once stayed there.
In Diabat, we felt our first puff of wind and the excited kiters began tearing apart their luggage to get at the gear they had lugged all the way across the Atlantic. Pretty soon a handful of kites were lighting up the blue Moroccan sky as our rag tag group of Canadians got their first taste of Moroccan water. And sweet chocolate water it was. Since the waves pounding the shores of Morocco were huge the guys decided to kite in the rivermouth, which was shooting out a strong mix of muddy and fresh water leaving for some interestingly coloured waves…to say the least. The wind was only about 12 knots but at least the guys got to get wet. Only one day into the trip and they were already kiting. However, since the winds weren’t supposed to improve for at least a week the democratic decision was made to haul ass all the way to Dakhla. Something that would end up seeming like it took much longer than it did.
To digress a bit and get back to my job as a world wandering watersports vagabond; sometimes, I have come to realise, my job is to help others, who have far less time to run around searching for wind and waves, get to the best places and have the most fun possible. In short, I make mistakes that others can, hopefully, avoid, that is, if they read the right magazines ;). One of which I will pass on to the public at large right now. Do not drive the entire coastline of Morocco, down to Dakhla, unless you are A) in a camper vehicle and can pull over and sleep any which place you wish, or B) you absolutely love long, windy drives through the desert. I say this despite my usual love of driving long distances. If you drive south from Agadir to Dakhla you are in for a long, dull, drive with only a mildly varying scenery. Save the time and fly there, as Dakhla has a fully functioning airport with weekly flights and there are a number of camps and hotels available. Of course, if you need to rent a car, that might be more difficult.
To avoid any bitter tones to the article I will say very little about the drive down to Dakhla, since articles about tempers flaring up like the Saharan sun are never much fun. The roads were windy and rarely crowded, the towns all seemed like the last one and the shaded side of the truck was the most valued seat to grab. Avoid the drive.
After a fabulous three day drive south our weary group of travelers arrived at flat-water kiteboarding’s Shangri-La. As we drove over our last little hill a grand an seemingly endless sandy lagoon spread out into the horizon with, what looked like, a dragon lying off in the distance. It turns out it was just a rocky outcropping appropriately called ‘the sleeping dragon.’ In the distance we also noticed a funny kite flittering about the sky. We could only assume it was connected to a beautiful lady with a sexy board underfoot. Since it was Shangri-La after all. Within minutes we were parked at the spot ‘kilometre 25,’ and quickly unloaded the gear, pumped kites and hit the water. After three full days cramped in our mid-sized 4x4’s everyone was more than happy to wash away the past days with a cruise in the cool lagoon.
The following days we fell into a comfortable pattern. Wake up around 7:30 or 8, have a sweet breakfast or coffee’s, juices, breads and jams, then pack up our gear and head out to kilometer 25 for about 10 or 11. by this time there was usually enough wind for a 12 or 14 metre kite, or less. So, everyone would go out and kite the vast lagoon to their hearts content. Quite often the wind would drop slightly in the afternoon then pick back up again at around 3pm, for whatever reason. Then, the guys would go back out and kite almost until sunset. The wind in Dakhla seemed so regular I felt I could set my watch by it. After a few days of regular, flat water, lagoon blasting a couple of members of the group (both named Dan,) began frothing to hit the ocean side, which just so happened to be a quick 4x4 hop across the road. As the wind picked up one afternoon Dan2 (squared) and I headed over to shipwrecks and got a quick afternoon small wave session. I was dying to get some nice water shots so I strapped on my fins, grabbed my water housing and dived into the cool Atlantic waters. I was immediately grabbed by a 5-6 knot current and headed upwind (the current was against the wind….a bonus for the kiters but not for myself, swimming!) Since I couldn’t beat the current I would dive in, get dragged upwind, snap off two or three shots, then swim to shore and run up the beach, only to do it all over again until we got the shots I wanted, or passed out, whichever came first. Luckily I got the shots and the guys got their first little taste of the wave rich Atalntic coastline of Morocco.
At the end of the day, every member of our group was truly happy and satisfied; I had all the photos I wanted, the flat water crew had been able to ride day in and day out and Dan squared was able to get a bit of wave action in as well. Had the trip ended there we would have all been satisfied, however, we were soon to experience a day that none of us would soon forget, and one that not many people in this world will ever experience. A day at Dune Blanche.
At our hotel in Dakhla we met a curious Bajan ex-pat, who we later found out, had pirates blood running in his veins, and definitely seemed to have an enigmatic air about him. An ex-motorbike racer and lifelong fisherman, with a fleet of charter fishing boats still running in Barbados, Colin had come to Dakhla for a few days and still happened to be there 18 months later. He and his wife Freya had apparently fallen in love with the desert and the wide open spaces, not to mention the abundant fishing grounds found in the lagoon and offshore. Every night when we returned to the hotel we would see Colin and/or his wife Freya and would have little conversations with them that often ended up with them telling us how much we needed to go to Dune Blanche. Finally, tired of all the stories we decided to have Colin guide us out to the Dunes.
On our second last day in Dakhla we headed out to Dune Blanche. As we gunned it through deep sand and followed the barely visible trail markers, so as to avoid driving over any land mines, that had been laid by the Moroccan army years ago, we soon realized why having a guide such as Colin, and his tricked-out land Rover was so necessary. After an beautiful drive through the desert we came out to the edge of the lagoon and saw the majestic crescent enveloping the edges of the lagoon. Arriving about a half hour before high tide with a good 25 knot wind blowing the guys rigged up and ran for the water. While Dune Blanche proved to be one of the most scenic spots I have ever taken kite photos, it was ever more fantastic for the guys kiting and the silky smooth waters in the lee of the crescent were a joy to all.
After a couple of hours of playing in and around the dune the tide began to recede, limiting the amount of useable water to ride on, so everyone returned to shore for a desert style barbecue of camel strips and kefta burgers. As luck would have it the wind came up after we had all been pleasantly stuffed, and a second, blasting, session was enjoyed by all. At the end of the day we drove back to Dakhla as the sun set over the ocean, each one of us smiling a satisfied grin, with the knowledge that we had all shared in a rare and beautiful adventure. I smiled, and thought to myself about the trip. In the end it really hadn’t been any different than if I had been travelling with a group of pros. While none of the guys were doing kiteloops or trying to get barrelled on the biggest waves they were all out to have fun and share an adventure, which Morocco certainly is. In the end, everyone smiled the same satisfied smiles I have seen on the pros after a particularly good trip, wave or session. In the end, traveling is all about satisfying your own personal levels of adventure and Morocco can satisfy any and all levels. Even after three trips and almost a full year of time spent in Morocco I am still looking forward to the next time, knowing that it will definitely be a beautiful, rewarding adventure.
As for me, if I am to fulfill my duties as a kite-journo, then I would have to leave my final recommendations for a great trip to Morocco; First, decide if you want to ride flat-water or waves, or if you want a mix of both. Then, decide how much time you have and how much of Morocco you truly wish to see. If you only want flat water and consistent wind and sun, then book a flight directly to Dakhla and don’t waste time driving. If you want waves, and a bit more culture and amenities then I recommend flying to either Casablanca or Marrakesh and heading out to Essaouira where everything Moroccan is at your fingertips, along with good wind and waves. For the more adventurous and pure wave riders a quick trip up the coast will leave you at Morocco’s best wind and wave spot, Moulay Bouzarqtoune! However, staying here do realize that the usual European amenities do not exist. You will be living a truly rustic experience, but the wind and waves are more than worth it.
Moroccan Ministry of Tourism
Royal Air Maroc
Regency Fishing Adventures, Dakhla