Afrosurf, a book founded by Selema Masekela, tells the untold stories of surfing culture in Africa
The one-off, 300-page publication produced by African brand Mami Wata sees a compilation of stories from over 25 surfers across the continent.
- Ayla Angelos
- 18 March 2021
When Selema Masekela came to learn that the first known account of surfing was from Ghana in 1640, he was more than astonished. It's an idea that “shifts the narrative of what we think we know about surfing,” he tells It’s Nice That, and also puts Africa right in the centre of it – particularly relevant when you consider it has more surfable coastline than any other continent. “Which is an amazing turn of events in modern history, where surfing was co-opted from Hawaiians and became synonymous with Californian and Australian lifestyles,” he says. Though surf culture has evolved, it's a sport that’s been around for thousands of years, “but it’s far more satisfying to think that surfing in Africa is not something new, or introduced, but rather, as historian Kevin Dawson puts it, a rebirth: the remembering of thousand-year-old traditions”.
This inspired Selema to launch Afrosurf, a 300-page book documenting and celebrating surfing culture in Africa. Filled with photography, stories, profiles, interviews and design, it’s the only book of its kind to detail the narratives of surfing and experiences in Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, Mozambique, Sao Tome, South Africa, Liberia, Somalia, Nigeria, Cote Dílvoire, Cabo Verde, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, and more.
Surfing is a subject that Selema holds closely. He grew up in Los Angeles and was raised in New York City, New England and San Diego, his father was a political exile from South Africa and his mother from Haiti. Once he started to skate in New England, he went on to discover surfing and snowboarding in Carlsbad, CA, in his senior year of school. “The practice of these sports alongside the culture that came with them, really took hold of me and became all consuming,” he remembers. His gateway into the publishing industry arose after working as an intern and receptionist at Transworld Skateboarding and Snowboarding magazines, before working at Planet Earth Skateboards and later co-founding action sports streetwear brand Alphanumeric, the first Black-owned company in the space. “All the while I’d been the guy to quickly grab the microphone at local contests and events as an MC,” he notes, leading him to become the host of a few action sports lifestyle shows in the late 90s. But it doesn’t quite stop there.
After working on Fox Sports and receiving a big break at MTV, it wasn’t long until he became the first sideline reporter and host of the ESPN X Games. 13 years in the industry later, he became a partner with Red Bull’s Media House, presenting their Red Bull Signature Series alongside various other digital content. He’s also continued to work with brands as an ambassador and consultant, until in 2017, during a trip to South Africa to visit family, his friend introduced him to a small brand from Capetown called Mami Wata. “I was blown away by the concept and possibilities of expanding the perception of surf culture from an African bend. They’ve stuck with me ever since.”
Afrosurf, the newly published book produced by Mami Wata, designed by the brand’s creative director Peet Pienaar, features an exceptional body of content, profiling over 25 surfers from around the continent. A “celebration of diversity”, says Selema, the one-off publication tells the necessary stories of real people and surfers – like Davy Stolk, a white South African surfer who defined himself as “coloured (in the South African sense)”. Selema adds that this was so he could avoid doing military service for the apartheid state. Other stories include Alice Wesseh, a Liberian surf coach and “trailblazer”; Sidiq Banda, entrepreneur, herbalist, chef, boxer, surfer, cover star and “legend”; Chemica Blouw, Waves for Change coach and “inspiration”; Ramzi Boukiam, Moroccan “goofy footer”, who’s heading to the Olympic Games; Cherif Fall, Senegal’s rising star; and, “of course”, Mikey February, who Selema describes as “the man with the golden flow”.
In terms of the visual tone of the book, Peet sought to create something unexpected. This becomes evident throughout the book’s spiritual references to the Bible, Quran and “various spiritual manifestations in design around the continent,” says Selema. The cover, too, is distinguishably punchy with its use of block, primary colours, garish yellow border and illustrated centrepiece, all accompanied by chunky, attention grabbing typography. Each piece inside – like Kunyalala Ndlovu’s The Longong, a story of a kid who grew up in landlocked Zimbabwe without the coast, longing to understand the Billabong slogan of ‘only a surfer knows the feeling’ – has its own design language. All of this is pulled together using African design principles on colour, line thickness, and “disrespect to design ‘rules’ to create an authentic piece of African design”.
Alongside its plethora of colourful and intriguing pieces that navigate around the topic of surfing culture in Africa, the publication has a direct and important role in the landscape of publishing. It’s here to unearth these previously untold stories and to shed light on a culture that is so often misunderstood. “African surf culture is unknown and untold,” Selema summarises. “There has been a comfortable ignorance in the world that surfing is something that Africans don’t do. Not only is that a myth, but African surf culture is different, dynamic vibrant and exciting. It’s changing lives and it’s changing the way the world thinks about surfing.”
Afrosurf: Liberia, Arthur Bonbon (Copyright © Afrosurf, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.