When Bruce Brown was shooting his iconic surfing film “The Endless Summer” in 1963, he hopped around the globe. He never made it to Morocco on the northwest corner of Africa, though he did get to Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa.
Brown skipped Morocco a second time when he made “The Endless Summer II,” released in 1994.
Big mistakes. What Brown missed was a 1,000-mile coastline that hugs the Moroccan desert, with waves that form beside rocky points or off the beach and are only now being discovered by Yanks.
I first visited Morocco in the 1970s when I went to visit my older brother who was teaching English in the Peace Corps. I returned in the winter 15 years later to climb a nearly 14,000-foot peak called Toubkal outside Marrakech with photographer Mark Lorenzen— and then ski down it.
But I knew nothing of the kingdom’s burgeoning (at least among Moroccans, Europeans, Aussies and Brazilians) surf scene until I read about Jerome Sahyoun, a Moroccan who is one of the world’s top big-wave surfers.
It made this former San Diegan ponder returning to North Africa to check out a coast that looks a lot like stretches of Baja California and ride the waves that roll across the Atlantic to break on its shores.
The deal was sealed after I spoke with Nigel Cross, an Australian who operates Moroccan Surf Adventures on Taghazout Bay, Morocco, one of the top surfing spots in Africa.
Cross, who is in his 40s, came to Morocco as a toddler in the 1970s with his surfer parents who were, he says, “following the sun.”
On a misty October morning I found myself carrying a longboard down to the water at Devil’s Rock Beach, north of the coastal city of Agadir, for a refresher lesson with a dozen would-be surfers from Britain, France, Ireland and Brazil.
There was one other American in our pod, a young businesswoman from San Francisco. She was the only other Yank I met during my five days at Cross’ surfing school.
It wasn't crowded, but there were other surfers out in the lineup and on the beach, including a group of Moroccan boys in wetsuits who were doing jumping jacks and turning cartwheels on the sand.
Brightly painted blue fishing boats, including one with a pair of cats lounging in it, were lined up above the high-tide line. Still higher was what can only be described as surf shacks.
Tamraght, the village where I was staying, was about half a mile inland from Devil’s Rock Beach and had a pair of mosques with minarets poking into the blue sky.
Behind them, arid hills rolled off to the east. Less than a mile north of Tamraght is the town of Taghazout, Morroco’s version of Santa Cruz.
Not far from the shore, a handful of surfers was lining up to hop on waves rolling in off the right-hand side of the jagged point that is Devil’s Rock.
Brahim LeFrere, one of the three instructors for our group, had us doing pop-ups on the beach before we hit the water for what would be four-plus days of instruction. We roamed up and down the coast, seeking the best conditions. At several spots, camels moved casually along the sand, reminding us that we were indeed in North Africa.
When the day’s classes and time for free surfing were over, we returned to the Moroccan Surf Adventures hostel, where the chef served us a delicious Berber tagine, a stew prepared in an earthenware pot that was brimming with onions, carrots, squash, spices and chicken and served on a bed of couscous.
Advanced surfers who were staying at the lodge hired guides and headed for more serious breaks that have gnarly reputations in Morocco and Europe, such as Dracula’s, Hash Point, Killer Point and Anchor Point, where waves sometimes break for more than a quarter mile.
One of the highlights of my trip was meeting Meryem el Gardoum and watching her ride the waves. This 19-year-old Muslim woman is a native of Tamraght and the country’s top female surfer.
She learned from her older brothers, and her parents encouraged her to compete. Now she’s a part-time instructor when she’s not in school.
Anchor Point is her favorite break, she told me, because of its consistent tubes and long rides.
“I feel so free when I am out there,” she said during a chat at Devil’s Rock. “I think it’s the same [for surfers] all over the world. I’m just lucky that I grew up here and had the support of my family.
“Not all girls my age are so fortunate.”