Unlocking The Surfing Potential For West African Locals With Kepa Acero
“You get to see how it feels to ride your first wave again.”
Kepa Acero can usually be spotted in far-flung, unexpected locales, tracking unridden waves, and mingling with the salt of the earth.
He’s surfing’s wandering Buddha.
He’s spent a good deal of time traversing the African continent and, in the process, has stumbled upon some lineups that are incredible as they are lonesome.
After gaining plenty from the people and places of Africa, Kepa decided to put together a surfboard drive so he could pay it forward. Inspired by his good friend Dane Gudauskas, he recently gathered boards and delivered them to one of his favorite African villages.
Mr. Acero leads the African grommets.
Stab: You’ve been traveling through Africa for a long time, where did you decide to focus your efforts for the board drive?
Kepa: I’ve been traveling mostly along Africa’s west coast. Being a white man traveling solo, sometimes it can be difficult in these countries, but you have the opportunity to score some of the best waves on earth by yourself. So, yeah, I have a love/hate story with Africa. Sometimes I want to leave, and then as soon as I’m home I want to come back so badly.
I’ve been places that have never seen a surfboard before, and sometimes I teach the kids to surf. They love it. They get hooked. But I could never leave those kids any of my surfboards because I was still in the middle of my travels. My dear friend Dane Gudauskas told me about this project that he and his brothers had done in Jamaica. I thought it was brilliant. I feel like the African communities have given me a lot and that it was a way I could give back to them— the idea of bringing back some of the knowledge they have given me and the stoke to these communities.
What was special about the community you picked? Why them?
I was in this place in the African jungle in 2013. I drove all the way from Europe to the coast through many countries. At one point there was this beautiful place with amazing people. They had very little material things, but they offered me so much love. It is full of African positive vibes there; full of colors and stoke. I always have been very inspired by the way these people enjoy life and live in the present—this instant moment—compared to the western countries. That is something that amazes me. It was completely flat while I was there, but I could see the potential of some of the pointbreaks, so I really wanted to come back and leave to these people some gratitude for what they have showed me, and of course, try to discover some potentially epic waves.
After I left, I always thought those kids may have shaped a wooden surfboard or something similar to keep surfing. If I think back, it was my brother Dane Gudauskas who was the first one to talk to me about the concept. Dane and I made a few trips to Africa together and he told me about what he was doing in Jamaica with his brothers. I think those two experiences were crucial. I thought it made so much sense to share what gives us all so much stoke. I really love the Gudauskas brothers and what they are doing with the Positive Vibe Warriors concept. They have the ability to leave a piece of hope in everybody’s hearts.
“You get to see how it feels to ride your first wave again. That feeling does not know about culture or races, it’s a universal feeling.”
How did you start to put it all together?
One day I got a message from my friend Xabier Zirikain in Africa and he proposed that we do an exchange of experiences and cultures with local communities. So, the idea of doing the board drive, and at the same time having the chance of scoring some good waves, started to build in my mind. I called my friends Grant Ellis and Kimball Taylor and they wanted to share the experience. I thought okay, let’s do it. Grant and Kimball could not make it to the trip in the end, so I ended up going with my girlfriend, Eva Diez, who is also a great filmmaker.
What was the response like once you launched your board drive?
I started to share the idea on my social media and, actually, I was surprised by the response. It was crazy how many people wanted to donate something. I had messages from all over the world. I had to spend one whole day just answering messages on Instagram. I had to say thank you but that I didn’t have a way to compile that many boards. It was amazing.
“Sometimes I want to leave, and then as soon as I’m home I want to come back so badly.”
How many boards, wetsuits, and other surf gear did you raise?
Honestly, I think I could have compiled hundreds and hundreds of boards, but my idea was to give back some of the stoke, not overwhelm them with surfboards. I chose around 30 surfboards, longboards and bodyboards, and also leashes, wetsuits, wax, etc.
Were you mainly supported by your friends and fellow surfers in the Basque region?
As I said, the response was so much that we had to limit it to a local shop called Pro Surf in my home village. Through a lot of my friends and some other people from the village, we were able to collect enough gear.
What logistics/hurdles did you face getting the boards to Africa?
That was the hardest part. It’s such a mess trying to send boards to an individual. I had no idea how it works. Taxes and all of that are a nightmare. Luckily, Eva and I had a friend, Borja Mari, who was working at an international transport company called Kukkla and they took care of us. But yeah, that was a pain in the ass. Borja Mari is a legend.
What was the initial response like when you showed up with all the boards?
Actually, the boards were supposed to arrive before us, but it was such a mess with the taxes that they arrived right after us, so Eva and I decided to teach them how to surf with our own boards. But yeah, imagine it, those people were used to seeing canoes and boats, and some of them had never even seen the ocean before as we were living 10 miles from the sea. That was incredible. They had so much fun when they got out there. These people are super fit and had the skills to take off pretty easily. And you get to see how it feels to ride your first wave again. That feeling does not know about culture or races, it’s a universal feeling.
“They have the waves and great spots to learn. They just needed that key to unlock it and now we have been able to give that to them.”
Why is it important to share the stoke of surfing and introduce other cultures and communities to the magic?
It is about having fun and having the possibility of connecting with nature and the environment. They have the waves and great spots to learn. They just needed that key to unlock it and now we have been able to give that to them. At the end, we want to be thankful of all that they showed us too, all that we learn from them. We called the project “It’s Not Only About Waves” because, of course, we go there with the hope of scoring some world-class waves, but also to have a cultural exchange and have a fascinating human experience.
Kepa’s traveling partner, the talented and beautiful miss Eva Diez.
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