“All The Kids Are Dreaming About Surfing Now” - Stab Mag
What's more surprising than Italo in Senegal? Finding good waves and a deep talent pool. Photo by Jimmy Wilson

“All The Kids Are Dreaming About Surfing Now”

Watch ‘Fraternité’ starring Italo Ferreira, Cherif Fall and Josh Faulkner.

Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 5 minutes

There’s hometown heroes and there’s global superstars. 

In a microcosm, the treatment of both is similar — they are received with welcome and warmth, perhaps they eat free, skip the queue, are supplied with an abundance of mating prospects. But as you move either persona from their roots, you get to see what the difference in reach means. The circle of concern for what the hometown hero has accomplished deteriorates, and in the outermost rings, geographically speaking, they are received with the same pedestrian indifference any ordinary person should expect when walking through a foreign shopping mall. 

Italo Ferreira isn’t just a hometown hero though. 

As surfing’s first Olympic gold medallist, a World Champion, and perhaps the most exciting surfer on the planet right now, there is hardly a coastal community that nets swell where his mug hasn’t been transmuted digitally via LED screens to inspired eyeballs — including 3,073 kms away from his hometown in Baia Fermosa, in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

The purpose of this trip was a ‘Welcome to Team’ for Cherif Fall. The Senegal native whose silky-raw style caught the eyes of Bong, who subsequently decided to add him on their roster. Cherif’s favourite surfer is Italo, who unbeknownst to him, was nearby in Europe in late October, and headed down to surprise him at home along with Wasted Talent’s, Yentl Touboul . 

“Italo’s reception was incredible. It was like the whole town had an Italo text thread,” says trip photographer, Jimmy Wilson. “Once people found out he was there, they were freaking out. The first time we pulled up to that island wave, there must have been 30 kids sitting on the roof of this house just screaming. It was surreal, he was a rockstar. They were all getting photos with him, just so psyched. He was so good about it too, he just rolled with it. He wasn’t too cool, he gave everyone the time of day. He’s pretty genuine, and it’s got to be hard to not be overwhelmed by that. You wouldn’t think in a place so foreign you would be getting mobbed like that when you’re that far away from home. He’s a busy guy and he was very accommodating.”

“The other wave we went to was that wave in ‘The Endless Summer 1’ with Robert August and Mike Henson. They went to Senegal right after California, it was their first stop, and they were the first people to ever surf there. They paddled out to this island wave, a pretty far paddle where there’s a right and a left. The right is pretty perfect, there’s a bit of wonk to it and a few sketchy rocks. No one really surfs the left. On our trip, Italo went out there and started blasting that thing to pieces. You can see it in that pulled back clip with the kids going nuts in the foreground. The whole beach was blown away.” Frame by Yentl Touboul

A gushy little side note about the film: 

  1. Surfers are communicating in their first language, being able to articulate themselves properly beyond their native tongue with subtitles is a very nice touch.
  1. It’s no secret how this idea came about. Evan Slater of Billabong was formerly the EIC of Surfing Magazine, and his legacy is that of finding unlikely waves. He was the first to paddle Cortez Bank and was on the original Surfing trip with Cory Lopez et al to Skeleton Bay in Namibia and Cloud 9 in the Phillipines.
  1. The waves in Senegal are surpirsingly good. The most exciting wave is the running left that looks to wedge straight out of deep water, perhaps the result of a refraction or deep water canyon. Looks like one bottom turn into a critical turn. Very rare (see photo #6 below).
  1. They got a world champ to make time to visit a place without great surf. This would have been unheard of 10 years ago.  

Below are Jimmy’s photos with extended captions for context. See what a global superstar’s presence means for the grassroots Senegalese surf community.

“His surfing is so next level. The session where he does that backside air at Sunset, was the session right before he left. Everyone was getting ready to pack up their gear but Italo paddled down the beach to this closeout. Ankle-shallow over dry urchin reef. He got a crazy barrel and then did that huge air within a matter of five minutes. The clip is too tight to tell, but that rock underneath him is totally coated in urchins.” Photo by Jimmy Wilson

“It’s not the proudest moment in my career, but after I got let go from Surfing Magazine, I went and shot the live broadcast for the ISA World Games. It was in France and it was fucked. But I remember seeing the Senegal team, I’m pretty sure Cherif was there. It was funny, I was like ‘these guys rip but they have these crazy styles that haven’t been trained like they have elsewhere’.” Photo by Jimmy Wilson

“The average caliber of surfer there is way higher than say, California, but their equipment is total shit. I was saying the Gudauskases need to do a board drive there. All the kids and adults, their paddling and positioning was way incredible. I reckon if you go there for a surf trip, you’re going to struggle to find waves. They’re on it. There was one kid who had promise, a goofyfooter doing these long-drawn out roundhouses and doing these super quick whips off the foam section. You could tell Italo surfing there was opening their minds, they were seeing what was possible. Cherif too is an incredibly talented surfer. It felt like an emerging surf culture in its infancy, and I’ve seen elsewhere in places like Puerto Rico what can happen over a generation of two. The kids get inspired and take it to another level… Cherif is currently filling that role, and given the general athleticism of the kids there, who are super coordinated and don’t have much to do other than play, it’s just a matter of time, and those guys are setting an example and giving them something to shoot for.” Photo by Jimmy Wilson

“I would definitely recommend a surf trip to Senegal. It’s not a place where you will score incredible waves, but there’s a lot of unexplored setups that hold a heap of promise. The only deterrent is the urchins. That wave in front of the mosque, that A-frame, it gets really good. If you’re in Europe, it’s a no-brainer, easy, cheap, and culturally interesting.” Photo by Jimmy Wilson

“Covid didn’t feel like a thing down there. That was interesting to see. You would think in a place like that they would be super cautious. There was none of that. It was actually really nice.” Photo by Jimmy Wilson

No social distancing going on here. Photo by Jimmy Wilson