The Final Countdown: Surfing Mehdiya in Winter

Thursday, December 10, 2009 | Mehdiya, Morocco (map)

Jon, Jen, and I pretending to be professionals, before being put in our place by the waves.
A year and a half ago, when I first began to tell friends that I was moving to Morocco with Jacqueline, they often asked what I planned to do here. Of course, I had no clue, no real answer. So I usually just smirked, and said, "I'm gonna work on my surfing skills."

The few who knew there were waves in Morocco chuckled, while the rest called timeout: "Wait, do they even have surfing in Morocco?"

Yes, they do indeed, though finding an opportunity to try it certainly took me a while. When we moved to Rabat last spring, I was excited to visit the city's well known Oudayas Surf Club. But once I saw (and smelled) the water quality, common sense dictated that these waves just weren't an option. Then this summer, I was stuck sweating behind my desk in Rabat while Jacqueline and her cousin drove down for a week in Taghazoute, one of Morocco's most famous surfing destinations.

But in September, a full year after we moved to Morocco, I finally had my chance. Jacqueline and I accompanied a gaggle of her fellow Fulbrighters and other friends to Atlantic Mehdia Surfing, on the coast near Kenitra, just an hour north of Rabat. I was pretty much giddy the whole way there. The instructor gave us a brief lesson, and sent us out into the waves.

Like many Americans of my generation—many of whom grew up worshiping surf culture—my fascination with the sport far exceeded my actual experience in it. (In my case, that experience was limited to a few hours of goofing around on a beach in Mexico during college.) Surfing, I learned on that afternoon in Mehdiya, is far more difficult than it looks. However, I managed, through sheer force of will (read: obliviousness to the pummeling I was taking), to stand up and ride several small waves. It was a beautiful feeling.

* * *

This past weekend was our next-to-last in Morocco. Our good friends Jon and Jen, coming from Fes for one last visit, were open to all options. I suggested surfing.

So Saturday afternoon we headed to Mehdiya. It was the first weekend in December, and the two Brits and I waded gingerly into the frigid Atlantic to see if we couldn't teach ourselves how to surf. (Jacqueline volunteered to sit this one out and take pictures from the beach.)

The December waves were formidable, charging relentlessly toward the shore, nearly one atop the next. The water felt icy, even through our wetsuits. We took a hard beating just getting out from shore. Within an hour or two, all three of us had exhausted ourselves, with admittedly little to show for it. Yet, it seemed an almost perfect afternoon.

Surfing is peculiar, I reflected during our ride home to Rabat; it remains deeply alluring despite its difficulty. Perhaps it's something about waves—that they just never stop coming, that a new chance for glory rolls toward the beach again every few seconds. Battered or not, how can you resist the urge to charge back in?

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