Abdelilah "Abs" Yafi, of Sahara Surf, ready for adventure in the Sahara.

Redefining the Surf Safari

An interview with Moroccan surf guide Abdelilah “Abs” Yafi of Sahara Surf.

Croix Gagnon

Indeed, some countries have well-established surf hubs, ones that cater to all kinds of surfers — and have for decades — yet, what you see is what you get. The coastlines have all been explored. There are no “secret” spots.

But there are still many nations out there with coastlines holding untapped treasures. One such place is the North African Kingdom of Morocco. A local surf grom turned ding repair guy turned surf instructor turned seasoned expert surf guide, Abdelilah Yafi, (or, Abs) has been running surf expeditions up and down the wave-rich Moroccan coastline for years now.

A truly unforgettable experience in a formidably beautiful part of the world, Abs gave us a deeper look at what this modern day Saharan surf safari looks like.

Thermal: Abs, how’d you get into surfing in Morocco? I feel like that must be a much different experience in North Africa, as opposed to areas just up in Europe.

Abs: Back in the day when I was a kid, I always enjoyed watching surfers. It looked like the most amazing thing. When I had the opportunity to try surfing with my friend, I was flipping out. I went home and all I could dream of was that surf. I said to myself, ‘This sport is so cool, I have to become a surfer.’ It took a bit of time until I got my first surfboard and started surfing properly at the age of 13-years-old. So, from that time, I became a dedicated surfer kid. I remember being on the beach all day, walking to all of our local beach breaks to surf. Access to surf equipment was difficult back in those days in Morocco, so you can imagine what sort of a surfboard I am taking about. A wetsuit was a luxury. But with time, I started making friends whom I would go surf with and improve. After a few years I started fixing surfboards in Taghazout, the thing that allowed me to make some cash. I used to break so many boards, so I was able to learn that craft and fix them on my own.

Amazing. Then, how’d you become a surf guide?

I first worked as a surf instructor part time for a few years until I graduated from university. Afterwards, I started working as a surf instructor fulltime. As I had gained more experience at surfing and became a better surfer that knew the local coastline very well, I became interested in discovering the entire coastline of Morocco. I always loved exploring the coastline; this was my favorite thing to do during my time off. So ultimately, I started Sahara Surf in 2010.

And the Sahara region of Morocco that you take surfers on adventures…is it a pretty harsh region, geographically speaking?

The Moroccan Sahara Desert is harsh, but probably like any other desert in the world. Things are easier now as we have better roads and better infrastructure. Phone signal is good most the times now.

Cool, so maybe there are some misconceptions…

Hmm misconceptions? Maybe safety? But honestly, I feel safer in the desert than anywhere else in the world.

Good to know. The waves look really, really good…Tell me about the waves, are there still some never before surfed breaks out there?

Yeah, we have good waves in the Sahara for all levels. We have a variety of surf spots from beach breaks to very long point breaks. I’ve definitely found some great surf spots that may have never been surfed before. There are also waves that only myself and my guests have surfed, and there are some that we never have surfed.

Interesting. Tell me about some unique cultural experiences one can have on a Saharan adventure…

I think surfing in the south of Morocco is a pretty unique experience. As well as solitude, quietness, and emptiness of the region, the surf can be top world class with the right conditions. My favorite areas to surf for the moment are in southern Morocco without a doubt. The coastline in the south is so beautiful, too.

I think that just getting with us in the 4x4 on this trip without even surfing is an amazing experience, though. The Atlantic Ocean combined with the desert factor gives a unique and at the same time rugged experience. Besides surfing, we enjoy going to the local markets in the small towns down there. We have a few historical monuments that are pretty interesting to visit in order to understand the history of the area. We go for some sand boarding if our guests are keen. Desert cruising, fishing, trekking, quad-biking, and more.

The food is also very good on our southern Morocco trips. It is a mix of different cuisines (Moroccan, indigenous Saharan, Spanish) but my favorite food in the desert is the healthy camel meat that everyone who tries — loves it. Fish is another great option, and we have plenty of fresh fish. So many veggies and fruits, too. We also stay in great accommodations that we have selected through a long time of doing surf tours, run by amazing people who will take good care of us. The accommodations are mainly small family businesses with very limited capacities. Of course, we also love camping. We often camp for a few nights on the southern Morocco trips depending on conditions.

Wow. Any trips in particular that really stuck out to you as a favorite?

Yes, there is one. There was a southern Morocco trip we did back in 2015 with a guy named Rudy and his mates. This trip was amazing! Rudy actually runs boat trip tours in Indonesia. He kept saying to me: This is Indonesia surfing quality but in the Sahara desert. We scored top world class waves on that trip. I remember the surf was the best it can get. We even scored surf spots that we had never surfed before. Rudy and his mates are very nice people, and we all had good times and a lot of laughs.

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