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An African Surf Documentary

Risks and desert sand

Every shooting day is precious and every lost shooting day wrenches the production’s ressources. Surfing and the desert? That doesn’t really go well together. But then everything else to come that one might think.

Photos by Judith Recher
Text by Andreas Jaritz

After wrapping shooting in Marrakech, we decided to move inland and explore the desert instead of driving back to the breezy Atlantic coast. It was a pretty risky and consequential decision considering we are working on a surf movie. Obviously.

A trip to the Sahara means no waves for at least five days. It could mean that we literally end up being high and dry in the middle of nowhere. What will we find out there? Can we use the material for the movie?

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Every shooting day is precious and every lost shooting day stresses the production’s ressources. Surfing and the desert? That doesn’t really go well together.

But then again, reality kills cliches. Everything that was planned in advance, the risk we calculate beforehand, that’s all well and good but sometimes you just have to follow your instinct. You have to dare and act out of mere curiosity. You can’t always play it safe and follow the intended route. You have to explore. It’s the only way to experience the new and let serendipity takeover for a while.

 

Have you ever watched surf movies telling stories about the desert? I mean the real desert, far, far away from the ocean? Why should they? There are no waves in the driest place on earth. But there is a vastness to the desert that’s not unlike the ocean. Its sheer unimaginably size and expanse. Camels are sometimes called the “ships of the desert” for a reason.

Against all the odds the journey to the foothills of the Sahara, the world’s biggest dry desert, proved to be very diverse and full of wonder.

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A sea of stories and a plethora of experiences lied ahead.

After slowly climbing the High Atlas’s spurs east of Marrakech with our heavily loaded pickups, our grotesque mini camel train was wriggling along the Dra river passing by impressive Kasbahs, the clay fortresses of the long-gone Berber rulers, and uncountable date palm groves. Straight towards the desert and uncharted shores.

 

A Visit With The Nomads
In Zagora, a village that was once on the camel train between mystic Timbuktu and Marrakech (as well as later a stop during the infamous Rallye Paris-Dakar), one of the most defining experiences of the whole movie shooting trip was awaiting us: a visit with the nomads of the Saharan Desert.

There aren’t many other tribes in the world whose way of living and usage of everyday objects is as optimized as that of the nomadic people of the Sahara.

The “less is more” principle has been defined and refined to perfection over centuries by Berber tribes. Less possessions means more freedom and portability, less hardship and less waste. Less possession means more life. Berber tribes don’t believe in collecting unnecessary belongings. Why should they, it doesn’t make sense for them. For nomads wealth, fullness and abundance is created by the actual lack of bulky physical objects. It’s created by a defining void. But that does not necessarily mean that they don’t possess anything.

 
 
 
 
 

As an example take Halal, a Moroccan nomadic descendent of the region of Zagora, who actually owns a house.

“In my house I only have the most important things. But that’s not because I can’t effort more, it’s because I don’t want it,” he says.

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Halal is conscious that he might be one of the last of a generation that almost completely renounces the consumption of mass media. He can’t write or read. He can do other things instead. To learn about what’s going on and to build knowledge he talks to other people.

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Like his ancestors did. The human is the media. We can learn a lot from the nomad’s legacy like just talking again with the locals when we travel instead of relying on some obscure information on the web. And there is also the desert that teaches a lot. It proved to be more full of life and lessons than expected.

It’s like the ocean: There is a lot to explore beneath the surface.

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