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An African Surf Documentary

Surfing Safi, where are you going?

What would you do as a local surfer in Safi? Keep up the old industrial city? Or make a change promoting a world-class point break, several high quality beach breaks, a rich and storied clay culture, and of course, some of the best sardines on the planet?

Photos by Andreas Jaritz, Judith Recher / Lupi Spuma
Text by Andreas Jaritz

Safi, a coastal town of about 300, 000 inhabitants north of Essaouira, is known as the City of Sardines. It is Morocco’s number one seaport, producing and shipping acids and chemicals made from phosphates…as well as sardines.

Throughout history Safi has been the country’s biggest and most secure seaport. Supplying Marrakesh during the prosperous epoch of the Almohadones, it became the commercial center of sardine fishing and processing in the 19th century. Also sometimes known as the City of Clay, for ages the city’s been home to potters and workers of clay.

Safi is lesser known for surfing.
“It’s an industrial city” is the main claim. “Don’t go there, there is nothing!” Is another common utterance.These are the calls which fade away quickly after having a closer look at the maps and web.

“An exceptional wave but with rising crowd and localism level,” cautions one post.

 

So we did some homework. We made some calls. We found out that the spot in question is supposed to be a world-class, but fickle. There is a group of local chargers are proof it’s much more than an ugly industrial city. They want to share the beauty of their wave: Ras Lafaa.

One of the surfers who wants to change Safi’s face completely is Mehdi Serghini. The descendent of a famous potter dynasty, he’s the owner of a guest house and the local surf school. Mehdi is a stoked, always-there-when-it’s-on waterman.

“Safi is considered an industrial city and not a touristic destination. But the history, the local culture, food, the beaches. There is a big potential for tourism,” he explains.

Mehdi studied marketing and international business in France, followed by a marketing gig for a couple of years. Eventually he came back to Morocco and discovered what would later be known as Safi’s best guest house: Riad du Pecheur. “I wasn’t really happy working for other people. I wanted to do my own thing. But I was never thinking of being in tourism before, Mehdi continues. Now Mehdi applies his marketing knowledge, his love for the ocean and the waves to promote a radical change in Safi.

Top left: In the clay workshop of Mehdi Serghini's family
Top right: Surfing Safi: Mehdi enjoying a rolling face at Ras Lafaa
Bottom left: No baseballs, just chemical tanks
Bottom right: A master of clay at Serghini Pottery

“Many people here still just think about eating and sleeping,” he says. “They can’t think about a proper future. But within the next 10 years Safi will change. It’s becoming a fashion. People start to surf, they start wearing surf clothes. This will also change their mind about pollution and the future of the surf here. Surfing can help to change Safi.”

Mehdi also acknowledges the drawbacks of surfing’s rising popularity.“Safi will change. In one way it’s good, in the other it’s bad. It’s good for the development of the surfing business. It’s bad because Safi is a point break. It’s one wave with one point.”

Nevertheless Mehdi points to a bright future on the horizon. There are a couple of very good beachbreaks right outside of town, which can hold an overflow crowd of surfers. And there might also be another factor playing a major role. The strong industrial economy won’t be washed away with the next change of tides, but a new gigantic commercial and industrial harbour is in construction 20-something kilometers south of Safi and could upend the town’s current industrial infrastructure.

 

Morocco’s rapidly economic growth demands more capabilities. Rumor has it that officials want to turn the current port into a marina – a big opportunity for the future.

»Safi is considered an industrial city and not a touristic destination. But the history, the local culture, food, the beaches. There is a big potential for tourism and surfing.«

But one question remains. What would you do as a local surfer? Keep up the old industrial city? Or make a change promoting a world-class point break, several high quality beach breaks, a rich and storied clay culture, and of course, some of the best sardines on the planet?

Top left: Behind that fence,
another wave - Factory
Top right: Safi Beach.
Crossing the line.
Bottom left: High Fives with Clay
Bottom right: Passing Safi's
industrial compound

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