A surf community in Sierra Leone needs your help!

Donate to the Bureh Beach Surf Club and Community here: https://gofund.me/bf5c7dc3

Warm water, fun waves, tropical weather, friendly people and good vibes! That is usually a standard checklist most people tick off before deciding which place they want to go on their next surf adventure. Despite this, the vast majority of surfers would not go close to thinking about Bureh Beach in Sierra Leone, although it produces a growing and thriving surf community that ticks all the boxes to the above and a few more. Bureh beach sits in the tropics of Africa, about 1 hour and 30 minutes from the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. Like many of the beautiful, tropical coastal towns in Africa, it offers a unique surfing experience that can not be achieved in many of the world’s old surfing Shangri La’s, which have been suffocated by commercialism and crowds. If you’re a surfer, who likes roughing it off the beaten track and exploring unique, growing surf communities, Bureh is the place for you! This blog however is not simply a means to shine some light on the Bureh Beach surf community, but also a call to arms to get some funding behind the community, through the Bureh Beach Surf Club, the country’s first surf club. But more about that later, firstly let’s dive into the recent history of surfing in the area!

During my recent chats with the crew from the Bureh Beach Surf Club, I was surprised to find out that surfing has had some brief stints in Sierra Leone, prior to the conflicts that ravaged the country through the 90’s and early 2000’s. The crew said that there were definitely a few surfers getting around in the 80’s, although the details are pretty hazy and they didn’t stick around long enough for it to catch on with the locals. Most likely it was a few expats or humanitarian workers who rode a few waves over the decade before the 90’s set in. The 1990’s proved to be a devastating time for the nation of Sierra Leone. After years of government corruption and mismanagement, Sierra Leone went into a complete economic crash, despite it being a naturally resource rich country. A civil war soon followed, where rebel forces played on the discontent of poor, vulnerable Sierra Leone’s, attracting them to fight against the corrupt government. The Rebel Forces (RUF) gained a considerable force and weapons, which were in part funded by the wealthy diamond mines in the country. Blood Diamonds as they became known as, along with other natural resources, allowed the rebels to fund their war until 2001. At this point thousands had been killed and millions displaced, leaving Sierra Leone with deep wounds that could not be easily healed. 

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The stunning backdrop of Bureh Beach.

Post Civil War times in Sierra Leone were still very tough. It remained one of the poorest countries in the world as it still is today, and well managed industry and tourism was still hard to come by. However the few expats and humanitarian workers who came to visit and reside in Sierra Leone after the war, couldn’t help but notice how beautiful it was. Out of these people, a few happened to be surfer’s and when they stumbled upon Bureh Beach, they were delighted to discover the fun waves and idyllic location. However this time when the expats surfed the locals paid a little more attention and by 2010 many were having a crack themselves, on the few boards they could borrow off expats. Due to the growing popularity of surfing in the community, and the help of some expats, in particular an Irishman named Shane O’Connor, the Bureh Beach Surf Club was soon established on community land, giving the locals access to boards and equipment that were donated and also providing an opportunity for locals to run surf classes and hire out equipment to tourists, with the small funds earned being put back into the community and providing for things like school fees for local children.

Surfing, tourism and a means to successfully support the community through the Bureh Beach Surf Club seemed like a very realistic idea not too long after it opened, but tourism and travel to Sierra Leone practically ended in 2014 due to the Ebola Virus outbreak in West Africa, centred around places like Sierra Leone. This did not stop the locals from surfing, but a means to turn the Surf Club into a way to support the community by hiring out equipment and giving lessons to tourists and expats essentially ended. By the time the effects of Ebola ended, the previous motivations of many who were helping run the surf club began to dwindle, although their motivations for surfing did not. Around this time a beautiful documentary named ‘Big Wata’ was shot about the Bureh Beach Surf Club, detailing some of the effects of Ebola and the struggle to manage the camp effectively within the community. It is well worth checking out and extremely inspiring! The documentary shed some light on the camp, which then brought some much needed donations, also giving a little boost to the camp’s business and economy. However as things were starting to come together again, the COVID-19 pandemic made things come to a complete stop in Bureh, just like it did for the rest of the world. Now coming out of the pandemic, the camp is still being managed, but the facilities need a major upgrade and new equipment is needed again to boost the profile of the camp and attract more locals from the surrounding areas, tourists and expats.

The Big Wata documentary shed some light on the camp, and gave it a boost before Covid-19.

Just like many developing communities in the past, surfing in Bureh has proven to be a tool in managing past traumas and galvanising the community with a common release from the daily struggles of life, although you wouldn’t notice these struggles on the personality of the Bureh locals. After coming through an epidemic in Ebola, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the camp is still alive, although it’s in great need of a fresh coat of paint and new equipment to attract more tourists back to camp, creating an actual regular economic turnover that will contribute to the community as a whole. It will also give access to more people in the community who are looking to become the next surfer’s in Sierra Leone. Recently at SurfEars we sent a bunch of equipment down to the crew to help boost the motivations of the people managing the camp and provide more access to gear for locals who want to surf. However, to really get this camp functioning again and providing some of the benefits mentioned earlier, further funding is needed, and that is why we are calling on the public to contribute whatever they can spare to help support the Bureh Beach Surf Club and the development of surfing in Sierra Leone as a whole. Or one better you can go down there for a surf trip of your own and help contribute to the camp and surrounding community that way.

Donate to the Bureh Beach Surf Club and Community here: https://gofund.me/bf5c7dc3