Liberia surfs wave of optimism in Robertsport

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Robertsport has offered its people a place of refuge, after enduring a bloody civil war and an Ebola epidemic. The small fishing town northwest of Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia has done this through surfing. Its scenic views and renowned waves have seen it become the epicentre of an emerging surfing culture.

“When I first saw surfing, it looked like magic and I wanted to be a part of it,” says Alphanso Appleton, a photographer and co-founder of the Liberian Surf Club. “I was comfortable when I got in the water and when I stood on the surfboard for the first time, it resonated well with me. I just kept on doing it every day and I was on the beach all the time learning and practising.

“It was fun and I can say for myself, it helped me with my past traumas. It gave me an opportunity to get away from the tragedy that came with the civil war and it gave me an outlet to find healing. It promotes positivity among us and it allowed me to grow as a person, and I used it as a tool to serve my community.”

In the early 2000s, after the Second Liberian Civil War, the country saw an uptick in tourists. Robertsport’s inviting coastline and its “seclusion from everything”, as Appleton puts it, attracted surfers from all over the world looking to find the perfect wave. For the sport to grow in the region though, Appleton and company had to use their initiative.

“Surfing can be an expensive sport, so getting access to surfboards, fins and leashes in West Africa is difficult. With travelling surfers coming into Robertsport, we started to have access to surfboards and surf materials. We set up a trade where we would take travelling surfers around town and show them the best spots and in return, they would leave their surfboards behind. And we would share the boards among each other. One would go for an hour and then come out, and another person would go in after. We tried to be resourceful and make it work.”

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