Moroccan Surf and Yoga Camp

A few days ago I posted about the amazing shopping in Morocco that my friend Neda and I partook in during her recent visit to Morocco. And now, for part deux: Surf and yoga camp in Morocco. So neither Neda nor I know how to surf, but we thought it would be fun to learn in a place like Morocco and I’d heard from several folks that the Taghazout area on the Atlantic coast, just north of Agadir, is the place to go.

After a night in Marrakesh, we boarded a three-hour bus to Agadir. A quick look around outside the bus station and I was not impressed with the surf and party town on the Atlantic Ocean. A cab took us to our surf camp, driving to the much smaller town of Aourir (aka Awrir, aka Banana Village) and it reminded me of some villages in the West Bank. Lots of open air food stalls, congested pothole laden streets, stray dogs, a few horses and donkeys. When our cab pulled onto a dirt alleyway between two concrete partially-finished homes, I was really hoping he was making a pit stop. But nope, our surf camp was in a several-story house, next to a an unfinished home where a family or two was camping out.

The not-great view from our bedroom.
The much better view from the relaxing balconies, which are located on each floor.

Instead of the ocean, the surf-yoga house overlooked a dirt soccer field, a big hill, and some goats and sheep. I didn’t quite know what to expect (possibly an ocean view, but I clearly didn’t do my research) but I know I wasn’t expecting this. After the journey, we really wanted a drink, but hadn’t thought to pack any wine, and the house was devoid of alcohol, which was surprising for a surf camp, but maybe not so surprising for a Muslim country/yoga retreat. Through one of the owners of the camp, we arranged for a cabbie to bring us wine and beer and I felt like I was 19 doing an illicit booze deal with a third party.  After a group dinner of couscous, which is what Moroccans eat on Fridays, and, mercifully, a few beers thanks to one well-paid cabbie, I went to bed feeling bad that I had brought Neda all this way only for us to stay in a not cute town for three nights in a country with so much to see. I was having a case “Oh no, I’ve made a mistake.”  Our surf-yoga camp felt a bit like a hostel geared toward a twenty-something crowd and certainly less glam than I had hoped.

I was reminded of one of my first real travel abroad experiences when I was 26 and visited a Washington DC friend in Guatemala, where she was spending the summer with her Guatemalan boyfriend (now husband). After a few days in Guatemala City, I said bye to my friend and departed on a northbound van, on a trip that took eight hours. I arrived in the gorgeous and lush Semuc Champey area and I stayed at a backpacker hostel/ecolodge. I sopped up plates of beans and eggs with fresh bread, climbed up a steep hill to see the most breathtaking turquoise stepped pools of water, swam into a dark cave with a candle in my mouth, and jumped off a scary high bridge into rushing water. An Israeli guy kept telling me “You’re so cool! You’re like the coolest girl ever!” which displeased his girlfriend, but pleased me a great deal. Thinking about how adventurous and independent I’d felt on that trip, compared with how out-of-place and regretful I was feeling upon arriving at hippy surf camp made me feel not good, like after years of living abroad and traveling lots was I so used to a certain level of comfort and fanciness that I was past enjoying hippy surf camp? I felt bad and boujee.

We awoke the next morning for our first yoga class. The London-based instructor told us we’d be staying in each pose for a long time because it’s only when you’re in a situation for a while do you know if it’s serving you or not. I had to chuckle at that because here I was, at surf-yoga camp for 12 hours and I was already like “Nope, not for me!” But she had a good point. Why was I so quick to decide that because this isn’t my 100% ideal travel situation – because it isn’t posh enough, the people aren’t talking to me enough, it doesn’t look like a postcard – that there’s no value to be had? So right there in a very extended child’s pose, I decided that this surf and yoga camp could really have a lot going for it and the only thing standing in the way was my attitude.

The serene top-floor yoga studio.
One of two really excellent yoga instructors during our stay.

After the yoga and my revelation, we hopped in a Jeep driven by our very cool (and, um, super hot) surf instructors Ilias and Nabil, blasted the music, and drove to the beach.The beach was pretty, with nice sand and not-too-scary looking waves.

After chilling on the sand for a while to wait for optimal waveage, we suited up and I learned that perhaps the hardest part of surfing is yanking on a full wet suit over a sweaty body. Like Ross from Friends and his leather pants. An hour later, I’d learn that the second hardest part might be working up the courage to pee in said wetsuit, but I saw no other option, that’s seriously how hard it was to put on, it just wasn’t coming off until surfing was good and done. Anyways, we got some lessons on the sand, and we were in the water shockingly quick, but hey, I guess that’s how you learn. Did I stand up? Ish, sure. It was so difficult getting out over the surf to catch a good wave that I felt I was in a washing machine more than that I was doing anything resembling surfing, but I was relieved to find the whole thing less scary than I had expected. There was nothing to slam into after all – very few rocks, and everyone’s beginner boards were big and soft. As long as I could convince the logical part of my brain that being pummeled by waves was no biggie because air is always just a few seconds above me, then I found myself enjoying the challenge and the physicality of it.

After a day of surfing (or let’s be real, attempted surfing) we went back to the surf house where we got to know the instructors and the other guests, all of whom were European and all of whom had signed up for a full week of surf camp, as opposed to our three nights. (When I’m traveling and I tell Europeans how long my vacation is and they’re usually like “Why even bother for such a short time?) We had evening yoga class, which was equally awesome as the first and by dinner time, I found myself thinking “Okay, I’m into this!” That is until I realized I had sat myself for dinner amid three non-English speaking French women and so I ate in total silence. While I am going to thrice weekly French classes, my progress in trés, ttrés slow. But at least I had wine!

The following morning there was coffee and yoga.

And then we welcomed some new guests and did our surf lesson in the backyard of the surf camp, which is really cute.

There’s also a pool in the backyard, which was nice for dipping into after a day in the ocean.

The house dog, a total sweetie.
Instructor Nabil laying out some basic wave theory.
Neda demonstrating proper pop-up and ride-the-wave form; Nabil demonstrating how ripped one can be if he devotes his life to surfing.

Once at the beach, we were powerless to resist a romantic camel ride on the sand. I’ve ridden my share of camels since living in the Middle East but never near water!

We also enjoyed fresh raspberries sold on the beach for about $1 a pint, lots of made-to-order mint tea sold by roving vendors (Morocco has the best mint tea I’ve ever had), some good conversation with the instructors, and oh yeah, more surfing attempts. After a tagine dinner, we shared lusciously minty mojitos with a few of the other guests and the instructors, who, if I’m recalling correctly, said we were some of the coolest guests who’d been there in a while. Now, they may say that to all the surfing newbies, but I believed it – we were cool and laid back, even if I didn’t feel that way at first.

The next morning after one last yoga class, we began our journey back to Rabat, which involved the three-hour bus to Marrakesh, and then a five-hour train to Rabat. I started to feel a little achy on that journey back, but also reflective about what I’d just experienced. It was not a fancy vacay. Traveling eight hours to this part of Morocco still seemed like a lot of legwork. We may have been older than the average guest at this particular surf-yoga camp. There was that foul sewage smell emitting from the drain in our bathroom. Those things are true. But also true: It was actually very relaxing. The surf instructors are good – they’ll get you up on your board. The yoga was very good. The food was solid (and healthy). It was a very affordable trip. The yoga and the surf tire your body in a way that makes it feel so, so good to go to sleep at night, even though all your dreams are saturated by the lifting and falling of waves and the taste of Atlantic salt. And I got so much quality time with Neda, who is one of those friends with whom we just talk and talk and bond over our similar outlooks, love of books, and shared senses of humor.

The next day we went back to Rabat’s medina for, yes, more shopping, but I had to call a cab to take us home because I faded fast out there in the sun. And that began a three-day fever and pretty much a week or so in bed/couch and a fever recurrence the following week. I think I’m fully recovered now from a mystery virus that is not typhoid because typhoid is the one vaccination I actually got before moving to Morocco. A few weeks out, looking back at our surf and yoga camp experience, and I would recommend it for any openminded and active traveler. And for people like me, who have maybe lost a little of that adventurous “coolest girl ever” vibe, this trip was a good way to reclaim it.

To surfing and yoga adventures with good friends,

Emily

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