Riding the yoga wave
Most travellers know that the North African town of Taghazout (pr. Tarrazoot) is virtually synonymous with surfing. Well-informed hipsters have been riding waves in these Moroccan shores since the early noughties.
This influx of boardies was largely due to the launch of surfing holiday and retreat company, Surf Maroc in 2003. Founded by husband and wife team, Vicki and Ollie Boswell, the company’s initial focus was making surfing accessible to all budgets and abilities. But it quickly became apparent that surfers needed the mat and yogis wanted the board. As such, a dual-focus surf and yoga holiday was born.
As a yogi, I was intrigued. What was the connection between the (surf) board and the (yoga) mat? And why was this destination such a hit? How did it cater to both – seemingly different – types of people?
It didn’t take long to find out. Firstly, there was the setting. Situated around 40 minutes’ drive from Agadir Airport, Surf Maroc’s most luxurious location, Villa Mandala, overlooks the sea, adjacent to the very rustic ‘Banana Village’. It’s got a soulful, cosy vibe, traditional decor and local artists’ mandalas on the walls and is no more than one hundred metres (via an unkempt beach) from the ocean.
Our time there was like a (very blissful) Groundhog Day. Eat. Sleep. Surf-n-Yoga. Repeat… Woken from our pillows with the sound of the waves long before we were able to see their fierce tips curling across the sand, we’d head upstairs for our early morning yoga class, to practice streamlining breath with movement, and vice-versa. Next it was time for breakfast – locally-sourced produce served up in traditional Moroccan tagines with some fresh mint tea to boot.
And all this before 11am, when keen surfers head off for their morning lessons on a nearby beach and can keep going until 4pm. Here you’ll be using the same focus, also many of the same muscle groups, as you did during yoga – primed and ready to ride the wave of the moment, before heading back for an evening yoga class (which helps you get ready for tomorrow – the same routine – and so it goes on)…
It’s a complimentary combination, particularly when diluted with tasty vegetarian food (vegan upon request) and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. All you need to bring is an open mind, friendly disposition and resilient abdominal muscles.
“I cannot change the world around me, however, when I focus on my breath – one of the things I can control – and shift my perception, the world around me changes, resulting in my inner happiness.”
“The quintessential nature of both yoga and surfing is unity,” says Villa Mandala yoga teacher, Kimberley Rosenberg, who’s been practising yoga for a decade and surfing for 18 months. “Both disciplines remind me of my greatest life lesson: I cannot change the world around me, however, when I focus on my breath – one of the things I can control – and shift my perception, the world around me changes, resulting in my inner happiness. When I paddle out to surf that is my opportunity to get a taste of what I’m tuning into on my yoga mat – how I naturally ought to flow. Observation, listening, assessing, patience, respect, commitment, steadfastness, humility, self acceptance, kindness, love, unity are all values that I can reflect upon after a surf session.”
As well as insightful surf-yogi staff members like Kimberley, Surf Maroc’s holidays have another big attraction: Morocco’s year-round sunshine. Mornings and evenings are fresher in winter months but temperatures still hit mid 20s during the day. More advanced surfers will be challenged between October – March whilst the spring / summer months are better for beginners and intermediates. Visit during New Year and (I’m told) you’ll get a free pass to some fairly renowned parties.
And if all that bending, cruising and vegetarianism gets a bit much, there’s plenty to see and do in the area, starting with the Wednesday market inbetween Villa Mandala and Banana Village. Selling everything from spices to nuts, rugs and slippers, it’s what you might call a fairly immersive Moroccan experience (don’t expect the Moroccan local men to make eye contact with Western women) with hardly a tourist in sight and saffron sold for a pinch of the UK price.
If you’re after a rustic kind of indulgence, a visit to the local Hammam in the next door town of Tamrat is essential. Here you’ll be shuffled into a steam room (topless) and scrubbed to new heights of cleanliness. I think I lost 30 years’ worth of dirt in an hour and at the cost of around £20. Further afield still, there’s the old port town of Essaouira 2.5 hours drive north with the Unesco World Heritage Site of the Medina (old town). En route, there’s the funky surfing hub of Imswan another place to catch waves, rays and absorb the chilled out atmosphere. It’s also three hours exactly from Taghazout to the inspirational city of Marrakech (though a new motorway extension to just outside Taghazout will soon reduce this further).
But be warned: however much you want to show off your surfer’s tan, it’s advisable to dress with a respect for local culture, covering shoulders and knees, though a headscarf isn’t necessary in and around Taghazout. Morocco is very close to Southern Spain, yet its culture is very different. Though I heard locals report of a strong underground gay scene in Agadir, the Muslim culture frowns on public displays of affection and here homosexuality remains illegal. That said, Surf Maroc are entirely without prejudice and have only one aim, that you go home healthier, and happier than you arrived and with a greater sense of balance.
– By Lucy Fry
First appeared in DIVA magazine.