11 March, 2020 11 March, 2020

Mozam Meridian

Sharply dipping, sandy roads are devoured by 4×4 beasts. Seat belts stretch, loosen, then quickly tighten again. Bags and boards violently tossed around on every corner, take away coffees spill from their polystyrene cups. Heads bounce and strain on tired necks, looking for a sliver of ocean. Gears click and engage, the engine screams. Then. Everything. Suddenly. Stops. A solitary, perfectly foiled, overhead wave, breaking from right to left, passes between a sand dune and our line of sight. Its pace is metronomic. Higher up the point, more lines approach. Somebody exhales and words escape, “Oh my…” It has taken over 3 hours to travel 21 kilometres, but this is where we belong. 

All images – Greg Ewing*

“To come to Mozambique as a group and to be with these girls is just incredible. I haven’t had this much time away from phones and computers for ages, there’s just less intensity. We went for a beach adventure today and to just sit there in the sunshine, I haven’t done that for a while. It’s always a contest or shooting, it’s always high intensity. Being here now, being present, that’s what we’ve all found on this trip. To just sit out there in the ocean, looking at that incredible headland, the swooping bay, then looking below to see reef and turtles, butterflies flitting around your head at backline and just these blue walls coming towards you… I’m here right now.”

Pacha Lina Luque-Light is an Australian professional surfer and model. She’s one of four women surfers exploring Southern Mozambique. Sophie Bell, Gabriella Lailvaux and Taghiti Gericke (all South African) make up the rest of this all-star female cast and, whilst all are definitively independent in surfing style, they collectively share a deep appreciation for Mozambique, each other, where the female act of surfing is heading and why you should pay attention.

For Sophie Bell, battle-hardened QS and junior campaigner since 2015, Mozambique is nothing new, but the region still holds intrigue and fascination. Around every sandy bend or grassy knoll, she knows that the potential for discovery still exists. To find a bay carved out of wind and tide, that given the right conditions, will carry those long Indian Ocean swells perfectly to the shore.

“I’ve been coming to Mozam my whole life. It’s like home to me. I’m so grateful to my parents for providing such a life. There’s waves everywhere, even further up north, it’s really beautiful. We went further north 3 years ago and it was 6ft and pumping. I’ve never seen waves like that. And no one out. It’s so untouched. There’s so much to do: surfing, diving, taking beautiful walks. And there are plenty of set-ups still waiting to be discovered.”

The Bell family are an aquatic bunch and their connection to Mozambique stretches as far as its pointbreak walls and their lifestyle is testament to the region’s attraction for those who share a connection with the brine.

Gabriella Lailvaux, or simply Gabi to her friends, unflinchingly regards Sophie as her bestie. Both attended the same school, share the same local surf spots and have an equal affinity for powerful, straight up rail surfing. The two share an easygoing vibe in and out of the water and it’s not difficult to see why the trust runs as deep as the rail work. Gabi may as well be a Bell considering the history she shares with the family.

“I’ve known Sophie a long, long time. She’s like an older sister to me and I’ve been coming up here with the family for ages. There’s real trust between us and she helps me in contests a lot. And this is an awesome place to get a break from that side of surfing. Every trip is different, it’s a place of new beginnings. You can’t not be happy here.”

Cue the effervescent fourth member of the ‘Mozam Boogie’, Taghiti Gericke. Hailing from the Wilderness region with its rolling hills, deep-cut valleys, long point breaks and slow-paced life, Taghiti is definitely less town and more country. Her connection with friends and Mozambique is all about the positive energy that travel and companionship forge.

“I haven’t stopped smiling since I got here. We’re all so close and to be able to surf together, in such a beautiful place with genuine friends, that makes all the difference. We’re in the water all happy and smiling… it’s all about the laughs. When I heard about this trip, I was always booking my ticket. No doubt.”

If the bloke trip is all about ‘peacocking’, chest-beating, peer approval and dominance, the female varietal has a glide to it that is symbiotic, selfless and far removed from the tension to prove one’s worth in the water and on land. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all softly spoken pleasantries and tea parties. In the water, each girl pushed their performance barrier to the edge. Surfing that rivaled anything I’ve seen from guys. Yet it was more engaging because it wasn’t forced, it didn’t need to parade itself or seek affirmation from an audience. 

Pacha believes it’s a balance of borrowing from the physicality of the male approach and blending that with the grace of the female touch. That, and the collective support offered by this new female wave.

“It’s that testosterone thing, the full on male energy that we love in surfing, the power. That revs us up to go for something we wouldn’t have gone for before. So that pushes the performance, but this loving energy comes through being feminine and graceful. For sure the guys push us, but we push each other just as hard. That level of support from all the girls, that just lifts you up even further. ”

Sophie’s take is one of independence. “We’ve definitely been influenced by the guys, but they’ve not shaped us. We’ve found our own way and its working strongly for us.” Gabi joins the conversation from observations made as a competitor, which points to women’s surfing playing second fiddle back in the day, but that attitude is very much in the rearview mirror. “We were pushed aside for quite a while. I remember, I used to do comps and the girls would surf on the crap days and everyone would leave the beach, but now women’s surfing is on a high and there’s never been a better time to start surfing than now. Right now! You’ll be noticed. I think the world is ready for us.”

For Taghiti, it’s the carefree approach of the female code that holds appeal. “A lot of laughs (a gaggle of laughter erupts amongst the group) lots of girl talk, we’re a lot more chilled and things are less serious. Sometimes trips with guys are too serious, that’s never the case with us. It just feels closer, more special to be able to do this.” Pacha also sees the importance of female expression and its unique offering for the future of the sport, both in competition and as a way of life.

“It’s almost like surfing as a sport has so many different ways to be expressed, whether you’re male or female. To have this high intensity competitive sport and to transition that with female energy, it’s going to be so exciting for the future. To see Steph Gilmore, who is the pinnacle of grace and beauty, it just shows us we’ve got so much more to give… women’s surfing is on the rise. It’s about self-expression, everyone’s out there on different crafts and boards. There’s more fun. I feel there’s more of a full on connection with females together. We’re sharing experiences. It’s not just about aesthetics and beauty. It runs deeper than that.”

If travel is the ‘University Of Life’, Pacha, Sophie, Gabi and Taghiti are magna cum laude graduates. In their relatively short lives, they’re all highly experienced travellers and know the value of the insights collected from a life on the move.

The influence of travel stretches far beyond the kilometres clocked up at cruising altitude, time in transit lounges, taxis or the stamps that decorate your passport. It helps to shape and define the person you are, and if it hasn’t, you’re probably not paying attention.

Surfers are amongst the most prolific of travellers, it’s a compulsion that’s hard to stop once you’ve started. The waves we seek to ride are often not on our doorstep, so we journey to them, and do whatever it takes to get there. But no matter how difficult the trip may be at times, the rewards are far-reaching, as a surfer and as a person.

On the last day, I leash up and set my eyes to the point as another set rears up on the coral and sand, pitching another acutely angled wall down the point. At backline, Sophie is watching the horizon. I turn and ask, “So what’s next for you after the QS?” She smiles and replies, “I’m not sure, but it will definitely involve travel.”

A set approaches and Sophie’s kind enough to offer it up. “You want this one?” “No, it’s all yours,” I reply. And just like that, she’s gone. Fins flaring down the line, toward the distant sun, forward to her friends… and this place, this Mozambique Meridian that connects them all together.

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