This article appears in Volume 30: The Health Issue.
While travelling around the islands of São Tomé and Prîncipe, just off the west coast of Central African coast, I came across a beach an hour's drive the capital, São Tomé, where local children ride the kind of waves that would make a professional envious. As a surfer, I was captivated by their skill and ingenuity as they danced along the breakwater on imaginative, handcrafted wooden boards.
It was a Saturday, so there was no school. The shoreline was filled with women from the nearby village washing their clothes and laying them out to dry on the pebbles. Two naked boys armed only with a plank of wood clambered over the sharp volcanic rocks before stopping at a ledge about 50m from the water's edge. Their jump into the ocean had to be well-timed; a rogue wave could easily dump them painfully back onto the crags.
More and more children began to arrive in groups of two or three, launching themselves into the ocean like lemmings. Yet as soon as they hit the water they were on their own, free and focused. For me, this time of quiet contemplation is the part of surfing that I enjoy the most. It becomes a meditative experience, a moment to escape the stresses and pressures of everyday life. Watching these children undergo the same transformation almost felt like I was dipping beneath the surface myself.