Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Africa's unspoilt surf paradise -- but for how long?

By Christian Purefoy and Emily Smith, CNN
  • Liberian Alfred Lomax took up surfing five years ago, shortly after the end of the civil war
  • Robertsport is known for its ideal surf conditions with five point breaks
  • Tourist are starting to head to Liberia's shores to make the most of the waves
  • Many Liberians are hoping more tourists will come, bringing more money to the country

Robertsport, Liberia (CNN) -- When Alfred Lomax took up surfing five years ago, he was regarded as Liberia's first homegrown surfer.

He's no longer the only Liberian catching waves, but with the sport still a niche interest in the West African country, some are touting Liberia as one of the world's last undiscovered surfing destinations.

Lomax took up surfing shortly after the end of the 14-year civil war that destroyed much of his country. He says being out in the waters off the Liberian coast is like being in heaven.

"Nothing beats surfing," Lomax says. "I feel so happy."

While Lomax may be a surfing pioneer in Liberia, he's not the only one taking advantage of the country's undisturbed coastline.

Keith Chapman runs Surf Liberia, which promotes the country as a surfing destination. A dentist by trade, he came to Liberia five years ago after seeing the desperate need for better healthcare.

Surfing pioneers in Liberia

He had spent four years working on a hospital ship in West Africa, attending to the needs of some of the most deprived people in the world. But he was drawn to Liberia and in 2008 the 37-year-old Texan settled there permanently with his family.

Chapman and his few colleagues work long hours at a dental clinic based just outside of the capital, Monrovia. Surfing is Chapman's release.

"There's such a massive need that you could work around the clock. You need to set some boundaries," he says.

Chapman hits the water in his spare time with a group of regular surfers at a beach close to his home. There, they can enjoy the waves without having to compete for space.

Our surfing community is 20 at the largest. In most parts of the world where they have surf this good, that's unheard of
--Keith Chapman, surfer
  • Africa
  • Liberia
  • Surfing
  • Tourism

"Our surfing community is 20 at the largest," he says. "In most parts of the world where they have surf this good, that's unheard of."

Robertsport is Liberia's most popular destination for surfers, with five point breaks -- locations where waves break offshore -- within walking distance of each other.

Word of the uninterrupted surf is starting to filter through to tourists and some are heading to Liberia's beaches.

Swiss surfer Julian Saccaron is in Liberia for six months with his surfer buddies, away from the more popular and more crowded surfing spots in Indonesia and Australia.

He knows it's only a matter of time before more people discover what Liberia has to offer.

"We've already talked with each other and said just breathe it in, suck it in, because it will not be the same when we come back," he says.

While Saccaron may want to keep the coastline a secret, local surfers hope their beaches will bring more tourists -- and more money -- to communities that currently depend on fishing for survival.

But Liberia is a long way from being a mass-tourism destination.

"People are going to have to be prepared for some sort of adventure. It's not a place where you can get a package holiday," says Chapman.

He believes it will be a while before there is a tourism boom in a country which is trying hard to rid itself of its reputation as a war-torn nation.

"I think once we get beyond that stigma, then more people will come," he says. "It's still got a way to go -- public transport and roads are a bit of an issue -- but safety is not really an issue, crime is very low."

Nonetheless, the U.S. State Department urges U.S. citizens to "exercise caution when traveling in Liberia," while Britain's Foreign Office advises against "all but essential travel to all areas of Liberia outside the capital, Monrovia." Both warn that crime is high, especially after dark.

But while Liberia undoubtedly still has economic and social problems, Chapman believes surfers can help alleviate them. He encourages the surfing community to become involved in voluntary work and he hopes Liberia's waves will entice more humanitarian workers who can help to rebuild the nation. "I'm sure there are lots of dentists out there who surf," he says.

Lomax is hoping it's not just tourists who take advantage of his country's surf. He wants more Liberians to follow his lead and take up the sport.

"I look at all the sports in our country -- people play soccer, basketball, and surfing is not part of that," he says. "So I decided I want to bring surfing to Liberia and make Liberia one of the biggest surfing countries in the world."