I flew from Dakar via Lisbon to Casablanca on January 19th. I didn't spend a single night in bustling Casablanca. Instead, I took a train from Casablanca's airport to Marrakech and spent a few days there before I eventually settled in Taghazout, a little fishemen's and surf-oriented town in south-west Morocco.
I had no idea who it was when I first met him about three weeks ago at a little shady hostel in Taghazout. He showed up for breakfast one morning and happened to sit across from me at the table. We then had a chat just like what everybody else would do when meeting new people for the first time such as "where we are from", "where we've been to" and "where we've surfed before", etc etc. He was quite soft-spoken and humble. Nevertheless, in our morning chat I sensed something a little different in him from other travelling surfers who I'd come across in the past.
His name is Kepa Acero from the Basque country and he used to compete in the WQS.
Honestly speaking, meeting a former or current pro surfer isn't very surprising to me (unless it's Kelly Slater) because I've met quite a few pros in the water or on land before, but it was the places which Kepa told me that he'd gone surfing stunned me a lot.
The below are just a few of the countries where he's surfed before:
Don't you forget that I am Japanese?! Kepa came to Akabane in Aichi prefecture, my home-break in Japan, when a 6-star WQS contest was held there in August 2006.
I clearly remember this event not only because I was there (Not to compete but to watch some heats, of course!), but also because we had to move the whole venue to a left-hand pointbreak called Sentan for the semi-final and final heats as the main beach started closing out due to a massive typhoon coming closer then. It was such a good wave on that final day and I'm stoked to hear that Kepa was there and enjoyed the waves as well as our utmost hospitality.
He didn't tell me exactly where in China he went surfing, but he basically said that he didn't enjoy Asia's biggest country much. Despite the fact that I have never been there before, I kind of understand why he didn't.
I actually advised him that he should go and check out a few small islands off the mainland China, one of which is my all-time favourite destination for surfing. And if he ever intends to explore them one day, I'll be more than happy to show him around then.
Yes, Alaska is surfable, only if you have proper equipment. I mean "real proper equipment" such as the thickest wetsuit, hoodie, gloves and boots. Moreover, you'll probably need pure guts to motivate yourself for a painful face-lift surgery in one of the coldest waters on earth.
Kepa's story in Alaska was a little pitiful: he one day hired a fisherman's boat and headed off to a super remote spot where human-inhabitants were non-existent and only hungry bears were roaming. Yet he still found plastic bags floating in the water there.
Kepa went there in 2011 by himself and I went there in May 2012 with two Hawaiian guys. And such a lucky bastard he was as he scored "the sickest left" and had the waves to himself while we were absolutely skunked at the same spot in the following year! Furthermore, Kepa once surfed that filthy and notorious spot called Main Break in Cape Cross. Whereas, we cowardly moved on and surfed a safer and cleaner spot called Factory Point.
I could not believe him when he told me about his surf in Main Break, but later he showed me a video of him surfing there with thousands of playful seals around.
This country seemed so obscure to many surfers including myself until a few videos started circulating on the Internet recently with a title like "the next Skeleton Bay" and such. Obviously, Kepa scored "that left" and I only envy him....
A funny thing is that he was cruising around in Africa's most expensive country with a famous South African water-photographer with whom I went surfing in Sodwana Bay along with my friend Jeremy and some ZigZag members (South Africa's surf magazine) in July last year. Such a small world!
You see, many world-maps don't actually display this no-man's land for some reason (maybe, just lack of some space?), but it is situated at the farthest south of our planet and I went there in January 2011 by a seemingly reliable ship from Ushuaia.
Antarctica is still, as of today, one of my top 5 favourite destinations except for that ferocious Drake Passage. Strangely enough, I did take one of my surfboards with me down to Ushuaia, but abandoned it at a hostel before boarding my vessel, which I utterly regret doing these days. Whereas, Kepa took a tiny sailboat from Ushuaia last January with his surfboards on board and crossed that meanest Drake Passage with a captain and his crew members (What the fxxk? That's insane!)
Mind you, I tried "swimming" in Deception island one day, but ended up in a fiasco: I only had board-shorts on then. Kepa, on the other hand, had real serious equipment with him - more than what he needed for Alaska - and he tried to catch waves amongst icebergs and cheerful penguins. He actually could not catch any waves in the end. But it doesn't matter! The fact that he sailed to one of the world's most extraordinary places and tried to surf there is overwhelming enough to me and it only makes my experience in Antarctica sound very tame....
So the above is a little introduction of my recent fellow surfer from the Basque country.
Kepa was actually on his way to west Africa (possibly up to Guinea) by his secondhand Nissan 4x4 and just stopped over in Taghazout for several days when I met him.
While Kepa was in town, we cruised around and surfed together. He even kindly let me use two of his quivers (5'4 and 6'1 Pukas) because my standard board - the super fragile 5'8 Firewire V4 - was under repair for a while.
Funnily enough, Kepa and I never surfed Anchor Point - arguably, one of the most famous pointbreaks in Morocco. We intentionally dodged the crowds there and went surfing somewhere else every day: well, literally every day for Kepa, but not me because of my cranky belly with a suspected food-poisoning for a few days.
The photos below show a spot called Bouilloire (or Boiler?) and Kepa was riding quite a few waves all the way to the inside section.
Luckily, we had a couple of days with swells over 4 meters and of 15 ~ 18sec periods. We hurriedly drove past Anchor, Killer and Desert Point and went surfing at a spot called Dracula one morning.
It was my first time to surf Dracula and I must admit that paddling out from a big rock whose surface resembled Dracula's sharp and spiky teeth was not very inviting and looked quite sketchy to me. In the meantime, a super-experienced Kepa just calmly let himself be drifted away by the current and got out there so easily.
The waves were about 5~7ft on sets with light cross-shore winds at Dracula and I actually saw Kepa catching a couple of triple-overheads on this day.
The current was quite strong as there was a lot of water moving, but I was still able to catch a couple of good ones, one of which was photographed by a Portuguese onlooker on the cliff as shown in the photo below. Lucky me!
Kepa left Taghazout about a week ago as soon as the swell was gone. He is currently driving into Mauritania - another obscure country for many surfers including myself. It was such a great pleasure hanging out and sharing a few crazy on-the-road stories with him.
Kepa's humbleness and openness were always evident and I'd like to look up to him for that. Furthermore, he was feral as a travelling surfer; such a spirit is what I might have lost over the last couple of years.
There was a lot that I learnt from him.
Hasta luego, Kepa!