surfEXPLORE travel feature in the Financial Times

Financial Times Surf Travel article

Financial Times surf travel feature

Text © SamBleakley

Salalah – Oman

A great adventure for beginners or longboarders is the desert surf of Oman. When the steady southwest winds – khareef – blow in May, and again in September, they can generate easy-to-ride shoulder high waves in the salt-logged Arabian Sea. At Salahah in the south there is a surf school aside the Crowne Plaza Hotel. For the Bedouins of Oman the desert is a fluid landscape – a sea of sand – and you can try sand boarding in the nearby barchan dunes that seem to feather like waves as the wind whips across their crests.

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Surfer’s Point – Barbados

For a generous slice of authentic Bajan beach culture, visit the southeast of Barbados – the islands’ best-kept secret. Licked by warm winds, the indigo waves at Surfer’s Point are perfect for intermediate surfers and longboarders. A plate of tangy barbequed seafood in nearby Oistins is a rewarding end to a day tuning your surfing in the waist high waves, which break nearly all year from September to July. Bajan surfing legend Zed Layson offers lessons and tours for all levels of ability, and a range of self-catering apartments just a step away from the surf break.

Palermo, Sicily – Italy

Surfing Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’ is an unexpected pleasure and something to be savoured. Mediterranean waves are beautifully documented in one of the best designed surf magazines, Italy’s SurfNews. At the crossroads of Atlantic, African and European weather, the Sicilian coast offers 200 days of rideable surf per year. The Mistral wind supplies chest high waves to Palermo between September and May in 18°C water. The sea’s colour dramatically deepens to purple during the short-lived swells to match the most robust of Italian Barolo wines, switching back to oily olive green as the wind relaxes. Surf in the Mediterranean? Another glass of wine-dark pleasure, please.

Jungmun, Jeju Island – South Korea

South Korea is a place more associated with Hyundai and taekwondo than surf. But at Jungmun Beach in Jeju, there are excellent head high waves between August and October, exhausting onto the black mica sand. There are no crowds as surfing does not yet feature on the established tourist menu, which cateres largely for Korean newlyweds honeymooning in a range of accommodation from luxury hotels such as The Hyatt, to cheap and charming minbak guesthouses in nearby Sinsuseong town. The local food is superb, and when the surf gets hot (and it can be big), spicy kimchi (fermented vegetables) may just give you the courage to test your mettle.

Robertsport – Liberia

The quality of the waves unzipping across the points at Robertsport to spill in heads of foam singles out Liberia as a top destination for the more adventurous surfer.  Africa’s first female head of state, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has steered Liberia to long-term stability after the country was burned out from a savage civil war. There is still a UN and NGO presence, and for a surfer, Liberia is a sought-after post. The waves break between May and September against a backdrop of towering 200-year-old cotton silk trees. The fearless local kids ask for impromptu lessons in the shorebreak. This is part of their rehabilitation from years of conflict. Rising from the ruins of war, the priceless waves offer a self-replenishing eco-sensitive surf tourism.

About Sam Bleakley

I am a freelance writer and professional surfer from Sennen, West Cornwall, in the UK. I specialise in surf exploration projects with renowned surfEXPLORE photographer John Callahan. I have undertaken groundbreaking trips to the likes of Algeria, Liberia, Kenya, Oman, South Korea, Hainan, Palawan and the Maluku Islands. Surf writing has led me to visit sixty countries. My roots, however, remain in Penwith, where I live with my family above Gwenver beach, close to Land's End, the westernmost tip of Britain - next stop Novia Scotia. I have an MA in Geography from Pembroke College, the University of Cambridge, and I am currently researching a part time PhD in Travel Writing with Falmouth University. I am the author of two illustrated surf travel books, Surfing Brilliant Corners and Surfing Tropical Beats (Alison Hodge Publisher, Penzance). I have been a multiple European and British Longboard surfing Champion, and former competitor on the ASP World Longboard Tour. I am widely published and featured in international magazines and newspapers ranging from Resurgence to Action Asia to The Cornishman, and a regular contributor to The Surfer's Path. I have studied and taught travel writing courses and guest lecture on aspects of surfing, travel, writing and geogrphy in further and higher education. I edited The Surfing Tribe: a history of surfing in Britain, and have edited Longboarding supplements and specials for Carve and Wavelength magazines. My first book, Surfing Brilliant Corners, details a decade of extreme global surf travel, illustrated by John Callahan. Surfing, jazz, geography, ecology and cultural studies mix as I journey to Mauritania, locked in political strife, where landmines litter access to some of the best waves on the planet; and Haiti, which captures my heart and makes it race as if falling in love. My second book, Surfing Tropical Beats, follows our surfEXPLORE team on a rollercoaster ride from Haiti to Gabon, through Algeria, India, Vietnam, China and back to Haiti.
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