Boys Of Santana
“It is often the failure who is the pioneer in new lands, new undertakings,
and new forms of expression.” — Eric Hoffer
These are the first surfers of São Tomé. They strive to become “surfista próprio” (proper surfer), not knowing that they are themselves the very essence of surfing.
“There is no surf in São Tomé… Or is there?” Thats the reaction of most people when I told them where I was heading. It started when a true friend moved to as ilhas maravilhosas and not long after called me saying “You have to come here.”. I admit that my reaction to what he described me wasn’t very different from the mentioned above, but what are true friends for if not to follow blindly. Director and writer Sam George, once referred to his days in São Tomé as “the most extraordinary of my surfing life”. I will not say less of mine.
São Tomé sits on the Equator line, deep in the Guinea Gulf. Its size no more that two thirds of the size of O’ahu. Protected from all north atlantic swell, its volcanic shores prone to rocky reefs are only blessed with swell that travels from south, along the shores of Angola and Namibia.
Among the many bays of the eastern side you can find Santana, a town of around 6,000, the capital of the Cantagalo district and home to a regionally famous right-hand break. Its proximity to the main city São Tomé makes it the go to destination for a quick work day surf, but its not just that. Santana is São Tomés surf city. Not only because its wave is probably the most consistent in the country, being able to stand the bigger swells of the gravana period (the dry season) occasionally creating small barreling sections, but also due to its proximity to some beach breaks that allow you to surf on smaller days and unfavourable tides. But what really makes Santana worth writing about is a group of around fifteen local boys aged from twelve to eighteen that populate that wave and are known on the island as the surfers. Along with Shun, the south shore surfer of Portalegre and Ilhéu das Rolas whose story was told by Sam George in his Surfers Journal E-book article about São Tomé e Principe, these kids are the pioneers of São Tomé surf. Its inevitable to meet them if you surf in São Tomé as it is inevitable to be fascinated and intrigued by them.
Jeje is the most talented of them, he is the only to have ever been outside of São Tomé. He doesn’t understand why God created hunger but still in a few minutes he can provide you with a post surf feast of coconut, mango, shrimp and octopus out of nothing but the surroundings. When my phone rings at 5AM I know its him saying “Today the wave is good. Good wave to surf, good wave to film.”. And my phone rings everyday. Obviously the wave isn’t good everyday, but that doesn’t mean much to Jeje or the others. Fins, rockers, rails, swell directions and aerial nomenclature are mysteries to these boys, but they are no strangers to this addiction of riding waves and can teach many of us, well versed surfers of an industrialised culture, a thing or two about pure stoke.
Roling is a 360 master or little wheals as he calls it, only because his only board ever is missing a left side fin. 360 is the inevitable manoeuvre. Preto is the quiet soul that will you will always find sneaking into the best wave of a set and Damilk for sure never heard of Gerry Lopez or saw him surf but shares an innocent beauty in style with the all time pipe master. And there is still Laspik, Marlen, Ailton, Edu, Cachi, Zito, Escurinho, Jervito, Cici…
Its inevitable to think about what surf really is when you go to São Tomé. Its inevitable to think about all the things you have when you see five kids around a cell phone watching the only surf movie they have trying to figure out how each move is done, and not realize that something is missing in your life and not theirs. For me this story is about surf, and it just started. Its inevitable for me to continue to follow it and to learn from it. Stay tuned…
Thanks to all the Santana boys, to Pichel, Leopoldina and to my true friend Micha.
words and photographs by João Sousa (2013)
Published on Lightning Bolt USA Blog (no longer online)