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‘Did You Hear The Falling Rose’ was originally published in Volume XIII, December 2023

It was somewhere near Dour Bigoudine where we lost Issa.

We’ve covered pretty much the entirety of the western Sahara and Morocco, yet here we stand—on the side of the A3, rearranging board bags, straps and the rest, and praying to whichever god we believe in between our diverse crew that we’ll get the fuck to Casablanca, stat. Driving 2500 kilometres from the Western Sahara up through Morocco is a stellar way to get the measure of a man. And Issa is a good, good man. A blown turbo on the last six-hour leg of 36 hours of driving was not the way we envisaged saying goodbye. It rarely is.

Welcome to A Div. Billabong’s Adventure Wing (division!) and in the spirit of ‘be careful what you wish for’, an adventure is exactly what we got. As I stand on the side on the Autoroute A3, with a blown engine, watching our group of 18 redistribute themselves between a three pick-up truck convoy, and multiple flights leaving Casablanca imminently, there is no emotion. No sense of panic. Boards are re-strapped. Bags under eyes and the same trousers for 10 days. Skincare routine left the chat a long time ago and is replaced by pockets of sand, rolling papers and loose dirham notes.

Because nothing phases us anymore.

But, first as these things naturally should start, to the beginning. We arrive in Casablanca. Casablanca is a melting pot, somewhere in between Jo’burg, Beirut and Marrakech on sea, there are decent places to have lunch, but trying to find an honest taxi driver is nigh-on impossible. Not to mention the surprising experience in the hotel spa and a dive into my recently deleted pictures but that is a story for another time. However, we are in the safest of hands, under the guiding light of Souf Charoub, Billabong’s nose-stickered Moroccan goofy powerhouse and all round top chap.

Our crew is a good one (as Billabong trips always are): Macy, Luana and Ryan fresh off the CT from Portugal and straight before Bells; Jai Glindeman has flown in from Australia, and is, understandably, feeling tired.

“So Macy, what takes you to Morocco?” I gently enquire over a mint tea and Marlboro light.

“Why the fuck wouldn’t I come?” is the response, perfectly summarising the IDGF attitude that draws us to the enigmatic Macy Callaghan. Halfway between the CT and Australia’s version of Keeping up with the Kardashians, Macy is excellent company on trips, and always has a dry quip to keep a smile on our faces. She’s complemented by the ever-smiling and down to give it a go, Luana Silva. Luana joined us in Norway last year and quickly became one of my favourite surfers, with a beautiful style and giver of the most positive energy we’ve had the pleasure of being around.

On the men’s side, a man that needs little introduction—Ryan Callinan—is far too nice and far too laid back to be on the CT. But a CT warrior he is, deservedly so, and we couldn’t adore him more. He’s joined by Jai Glindeman, who stole our collective hearts over on Instagram with his silky smooth rail surfing. He’s a new blood in real life for WT, but one we couldn’t wait to get to know better.

But back to Casablanca! Romanticised city of international acclaim, made famous by—yes you’ve guessed it—the iconic film of the same name. Now, you didn’t hear it from us but actually, we’re tipping Casa as the place for your next surf trip. More core than around Agadir, with a variety of waves and, for the size of the city, minimal hordes of surfers. But shh…

We’re blessed by a run of swell. We surf a left with industrial vibes by a port, and we live it up by night at beach clubs surrounded by beautiful people, the great and the good of Moroccan society, feasting on fine French wine, Champagne and European steaks. As a bon vivant I am very much sold on this, but briefs must be respected and this definitely isn’t in it. Adventure Division we must, and a flight is boarded south to Laayoune, capital of the Western Sahara (administrated by Morocco…ahem) and twinned with Tatooine.

“I slept in black tents, blue tents, skin tents, yurts of felt and windbreaks of thorns. One night, caught in a sandstorm in the Western Sahara, I understood Muhammed’s dictum,”

Some context on the Western Sahara: originally a Spanish colony until 1975 where, under Franco, the Western Sahara was given to the Kingdom of Morocco. Unsurprisingly, the Polisario front, representative of the native Saharan people, took exception to this and it’s been a source of tension ever since. Often flaring and then calming – but always to a certain extent present – 20,000 deaths on both sides and over 100,000 people displaced will testify to that. The United Nations considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, and maintains that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination. Ask any Moroccan and they’ll say it’s Morocco—the southern provinces. We’re advised to take a neutral stance. In essence, it’s a grey area.

Inland is one of the most densely land-mined places on earth and we’re told not to stray from the marked tracks. Military checkpoint after military checkpoint line the road. Our guide and all round Moroccan legend Jerome Sayhoun advises us to not point or show cameras at any checkpoint. Being an esteemed surf media outlet with a brief to document such things is sub-optimal but we diligently comply. Bored gendarmes with cigarettes dangling from their lips inspect our papers with an air of indifference. Around 40 surfboards are met with nothing more than a raised eyebrow.

We surf a spot in the region that I can’t name under pain of death. Nor run photos. Nor say anything about it. The only thing I can say, is that it is beyond locked down, (read: Moroccan Military) and 14 people slept in a single hut. Not to be deterred, we hit the road and eventually arrive in Dahla. A few small days out the front scratch the itch but there’s nothing career- defining. Standout moments include Luana Silva surfing a mid-length with beautiful aplomb and constantly giving Ryan C shit about how surfing a running 1-2ft right is the perfect practice for Bells, for which he’s flying straight back home to after this trip.

A swell is making its way up the coast so we’re on the move. We’re rolling deep at this point. Six 4x4s are fired up in unison, two of which are towing skis. Something like, ‘Make sure it’s an adventure,’ rings in my ears from a call regarding this trip months prior. Well, this is it. Radios are checked and a series of turbo diesels ignite into life.

I get in the car. Issa turns to me.

“On va ou Monsieur.”

I turn and look Issa in the eye. His eyes have seen many things, perhaps many more things than I will ever see. These eyes look back at me, with just a hint of intrigue.

Issa, on va aller à Agadir.

A kif (kind of like hash, but better) pipe is lit, it’s about 50cm long and the act of watching it appear is almost comical as it’s unfolded from the glovebox in three pieces and assembled. Issa smokes, and thinks for a good 30 seconds. The car fills with smoke, our filmer Yentl covers his mouth and nose with his tee. I have seen the map and inhale deeply, aware of the pain to come.

C’est loin. C’est tres loin,” he says, calculating the news that we’re about to drive 2300 km in a pretty much straight shot. I translate to the non-French speaking folk in our crew. “Well, if the guy that drives 150,000 km a year says it’s far, then it’s probably pretty fucking far,” chimes Ryan from the back seat. I turn to Issa, hoping he sees the urgency in my eyes.

Je sais Issa. Mais on devrait le faire. Il faut que on le face.”

He unfolds the pipe again, stashes it in the glovebox.

Ok. Yallah.

Driving through the Sahara is desolate. Well, Namibia is desolate, but the Sahara is really something else. The easiest way to describe the Sahara is…nothing. There is nothing. We pass through towns with four streets. They come into view and quickly disappear again. Stray cats and dogs and unfinished buildings. Roadside tagines. We see shipwrecks. We see it all, and we see nothing. Issa drives sans seatbelt as we learn that the Nissan Navara is prone to the alarm going off every 25 minutes. This becomes our barometer for measuring time. As we say to any other guest in our car who asks about the beeping…it will go off again in 25 minutes.

25 minutes is nothing to us.

Our refuelling stops are about as rogue as they come. Our master of mayhem and guide (if you can keep up) Jerome’s family biz has a few. At one stop, a boar is spotted on the other side of the Wadi. A shotgun appears out of nowhere and a volley is fired off into the Wadi. Missed, the boar disappears. At this point, nothing is odd. Half the cast and crew are struck down with food poisoning. A wild boar is stunned with a stone throw from Issa and carried back to the truck. It’s all sideways.

Oh, and it’s Ramadan. Our drivers eat at 4am and then break Ramadan at 7pm-ish. For anyone uninitiated, Ramadan equals a month-long fast of everything during daylight hours and a time of quiet reflection. No food, no water, no cigarettes, no kif and as Issa says—‘no bla bla bla for 30 days. Eating and drinking in public is discouraged and the large majority (I mean all) of the shops in the Western Sahara are shut. Which, for a place that isn’t exactly the world’s leading retail and hospitality location to begin with, pretty much leaves sweet fuck all to eat in the day. We discover that hunger really is just a state of mind and all things are easily fixed by a dosage of Imodium big enough to kill a small camel will suffice.

We get excited by rumours of a slab. We sleep in another hut for the early morning mission to the slab with Sancho as our guide, but no dice, a few rolls though, butts clamping, weird and not quite doing it. Hut life is now our life and this is how we live. It’s decided that we’ll boost back south and try and surf the lesser-known spots of the Agadir region. There are few waves of note, but we all agree that Ryan is the most underrated surfer in the world—I personally am his No 1 fan. Jai fires up a few and the girls rip in.

Our last night is as surreal as they come. After our journey, we celebrate with beers and drinks and all the other vices we haven’t had for the past two weeks. Call it Ramadan. Call it 2500km across the entire Western Sahara and Morocco. We see the rest of the entire surf industry at a luxury hotel after the Safi Contest and a whole host of other friends. It feels too hard to communicate what we’ve been through in mere words. We retire to our rooms. Sand in every orifice, bags under our eyes and with our thirst for adventure most certainly quenched.

Flights are boarded to Dubai, to New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Toulouse and Sydney, as we wonder if Issa ever got his tow truck… 

Read this article in the flesh via Volume XIII.

Billabong Adventure Division
Billabong Adventure Division
Billabong Adventure Division
Billabong Adventure Division


‘A journey is a fragment of Hell’.




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