While travelling around the islands of São Tomé and Prîncipe just off the west African coast, I came across a beach where the local children ride waves that professionals would be envious of. As a surfer myself, their craftsmanship and ingenuity captivated me as they danced along the breakwater on imaginative, homemade wooden and hand me down fibreglass boards.
It was a Saturday, so no school. The shoreline was full of women from the nearby village washing their clothes and laying them out to dry on the pebbles. Two naked boys armed only with a plank of wood clambered over the sharp volcanic rocks before stopping at a ledge about 50m from the shore. Their jump into the ocean had to be well-timed, as a rogue wave could easily dump them painfully back onto the crags they had just left.
More and more children began to arrive in groups of two or three, launching themselves into the ocean like lemmings. However, as soon as they hit the water they were on their own, free and focused. For me, this time of quiet contemplation is the part of surfing I enjoy the most. It can often become a meditative experience: a moment to escape the stresses and pressures of everyday life. Watching them undergo the same transformation was almost like dipping beneath the surface myself.