The ﬁrst time Kadiatu Kamara waded into the Atlantic Ocean with a shortboard, aged 16, she had no idea how to swim – let alone surf.
“I was scared of the waves, scared of the board, scared of sharks,” recalls the now 21-year-old from Bureh Town, a small commune beside the idyllic Bureh Beach, 50km down the coast from Freetown.
It’s largely due to growing up next to this stretch of unspoilt sand – which is home to the only surf club in Sierra Leone, run by a group of local twentysomethings – that KK, as she’s known locally, ventured into the water at all. “I saw the boys surﬁng, but I never saw a girl among them,” she explains. “I decided to join the club so that men and women can surf together.”
Yet, it wasn’t a decision many initially took seriously. “At ﬁrst, the boys made fun of me when I fell in the water,” says KK. “Sometimes they’d take my board away so that I had to swim, even though I was scared.” It was a real baptism of ﬁre, but it – along with KK’s natural powers when it came to riding the waves and sheer determination – soon won the surf club’s members over. “The boys taught me everything,” she admits with a grin.
Becoming an accepted member of the Bureh Beach Surf Club wasn’t the only thing KK had to contend with. Surﬁng as a woman in Sierra Leone is seen as a radical act – and therefore, rarely welcomed by the community. “People in the village say I am wasting my time at the beach,” she admits. “I try to encourage other girls to surf, but most of their mums are scared of the water and won’t let them go near it.”
But KK’s focused on the long term. In December 2017, she qualiﬁed as the only female contestant in the country’s ﬁrst national surf championships, and hopes that every success will help to encourage more girls and women to take to the waves in her country. “I want to surf for my country and win the debut surf event at the 2020 Olympics,” she beams. “If girls in Sierra Leone saw that, they would be inspired to surf.”