Earlier this year I stood up on a surfboard for the first time ever. I’d love to tell you that in that moment I reflected on the meaning of life or even thought about my technique, but no… In the ten seconds that my virgin surf lasted, I looked down at my feet and thought: ‘Oh my god… I’m standing on the sea?!’ Then I fell off, obviously.
This profound realisation came about an hour into my first surf lesson in Taghazout, Morocco. The desert-mountain-sea hybrid was once home to loads of hippies and is suitably relaxed and vibrant. The streets are dusty and chaotic, the sunsets are such a rich red that you want to drink them with a cheeseboard, and the area’s also full of friendly and, most importantly, rabies-vaccinated stray dogs. Basically: I have been to heaven and it looks like an advert for upmarket dog food.
I was in Taghazout for a week-long surf camp with the London Girls Surf Club. (They’re running another in October.) The group was founded by former fashion stylist Kylie Griffiths a couple of years ago. Originally from Shepherd’s Bush and still living in London, she did a few surf lessons in her late twenties and realised she loved it. The problem was: how do you find other surf friends in a landlocked capital? ‘I posted on Instagram that I was doing a trip to Devon,’ she says. ‘And started getting messages from girls saying they’d love to come. I thought – let’s not stop there.’
Now, she runs London Surf Girls Club, a travel company with the aim of getting women in the sea. They run four trips a year, have their own merch, are sponsored by brands like Vans, Instax and OGX and have an Instagram that looks like a Dazed photoshoot.
The club’s one of a growing number cool female-only groups and events popping up that are encouraging women to try sports that they might have been nervous to otherwise. There are skate nights for girls at House of Vans, and there’s the fitness-focused women’s network Fly Girl Collective. ‘Extreme sports can be intimidating to women from the outside,’ says Kylie. ‘LGSC is a community of girls who help each other feel confident to try.’
I can understand that fear. The sea is scary and so is the idea of cool people laughing at you – and when I think of surfers, I tend to think of particularly cool people like Kate Bosworth in ‘Blue Crush’. What I don’t think of is me, clinging on to the door of a van in a car park, trying to convince a wetsuit to make its way over my bum. That’s real life, friends.
The thing is, looking like an ungraceful selkie is actually quite a laugh when there’s an encouraging group of women around you all feeling the same. In fact, Kylie says that LGSC attendees – who include everyone from a jewellery designer to a postwoman – end up so bonded by the end of their trips that they all stay mates after.
Our holiday in Taghazout felt a bit like an extremely Instagrammable school trip, with Kylie as our teacher. We stayed at the World of Waves Surf House. It’s a white-washed, beach-side hotel that Kylie booked the whole of. It meant there was a shared terrace where we could eat carb-heavy dinners communally. We got driven around in minivans in an ‘Apprentice’ style. She even reminded us to put the right sun cream on before hitting the waves.
I’d envisioned that our days would feature eight hours of intense surf lessons. In reality, our time was divided between being on the boards and exploring the area. We rode drooly camels down the beach. We explored the busy souks in town; picking up spices, teas and knockoff Supreme sliders. There was a skate lesson and a yoga class. We also spent an afternoon hiking to a place called Paradise Valley – a freshwater pool in a ravine that was so perfect-looking it felt ripped from a film set. Here we dived off rocks, explored natural whirlpools and took some selfies, obvs. I cannot tell you how brilliant it was – especially as an archetypal anxious, overworked millennial – to go on an adventure holiday where I didn’t have to do any planning. Forget all-inclusive hotels, this is the dream package deal.
Of course, the surfing was the highlight. We were taught by three instructors (including Carlo, who comes on all the LGSC trips.) They ran over techniques with us on dry land and also helped out in the water, pushing us on to waves while we lay on our boards like seals.
It was on one of these push-offs that I managed to stand up on the board for the first time. It arrived with a sense of surprised pride that I can only compare to that of having sex with a person who is much hotter than you. Plus, when I eventually crashed into the sea, I found myself being cheered on by the LGSC girls like I’d just won an Olympic gold. (Something that doesn’t happen often when I have sex.)
But surfing wasn’t just fun when things were going well. There’s something so meditative about spending time in the sea that even just being there, getting whacked in the face by waves, felt restful. In fact, while you’d think that facing up to huge waves would be an anxiety-inducing nightmare, it’s actually the opposite. When you’re worried about staying on a surfboard, you don’t think about work, your recent break-up, how much you’re spending at Pret or whether anyone’s watering your plants. Plus, top tip for any social media addicts – you can’t check your phone when you’re in the sea.
And somewhere – between surf lessons, excursions, bonfire beach barbecues (very ‘The OC’) and impromptu tarot readings – the bonding happened. I didn’t become a pro-level surfer, but I did make some fun new pals. And, while I’m proud I stood up, it wasn’t my highlight of the trip. That was actually during a difficult sunset surf session. The sun had reached that red wine point in the sky, the sea was twinkling, I caught a wave and then… Splat.
I always thought that the best way to see a holiday sunset was from a roof terrace with an Aperol spritz, turns out it’s actually while getting thrown off the front of a surfboard.