Paradise Found

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: ALAN VAN GYSEN

Surf photographer Alan van Gysen joins three of the sport’s best to search for the perfect wave in Madagascar, Africa’s most isolated country.

Adventure isn’t something that’s been consigned to the history books or made obsolete by Google Earth. It’s out there for those who seek it. You just have to want to look. Like modern-day treasure hunters who search for lost pirate loot, surfers know that the proverbial gold exists in remote Madagascar, waiting to be discovered. And like the pirates of old who sailed these waters, South African surfers Slade Prestwich, Frank Solomon and Grant “Twiggy” Baker set out to map, navigate and find their own piece of blue-water paradise.

Traveling around Madagascar in search of new waves isn’t easy. Saltwater crocodiles, sharks, malaria and suspicious locals top the list of concerns, as does the risk of injury in such a remote location. Detailed preparations had to be made: Tree tents were packed, electronic shark-shield devices were fully charged, all known anti-malarials were ingested and a Malagasy-speaking guide was brought on board. Even so, when the surfers arrived offshore, villagers initially thought they were child smugglers and fled (human trafficking is a real peril in isolated areas of the island). They were reassured only once the outsiders had received the chief’s blessing to set up camp and “play on the water.”

In the days that followed, the group came across what they’d been looking for: a stretch of coastline with numerous setups that lit up with various swells. On the final day, while sailing home, an unexpected pulse set the ocean rolling and the last wave hove into sight: an unknown right reef-pass barrelling with 5-foot pristine waves in a windless sea. Perfection. Treasure found.

Alan van gysen

There is no greater reward for a traveling surfer than to name a new spot: find a virgin set-up, jump into the water alone, and catch that first wave. Slade Prestwich leaves his mark in remote Madagascar.

“When it comes to surf exploration you never know what you’re going to find, even with Google Earth.” 
Frank Solomon
Alan van gysen

A vista like this—two perfect reef breaks, one right and one left, filtering into a tiny deserted bay in tropical paradise—is the holy grail of surf exploration.

“To surf a wave like this with just two friends is what every surfer dreams about.”  
Frank Solomon

When you spend your life chasing competitive points on the World Surf League qualifying tour, wearing a colored jersey and battling it out with two or three others in a 30-minute heat, you almost forget how to lose yourself in the simple act of surfing. And you forget why you started doing it in the first place: freedom to spend hours alone, doing what comes naturally and appreciating your surroundings. Pro surfer Slade Prestwich enjoys surfing for surfing’s sake in remote Madagascar. 

Alan van gysen

Rice is a staple food the world over—not least for hungry, traveling surfers. Hiking through rice paddies en route to the coast to search for waves, Baker, Prestwich and Solomon get to appreciate the hard work that local farmers put into the final product that lands on their plates, which sustains them for long sessions in the water.

“I’ve never done a trip like this before. Just surfing for fun.”  
Slade Prestwich
“Camping, putting up your tree tent, sleeping in the pouring rain, cooking in the bush on sticks over an open fire, walking for miles for waves that might or might not be good. I’ll never forget it.”   
Slade Prestwich
Alan van gysen

Paradise found. Watch Exploring Madagascar, the documentary of the trip, at: redbull.co.za/madagascar

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08 2015 The Red Bulletin 

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