CABO LEDO, Angola (Reuters Life!) - It used to be unthinkable for even the most daredevil surfers to venture south of Luanda toward the beach of Cabo Ledo during almost four decades of wars in the southwestern African nation of Angola.
The 125 km (78-mile) stretch of rugged coastal road that links the capital to one of the world’s longest waves was peppered with landmines and heavily armed government troops guarding Luanda from rebels of the main opposition UNITA party.
While everybody was going surfing to the music of the Beach Boys in the 1960s, Angolans were fighting for independence from the Portuguese. Later they fought each other in a 1975-2002 civil war that claimed over half a million lives.
The war was so intense that even the most influential surf movie of the 1960s “The Endless Summer,” which followed two surfers from California on their quest for waves around the world, failed to show any footage of Angola’s 1,600 km wave-filled coastline.
But the restoration of peace in 2002 has turned oil-rich Angola into one of the world’s fastest growing economies and opened a new frontier for surfers, mostly from Luanda, who flock to the warm blue waters of Cabo Ledo on weekends to ride waves.
“It’s what keeps me sane after working for a whole week,” said Francisco, a Portuguese surfer who runs a money exchange business in Luanda before he paddled out to catch a wave.
On a good day, the face of this very long, sometimes tubing wave, rises to about one meter (yard) at the eastern tip of the bay of Cabo Ledo, and breaks from left to right for over 500 meters (yards) until it breaks on the sand near a military barracks in the middle of the bay.
Locals say it is one of the longest point breaks in the world. It is also a great spot for beginners. The wave is normally not very steep, but more experienced surfers can also test out new moves during a surf ride that lasts more than a minute.
“It’s the longest left hander that I’ve ever surfed,” said Joao Pedro, a Portuguese national who moved to Luanda earlier this year after a year-long trip around the world surfing waves from Australia to Mexico.
He added that Cabo Ledo was one of Angola’s many surf spots along the coast from Luanda to the desert of Namibe, on the country’s southern border with Namibia. But Joao Pedro declined to reveal some of his favorite surf spots.
The tourism industry is slowly realizing the potential to cash in on the booming surf industry. New hotels and beach resorts are being built along the coast to accommodate these wave seekers, most of whom are still foreigners working in Luanda.
“Our clients are mostly fisherman or surfers,” said Bruce, a Zimbabwean who runs a fishing and safari lodge on the mouth of the river Kwanza, near Cabo Ledo beach. “It’s impossible to rent a room here on weekends.”
Although most surfers at Cabo Ledo come from Luanda, officials expect the country’s warm climate, vast sandy beaches along with the recently restored peace to begin attracting visitors from abroad.
The end of the war is a major incentive for surfers to come to Angola’s beaches, but the high price of renting a hotel room in and around Luanda -- one of the world’s most expensive cities -- could still scare even the most dedicated riders.
Rooms can easily cost $300 a night in Luanda and around $200 in resorts near Cabo Ledo beach. But officials say they are confident the tourism industry will prosper in coming years.
“Tourism is the country’s next big industry,” said Januario Bernardo, the director of the municipality of Kissama near Cabo Ledo, which is home to the country’s biggest wildlife reserve.
“It’s just a matter of time until the outside world realizes the beauty of this unexplored country.”
Reporting by Henrique Almeida, editing by Paul Casciato