Almost two decades ago, a band of surfers, a couple of photographers and at least one writer set about documenting the virgin coastline of Angola. Back then, surfing hadn't graced the 3,000km coastline of the west African country and with forecasting tools still in its infancy, the quest for waves was planned using a map, a dash of hope and a pinch of local knowledge.
Bizuka Barros was born in Angola's capital city of Luanda during the 1980s. Given the lack of watercraft in Africa at that time, it wasn't until his family moved to Portugal that he took up surfing, and eventually competed in regional events. Bizuka was instrumental in the first ever surf trip to Angola back in 2003, along with John Callahan, Randy Rarick, Nuno Jonet and Frey D'Orey, editor of Fluir magazine in Brazil, which closed in 2016, after succumbing to the print decline pandemic.
“Surfers in Angola? There were none! There was no such a thing as surf,” says Bizuka, when I ask about his time exploring what we now know as a wave rich coastline. And can you imagine what that must have been like? Thousands of miles of classy surf, all to yourself? It's the kind of trip that's played on our collective mind forever.
Anyway, I spoke with Bizuka about that trip and how the crew navigated untrodden territory, on pretty much whim and good will. Here's how they did it.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up?
I was born in Luanda during the 80’s. Due to political instability, my parents sent me to Portugal to be taken care by one my aunts. She looked after me and when they moved to Brazil I accompanied them. São Paulo was our new town and I lived there until I was seven. When my mother decided to go back to Portugal, I returned and we settled in Carcavelos, near the beach, the place that showed me surf for the first time.
How did you get into surfing?
After moving back to Portugal and starting to live near the beach with my mother and two older brothers, surf immediately started to be a part of my life. Everyone from my brothers, cousins, friends were already surfing and decided to take me with them. There was always a board available for me. My very first surf experience was with my cousin Giló, during a championship, he decided to put me in the water.
And in spite of most my friends practicing bodyboard, I stuck with surfing. A few years later I started to compete in regional events in Carcavelos and Estoril. One year after my first competition I joined the famous Junior Lightning Bolt Circuit.
Spot guide: Angola
And what made you want to explore the coast of Angola? When did you set off on the first expedition?
I never lost my Angolan roots, my father was in the Angolan army and I visited him frequently, unfortunately at the time I didn’t have the chance to surf those amazing waves.
In 2002, Surf Portugal Magazine, invited me for a surf trip to the Mentawais, where I met the photographer John Callahan. We got along really well and in one of our conversations, John told me that he was planning with Nuno Jonnet and Randy Rarick to go to Angola, but it was impossible to get a visa.
The purpose of that trip was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a meeting they had in there in 1973, during Randy’s roadtrip between Cape Town and Paris. I immediately thought that I might be helpful solving the visa’s problem, my father was Angolan and military. My father ended up helping plan this trip, solving the visa question and offering some other amenities during the trip. This is how I ended up joining them.
With no forecasting, how did you decide where to go?
In 2003 we didn’t have the instruments that we have nowadays, to predict the swell, there was no google maps, no internet. My father lent us some paper maps, that all of us avidly studied to try to find the best bays to surf.
He was afraid of land mines, that was a huge problem back then, the shadow of the war was still very present
There was only a resort in Cabo Ledo near the beach, owned by a guy called Queiroz, who hosted us and had a bit of information to share. Every single day was an adventure and we had to convince our driver to get off the road, to try to find out the best waves. He was afraid of land mines, that was a huge problem back then, the shadow of the war was still very present.
Every time the road ended, he refused to move further and we always had arguments looking out for a solution. Fun times. Nowadays is a lot easier, we know a lot about each beach, what type of waves they have and tools like magicseaweed help us along the way.
Which spot did you uncover first and what were your thoughts?
In spite of not crossing our path with any surfers during our research trip, we tried to ask the locals about it, but they didn’t know. The information was confusing and they couldn’t distinguish between little fishing boats shape or a surfboard in the water, at a distance.
As soon as we got there I saw on the other side of the little village, a perfect left...pumping
There were two reference points already, one of them, Kitoba. As soon as we got there I saw on the other side of the little village, a perfect left...pumping. I was crazy, I got my board, get undressed and ran straight to it. As soon as I got into the water and surfed my first wave, at the end on the beachbreak, I made a kickout. When I emerged from the water there were people screaming, clapping, laughing, whistling, completely overwhelmed about what was going on.
I noticed that their laughs were louder when I fell, so I decided to do it on purpose. One other break point was 500m from our accommodation but we only found that out at the end of the trip, while exploring from the top of a cliff. Our eyes couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. This wave was a left, but it had something really special about it. When we saw it, it was like magic, we ran down the cliff back to the beach, no question it was a gem. Until this day, it is still on my top 5 of high performance waves.
What kind of waves did you expect to find?
In the beginning of the trip I had zero expectations, I was especially happy because I was going to reunite with my father and family, one of my little brothers was just born and that was enough to make me happy.
The information available was so scarce that we just didn’t build anything around it. To travel and to search was satisfaction enough, to know a little bit more about this country, to try new food, to meet new people, absorb some of its culture, was the expected reward.
What about the culture there at the time – was there anyone around, any locals surfing?
Surfers in Angola? There were none! There was no such a thing as surf. We saw some expats, that were spending the weekend outside of Luanda, trying to relax from the chaos, some of them surfed. Other than that… no surf, no surfers, no knowledge about it.
So how did people react to your surfing crew?
Every time we approached a new village, with the boards on top of our car, people always asked us what we were going to do with our little canoes. Children were always the more curious, they wanted to play and make questions. Outside Luanda, from that time until today, we were always very welcomed by the locals.
What did you do for food and sleep?
The food was always good at the Queiroz accommodation. They had bread, coffee and fruit for breakfast. The rest of our meals was basically composed by fresh caught fish, seafood, rice and sweet potato.
Queiroz was not luxurious, it was neat and tidy but for me there’s no bigger luxury than sleeping on the beach, with my feet on the sand. There was no clean running water, we had to bath using a mug, but that was the least of our concerns, we were so happy with the quality of the waves. At the end of each day our legs were shaking from the crazy amount of time, we spent in the water.
Did you have a guide or just went on a whim?
We went to Angola, one year after the end of the war, the Center of Angola Strategic Studies ( Centro de Estudos Estratégicos de Angola) where my father worked, helped us, providing a car and an assigned military driver.
He didn’t have any knowledge regarding waves, he drove us around. It was funny because we were always arguing about what steps to take next and in the end the driver would answer that he was only going to follow my orders, because I was the son of his boss. So we argued because in the end we had to get into a joint conclusion, otherwise he wouldn’t drive.
What would you say is the most memorable part of the trip?
This trip, was a long time ago, it was really intense. I was travelling with some of the world’s biggest surf references, I felt so honoured and happy to be part of it. I was in the company of one of the most talented surf photographers in world, the father of Portuguese surf, our biggest speaker, an Hawaiian surf legend (that always had an amazing story to tell) and the editor of one of my favourite magazines, Fluir.
This amazing group of people made this one of the best trips in my whole life. No question that nature played a major character, but the human factor was also unbelievable. It was a trip full of joy, it was a privilege to surf those virgin waves and I can say that I didn’t waste any bit of my precious time in there, always in the water, always surfing.