Meet Khadjou Sambe, Senegal’s first female professional surfer

KHADJOU Sambe, 25, becomes Senegal’s first female professional surfer, as she thrives in her home district, Ngor, the westernmost point of Africa. The 25-year-old has been training back home as she gets ready to represent the country on a global scale.

Growing up in the coastal capital of Dakar, Sambe never saw a black woman surfing the Atlantic swells. However, she has defied the odds and pursued her passion in the water sport.

Speaking of what pushed her to take up the sport despite the scarcity in representation of black women in surfing, she says: “I thought,’Why don’t I go surfing, represent my country, represent Africa, represent Senegal, as a black girl?'”

It was not easy for the young athlete because, as a teenager, her parents refused to allow her to surf for two-and-a-half years, saying it stigmatised and brought shame to the family.

“My determination was strong enough to make them change their minds,” she says.

“I always think to myself, when I wake up in the morning: ‘Khadjou, you’ve got something to do, you represent something everywhere in the world, you must go straight to the point, don’t give up.

“Whatever people say, don’t listen, go forward – so that everybody can get up and believe they can surf,” she adds.

The surfer is now inspiring the next generation to defy cultural norms and take to the waves. Sambe uses her gift to train beginners at Black Girls Surf (BGS), a training school for girls and women who want to compete in professional surfing.

She encourages her students to develop the physical and mental strength to ride waves and break the mould. There is also an element of her youthfulness when she relates to the trainee young girls since she started surfing at the age of 14.

The first time I tried surfing I wasn’t scared at all, I was just so excited to get into the water.

“When you catch that first wave, you are so happy that you scream so that everyone can hear you – because you are content to have stood up and stayed standing.

“It was a bit tough at the beginning because I was the only girl surfing here, and people were a bit like: ‘What is a girl doing here? This is a sport for boys.’

“Obviously that’s not true, and other people really encouraged me and told me not to listen.”

What is most important is that Sambe never gave up and proved why the dream to be a surfer was worthwhile, despite societal expectations. Surfing is her happy place and she reminisces on the long road to victory.

“When I am in the water, I feel something extraordinary, something special in my heart,” she concludes.