This past spring, he allure of mother Africa was too much for Kepa to resist, and he did a solo surf trip to Senegal. Nothing particularly adventurous about that you might think, Senegal is about as ordinary a trip to French surfers as Brits going to Barbados… Except for that the fact that he drove there.
“I didn’t have too much planned, I just bought a cheap little van in Bilbao, kitted it out and hit the road. I had no real goal as such other than to look for some waves and have a bit of fun.” Being the first or the last or claiming any kind of records or goals is never part of Kepa’s fire, his deal is always about the journey. “I met so many cool people on the route. In Morocco and Sahara, I met quite a lot of surfers in vans, not with cameras, just people living the life. The I hit Mauritiana and things got a little different. That place was pretty heavy, there’s a different vibe there and I didn’t feel real safe. One morning I woke up and a guy was cleaning my van, and demanded quite a lot of money, and the situation turned a bit sour. People are hungry, they have nothing, I was just there with my surfboards to have fun. I felt a bit silly in Mauritania. I was supposed to stay a month, and I left after ten days.”
Wind ravaged outcrops, sand blown roads and a people wizened by the harsh reality of life in desert gave way in beautiful flowering of exoticness, of Africa. “Crossing the border to Senegal, to black Africa felt great. I was like, ‘this is the Africa I love’. It’s just an explosion of colour, of singing, music, happy people dancing and loving life. The women I saw in Senegal blew me away, the most beautiful women I’ve even seen.” By the time Kepa had made it to sub-Saharan Africa, being solo in charge of a vehicle took its toll so to speak, mainly in the form of official stings. “I was getting it from three sides; the army, the police and the customs people, they all wanted a piece of my cake. After getting hit by those guys a few times, I couldn’t afford to be driving any more, so I sold the car and continued south on foot.”
Riding a 7 seater bus with twenty-odd passengers crammed in, Kepa got chatting when the guy who was using his shoulder as a pillow woke up, and ended up staying with the man’s family for ten days. “It was me, him, his girlfriend and their kids all sleeping in one room. People there have nothing, compared to what we’re used to, but they’ll share whatever they have with strangers. That was a highlight of the trip for sure.”
Lured on by a point he’d seen on Google Earth, Kepa hitched and took buses to Guinea, where he eventually discovered said point had a series of offshore rocks rendering never anything other than a surfless lagoon. Having come some five thousand kilometers south by road, the direct flight from Conakry to Madrid seemed like a good idea, and Kepa headed to home.
By matter of chance, Kepa’s African roadie had happened on one of the ‘busiest’ North Atlantic swell winters in recent memory, a time when you’d expect north west Africa’s swell needy points to be on fire. Yet with much of the winter’s swell violence concentrated too far north and east, it wasn’t quite the swell orgy you’d expect. And yet the difference between Kepa’s trips and so many other freesurfers out there, it never mattered to the appeal. The surfing part of his DIY Youtube clips is kind of an aside to the chirpy, comedic land dance anyway. Maybe that’s the essence of his appeal; amateurish filming and editing on shitty equipment = compelling narrative. Web gazers can tend to glaze over confronted with the tedium of surf porn perfection, and while a zillion frames per second slo-mo cinematography is impressive, but doesn’t tell a story. Kepa brings a whole new ‘that could be me’ feel to surf adventure filmaking, somehow making the highly-unlikely-if-not-impossible trip accessible to the masses. Masses being of course not an overly generous description of his reach. So far, his Youtube channel alone has totted up a cool 2 million hits.
Kepa is at pains that this is a personal quest and that for every remote and wild adventure, there is someone else with a wilder and remoter story to tell. “One experience really stays with me. After ten days camping on my own in the remotest part of Alaska, I decided to drive to another part of the coast. Along the way I stopped for a hitchhiker. Turns out he was a 19 year old Mongolian kid who has hitchhiked across Siberia, then stowed away on a boat and was making his way to Anchorage to find work. It was a 4000 mile journey and all he had was a backpack. I dropped him off five hours down the line, where our roads forked. I drove off, watching him in the rear vision mirror, all alone, in the middle of nowhere. You know you think you are on some grand adventure, that your story is unique. Then you see what some people are capable of, what the capacity for adventure humans have. It made me feel like a tourist, just scratching the surface of what is possible.”