Hangin’ ten at the Bureh Beach Surf Club

Long and golden and fringed by palm trees, the beaches of Sierra Leone are something to behold.

From laidback Token Beach and River No. 2 Beach to lively Lumley in Freetown, they all look like they have been designed by an advertising agency. 

No surprise then that a British advertising agency decided to film the iconic ‘Taste of Paradise’ Bounty adverts out here.

A few decades of troubled times – which the country has now well and truly put behind it – means that these stunningly beautiful pockets of paradise remain empty except for a few intrepid backpackers and expat families living in Freetown who come and visit for the day. 

When I visited Sierra Leone in April my favourite was Bureh Beach, home of the famous  Bureh Beach Surf Club

The club is currently run by Donald MacCauley, a real Bureh born-and-bred surfer dude.

Foreign surfers first started coming to Bureh Beach in the 90s, he tells me. He remembers watching them as a kid, mesmerised by their skills.

“I remember thinking ‘What magic is this?’,” he says with a smile.

The surf club was founded in 2012 by Shane O’Connor, an expat Irishman who’d been living and surfing in Sierra Leone since 2009.

O’Connor befriended a few of the Bureh locals and with their help convinced village elders that a surf club would be a positive economic benefit to the community.

Surfboards at the Bureh Beach Surf Club (Peter Moore)
Donald MacCauley at the Bureh Beach Surf Club (Peter Moore)

Friends of O’Connor’s sent used surfboards. 

The German NGO World Hunger Health provided building materials for the club house. And the surf forecasting company, Magic Seaweed, sent over several soft-top beginner boards. Donald learned to surf on one of them.

These days the club also offers surf lessons for beginners, as well as rustic accommodation and a restaurant that serves omelettes for breakfast and fresh grilled seafood and sweet potato chips at night.

On the day I dropped in on Bureh Beach, the only other visitors were a young family of French expats.

The dad worked in logistics and they were down from Freetown for a little R&R. The kids hire a couple of boogie boards, he tries his hand at surfing.

I grab a boogie board too. and sprint across the white sand, eager to dive into the sparkling blue sea and catch some Sierra Leone waves.

The waves are choppy and mushy. Not much good for surfing but plenty fine enough to propel a torso-sized piece of Styrofoam to shore.

Looking north along Bureh Beach (Peter Moore)

After catching a couple of waves, I took the opportunity to stick the boogie board under my chest and just float behind the breakers. 

The beach curves north towards a range of mountains. Freetown’s another 54 kilometres further along. The forest seems to come right up to the golden sand. It is blissfully beautiful.

The only other people on the beach are the French family, a couple of local kids riding along the sand on their bikes and a woman carrying a bowl of fruit on her head.

Later I take a stroll towards Bureh Town in the south. Nestled behind the palm trees I spotted rustic restaurants serving fried cassava bread and groundnut soup as well as leaf-wrapped snacks like oleleh and agidi. And a woman selling sarongs that hung like colourful curtains from the trees.

Out on the point, under a palm tree in front of Menyeleh’s Beach Bar, I meet Mohamed. He is selling beads and trinkets and other souvenirs laid out artfully on a dark wooden table. Business is slow, he tells me, and about to get slower. The rainy season was only a few weeks away. The trickle of visitors to Bureh Beach would dry up altogether.

Noticeboard at the Bureh Beach Surf Club (Peter Moore)
Souvenir seller on Bureh Beach (Peter Moore)

It strikes me that Bureh Beach is the kind of place beloved by backpackers in South East Asia. 

Think Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand, twenty years ago. Laid back, almost sleepy, where the passing of a day is marked by sunrise and sunset and a couple of simple meals in between.

The kind of place you intend to stay a couple of days but find yourself still there a month later.

As it turns out, I was on my way further south, to Kent, and a beat-up wooden boat that would take me across to the Banana Islands.

Otherwise, I think I’d probably still be there.

Main image: Local boys checking out the breakers at Bureh Beach (Peter Moore)

About Author /

Australian travel writer and podcaster with a funny way of looking at the world.

4 Comments

  • Larry Snyder
    1 year ago Reply

    Great piece Peter. My pro life had me there a few years back. They are lovely people. Keep up your good work!

  • Chernor Amadu
    1 year ago Reply

    Absolutely amazing and looks super nice with your piece of written descriptions about this lovely paradise.

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