Ghana | Crude Beginnings

For the surf town of Busua, the discovery of oil off the coast has brought a wave of change and uncertainty

01 August 2012
A surfer rides a wave in Busua. Promise of an economic boom here coexists uneasily with the prospect of environmental damage.

UNLIKE THE WAVES along the majority of Ghana’s coastline, those off of Busua, a picturesque bayside village 250 km west of the capital Accra, do not pass unnoticed. When a darkening swell on the horizon begins to gather force, hoots and screams encourage its arrival. In the sea on nearly any day, a clutch of young men can be seen straddling surf boards like kids clinging to tree branches. They pivot back towards shore and begin to paddle rapidly. Just as you think the wave is about to consume them, taking them into its frothy throat, they jump to their feet, angle left and slide down its face, teasing and flirting with the hungry water.

“Nobody taught us to surf. We just picked up an old broken board and practiced,” said Obed, a 20-year-old local with a broad Mohican and a skeptical, almost hostile look on his face. His friend, Clement, considered by most to be the best surfer in the village—and by that measure probably the best surfer in the country—sat next to Obed with disinterest. “It looked really nice watching them surf, so I decided to give it a go,” Clement said, shrugging. “We’re pretty much surfing every day if the waves are good.”

Clement, Obed and about 10 other locals have been riding the waves in Busua ever since the Black Star Surf Shop, Ghana’s first store of its kind, was opened by New York native Peter Nardini in late 2006. Nardini, who had come to the country earlier that year to work in a hospital in a neighbouring village, partnered with a Busua native, Frankie, to set up the shop. The arrival of the shack was followed by a number of initiatives, including a community tourism centre to help villagers take control of tourism development and a new environmental organisation, the Ahanta Environmental Club.

Patrick Wrigley is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul who has travelled extensively in Ghana and Nigeria.

Keywords: Ghana surfing Patrick Wrigley oil